photo: Nancy Wilson Fulton
The first meeting of the Kent Writing and Wellbeing Group, on a snowy day in Canterbury, opened with a writing exercise led by Farah Aziz. We began by listing sources of stress in our lives and how we react. On sharing, there was lots of shared experience and some laughter at the recognition of common patterns. We then visualised an imaginary place we could go to take away anguish. Simply sharing the outcome of that writing felt inspiring, relaxing and offering potential for calm.
Patricia Debney then gave an excellent talk on the use of autobiographical material in dfferent kinds of creative and literary writing.
She covered an enormous amount of ground and at every point, there was food for thought. Inevitably, everyone in the room will have heard a different kind of talk as Patricia’s thoughts will have connected to our individual personal and writerly concerns and issues.
I hope the whole talk will appear in print at some stage, but meanwhile here are some of the ideas that struck me.
On using autobiographical material in fiction
• A tension between using fiction as a way of capturing and making sense of autobiographical material and aiming for publication.
• Writing is a way of bring incidents and experiences ‘into knowing’.
• There’s an arc going from articulation to feeling, to growth, to a resting place.
• Any healing happens ‘with the pen in my hand’ not in simply thinking about things.
• Fiction can be judgemental …
On writing a memoir about the specific experience of her son’s diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes
• A clear sense of purpose, wanting to tell the truth about something
• No such thing as a ‘generic’ memoir
• Issues of honesty and integrity – does the purpose legitimise the expose?
• It was a time when it was impossible to write poems or have access to metaphor but it was possible to describe and to rail at the world
• Important not to assume what others are feeling
On subsequently having a residency in a beach hut and completing ‘Littoral’, a series of prose poems of loss and love
• Discovered the ‘language of the sea’
• The memoir was ‘busy’, poetry felt like an open door
• After trauma, ‘language leaves you’ but here she was able to write a whole collection in 6 weeks
cover image: Nancy Wilson Fulton
This session opened many avenues for thinking about the interface between writing and wellbeing, literature and the psyche – a great start to the year.
Patricia Debney was born in Texas and moved to the UK in 1988, soon after graduating from Oberlin College. Her first collection of prose poems, How to Be a Dragonfly (Smith Doorstop Books, 2005), was the overall winner of the 2004 Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition. She has also published a novel, Losing You (bluechrome, 2007). Her second collection of prose poems, Littoral, was written while on a residency in a beach hut, becoming a response to her young son’s diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes.
Her poems and short stories have appeared in anthologies and journals as well as online. Some of her poems have been set for solo voice and she has also translated and adapted texts to create libretti for chamber opera and small ensembles. She is a founding member of the publishing collective WordAid, and in 2007/08 she was the first Canterbury Laureate. Since then she has delivered readings and led numerous interdisciplinary writing projects, mainly in collaboration with city and local councils, universities, the Canterbury Festival and the Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival. She has taught creative writing for over 20 years across all levels and stages: for Arvon, adult education, in prisons and in schools. She is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Kent, where she particularly relishes teaching prose poetry and translation. She lives in Canterbury with her composer partner and their two teenage children.