Fiction writer and poet Alan Ward has completed his residency at Gillingham Library. He’s put together his final thoughts and reflections for this successful project.

I’ve got to know Gillingham Library very well in the last three months. I’ve known it in its quiet moments (Saturday afternoons) and its busiest (during Craft and Chat on Fridays, when I often had to relocate to a quiet corner). I’ve got to know the staff, who go above and beyond, and the library’s community of readers and writers.

Discovering Gillingham’s writers

As writer in residence there were a number of things I set out to achieve. Through offering one-to-one sessions and workshops I met a community of writers from Gillingham and nearby. I suppose these are Gillingham’s secret writers. The residency’s organisers and I weren’t really sure how many we would find, but we found many: writers who write for themselves; a contingent working on biographies for their families; and a tight group of committed writers looking for the best ways to get their work out into the world.

Book Windows – a temporary installation

Starting where I’ve finished, let’s talk about the temporary installation I’ve left behind at Gillingham Library. Book Windows follows the programme of creative writing workshops. Members of the public were invited to spend time on guided writing exercises. We used our own memories to generate new, authentic pieces. Now, in ten recycled hardback books around the library, are frames with a single page of text written by a workshop participant or library visitor. Each frame offers a snapshot, often based on two or more combined and fictionalised memories. The advantage of using a memory as a starting point is that the writer is the authority on that event or place, and has a store of rich information to mine.

Framing a single page of text gives the writing prominence. How often do we pay much attention to a single page in a book with hundreds? Yet, at the same time, when we’ve finished reading a book, there might only be one page or passage that sticks with us. Making a window of each book, a window into a fictional world, seemed like a fitting tribute to the people who had taken the time to spend time writing with me in a creative writing workshop.

There are more photos of the Book Windows installation available from my website.

The workshops

I delivered almost 20 events as writer in residence, including one-to-ones and seven workshops. I’ve written before about how rewarding I find delivering one-to-ones. When it comes to workshops, the difficulty can be finding a balance between giving participants a chance to try something they might enjoy, and guiding them in such a way that what they produce is useful. I’m not saying that workshops participants have to go on to finish the stories they start (their own writing agendas might already be taking them in a different direction) – but I want them to feel they could if they chose to. The workshop feedback, which has been overwhelmingly positive, seems to reflect this, with comments like: “Alan’s exercise quickly got my imagination going. I found the writing flowed easily”.

The Memory Book and other highlights

Throughout the residency I collected memories from members of the public about their experiences of visiting libraries:

The book is currently on display in Gillingham Library along with the temporary installation.

Another highlight of the residency was meeting up with the writer in residence at Weymouth Library, Sarah Acton – I published a post about this over on my blog that features us comparing our experiences.

A story for Gillingham

A big part of being writer in residence is actually doing some writing – and by that I don’t just mean writing blog posts! Throughout the residency I did the creative writing exercises I set each workshop group, in a bid to generate some new material. Two of the extracts in the Book Windows frames are mine, and there’s a story that’s currently on display in Gillingham Library that will be coming to my website later this year. Check here for details, or subscribe for my very occasional (so occasional as to be almost non-existent sometimes) email newsletter.

Finishing up

Now I’ve come to know Gillingham Library so well, I hope that by spending time with the writers of Gillingham I’ve helped sow the seeds for some promising new ideas. I wish these new stories well, and the writers of Gillingham all the successes they deserve.

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.