Victoria Field and Zeeba Ansari (eds), Prompted to Write. fal publications, second edition 2010. ISBN 13: 978-0-9555661-2-7, £6.00, paperback, pp.168
So many books – the product of creative writing courses, conferences, writers’ groups – are sold amongst contributors, friends and families, often in the form of a flimsy pamphlet. Folded into a top pocket at the book launch, they lie forgotten or worse, thrown into the recycling. But Prompted to Write is a good-looking book, substantial, and this adds value to its contents. Three years on from its first publication, it is now in its second edition.
Prompted to Write is a mixture of ‘process’ pieces, reports of conferences and Hobnobs (of which more later), and creative writing from Lapidus Cornwall. Lapidus promotes ‘reflective writing’ and personal development during and after trauma, ill health, bereavement and addiction. Section 1 is devoted to accounts by teachers/ leaders of workshops, including creative responses; Section 2 covers peer-led training workshops, or ‘Hobnobs’.
Many, if not all, writers and teachers work in therapeutic settings: either explicitly or on the borders of counselling their students and mentees; using their own writing to work through their traumas and unresolved issues, past and present. And in asking who is the audience for Prompted to Write – carers, writers, teachers, people in distress – it becomes clear that these categories overlap. As Angela Stoner writes, of the first Hobnobs: ‘The reality was something much more miraculous, muddy, confusing and human.’
Claire Williamson explores this muddiness, confusion and being human in ‘Reflections of a Writing Practitioner.’ Writing three years on from the suicide of her brother, ‘…there were times when I didn’t think I would survive the pain without writing’, Williamson highlights the need to ‘…look after my well-being first and foremost, before I attempt to watch over others on their journeys’, and advises, ‘We must not lose ourselves in other people’s stories.’
Rogan Wolf goes on to discuss the responsibility of the writer towards those who become the subjects of our writing. He looks at the journey of a poem beyond its subject matter, a dying woman. His poem ‘A Light Summer Dying’ is ‘live material and involves vulnerable people. Every time I take it somewhere new, I confer with the woman’s widower.’ It is unfortunate that an editing omission leaves a blank for the web address where this poem may be read.
Other strong contributions are from John Killick, whose example of working with Eve, a woman with dementia, and her daughter, gives the kind of specific example that brings these accounts of the practice of therapeutic writing to life. Myra Schneider’s personal account of writing her way through breast cancer illustrates a writer and teacher on both sides of the process: healing through writing; leading others to heal through writing. Rose Flint, Gillie Bolton and Angela Stoner also deserve a special mention for their descriptions of practice, process and the creative responses to workshops and Hobnobs.
As for the creative work, I particularly enjoyed Llyn Evans’s poems, Hilary Hendra’s ‘My confession on the idea of stealing a tree’, and Penelope Shuttle’s response to John Killick’s workshop on waiting. ‘I still miss you like my own skin/ but waiting’s off the menu,/ you’re never coming back’ (from ‘Not Waiting’). Most touching is a poem John Killick made from the speech of Eve, ‘Anyway, it was a real life, I think. / Here now, life takes its…you know./ I don’t think there’s anything else.’
My one criticism of this book is that there appears to have been an impetus to include the contributions of everyone who submitted. The responses to workshops sometimes read like a funding feedback form. There could have been fewer of these, enough to give the reader a taste of what it was like at those workshops.
This book attempts a number of things for different and overlapping audiences. What I take away from it, as one of those who borders (straddles?) that muddy therapeutic-writing divide, is a source of exercises for writing workshops and writing alone, the need to look after ourselves and others on the writing journey and some memorable creative work.
Maria C. McCarthy has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Kent. She writes, and occasionally holds writing workshops, in a shed at the end of her garden. Her poetry collection strange fruits is published by Cultured Llama with all profits from its sale going to Macmillan Cancer Support.