Gillingham Library is currently home to fiction writer and poet Alan Ward. He’s encouraging everyone to engage more with their local library and to celebrate this wonderful public resource we all share. We recently caught up with him to find out how he’s getting on and how you can get involved.

This residency is part our ‘Libraries as Cultural Hubs’ programme, in partnership with Dorset Libraries and funded by the Arts Council England National Lottery. It is dedicated to developing the vibrant arts culture in Libraries across the county. Read about Weymouth Library’s writer-in-residence, Sarah Acton, here.

Find out more here.

Introducing Alan Ward

I’m Alan Ward, and I’m a writer of fiction and poetry. My writing has been published by magazines including Magma and Popshot. You can read some of it on my website. I’ve previously been writer in residence at Hastings Library and written poems for the London Canal Museum. In 2017 I left a full time job in marketing so I could have more time to spend on writing-related projects – like being writer in residence at Gillingham Library.

Inspiration and Influences

I’m a reader first and writer second. I’m influenced by everything I read. The writers I’m most influenced by range from Haruki Murakami to Maggie O’Farrell, and even my fiction is influenced by contemporary poets and the light they cast on small details. My style is still developing and always will be. My ideas all come from my curiosity and a desire for authenticity regardless of what genre I’m writing in.

The Importance of Light in Alan’s Writing

I guess I write the same kind of descriptions I like to read, and the way light interacts with an object can tell the reader so much more than just stating the object’s existence. Time of day, the weather, how the air feels against a character’s skin – all of these are tied to light, and I like to find ways of describing them in a story without rattling through a list of mundane observations. My obsession with light extends to an interest in light-as-movement in film and light moving through space. I took a course at The Poetry School all about writing about light (by then it was already something my writing dwelt on) and it was great.

This Library is Yours: Introducing Alan’s Residency at Gillingham Library

My original proposal has been evolving ever since I first submitted it, and particularly now I’ve spent some time in the library getting to know its staff and visitors. The project I’m working on is titled This Library is Yours, in celebration of the participation in libraries. The events are already bringing people to the library for the first time, or for the first time in a while.

How to Get Involved at Gillingham Library

My residency is all about people getting involved! There are one-off creative writing workshops available to book online. I’m also offering one-to-one sessions where I speak in more detail to writers about their work, after having taken time to read something they’ve produced.

People are pleasantly surprised by how much they write in my workshops. We’ve been using memories to write authentic fiction and the details they uncover in their own memory. I have a ‘no pressure’ approach – no one in my workshops has to read out what they’ve written if they don’t want to. They often do, though, which I hope is a sign they’ve come up something they see merit in. At the end of the project I plan to showcase the work of the participants in a book trail installation that visitors to the library can enjoy.

Members of the public are also encouraged to visit the library and leave a memory about their relationship with libraries in a special book that’s on display – it’s like a guest book, but you can write about any library you like. It’s already had some great responses – it’s fascinating how people use libraries, or what they remember about them from their childhood. At the end of the project there will be an installation in the library – a book trail – so watch out for that from the end of March.

The Future of Libraries

I love that libraries are moving towards enhancing the community by offering broader services, arts events, skills development and event spaces. There’s still a long way to go to pull libraries away from their association with stained carpet tiles, shouty signs, headache-inducing lighting and tutting librarians. Libraries should be more like theatres or arts centres, and even though the services they sometimes offer are similar to village halls, they should feel different.

Visit Alan at Gillingham Library before the end of March and leave your memories of libraries in his book. All workshops and one-to-one sessions are free and available to book online using the button below. Keep an eye on our social media for more updates and to find out when you can visit Alan’s book trail installation.