My short story Sent to Coventry was published in the anthology ‘The Long & Short of It & Other Stories’ at the end of the summer.
It’s another highlight and reason to be grateful in a busy and productive year on the creative front.
Back in spring, my short story The Sea was shortlisted from 1631 entries to the prestigious international Fish Publishing Short Story Prize 2020/21. I’ve been entering it pretty much every year for the last 10 years, with my best showing making the longlist just once previously.
Soon after this, my passion project and hymn to my hometown, the travel guide ‘111 Places in Coventry that you shouldn’t miss’ was published and has gone on to sell well so far in this City of Culture 2021 year. I took part in radio interviews and featured in local newspapers, and it was great fun evangelising about my storied city.
In July I was contacted out of the blue by BBC Radio WM to chat on air with Sunny and Shay about writing fiction.
It was teed up by the regional literature development agency, Writing West Midlands, which is a partner in Creative Europe. The aim was to encourage young people to read and engage with creative writing as part of the READ ON project.
Uniquely, all the stories in the book were commissioned by key stage 3 school children from the West Midlands during a writing workshop run by the authors. The theme was real fiction – stories which reflect the experiences of teens today. The stories included nods to the Covid pandemic, and all the heroes are teens, mostly living in real or fictionalised Coventry. The writers also tackled bilingualism, racism and prejudice of all kinds.
For my part, I lead a 90-minute writing workshop with year 7 and 8 students at Cardinal Newman school in Coventry over a video call during the Covid-related national lockdown in February 2021.
Just a year ago the idea of such a challenge would have caused me head-scratching and worry – but how times have changed. Since the first UK lockdown came into force in March 2020, I’m not the only one who has had to make video conferencing become an everyday activity. My own year 7 son had spent several months doing live lessons online, and I’ve no doubt it was the same for the pupils at Cardinal Newman school in Coventry – just one of the many new normals we’ve all adapted to.
Mercifully the excellent teachers at Cardinal Newman school set everything up and steered the pupils and me through the session with a hand on the technical reins. I introduced myself to the students as a Coventry-born writer, who grew up in the city and went to a school just a few miles from their own and talked to them about the READ ON project.
Not being able to see the children’s faces as we talked about the ingredients that go into a short story made things a little difficult at first – was I making sense, capturing their attention, sparking ideas? But with lots of writing exercises built into the workshop, and plenty of chances for the children to unmute and share their thoughts and feedback, I was soon bowled over by their enthusiasm and the quality of their ideas and delighted to hear their voices.
For the final element of the workshop, when the pupils would commission me to write a short story to their specification, the exercises had already thrown up some great ideas and there were more to come. The students suggested two protagonists of year 7 or year 8 age; there should be an element of romance; they were keen to include problem parents among the characters, parents that have possible issues with addictions; they also felt it important to investigate mental health issues in young people. And the setting should be present day Coventry.
When I’d completed the story, I got my 11-year-old son to read and sense check it. He liked it, which is rare praise indeed.
I really enjoyed working with the Cardinal Newman pupils – such bright, enthusiastic students. It was a pleasure to collaborate with them, and they were a credit to their teachers. I hope they enjoy reading the story I’ve written and take pride in playing such an important part in its creation.