Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Get ready for the launch!

We have spent the last 14 months working on it, and it's finally here - it's nearly time to launch Blakenhall Writers Anthology!

It all started at the end of 2013 when Roma, Kuli and Cherry decided to create an anthology of member's work to showcase the talents of our group, and to get people from the community we sit in involved in writing and showing off their work. With the group's help we settled on a theme of 'identity' to reflect all facets of ourselves, and we were off!

In order to fund this project, an application was made to Arts Council England, who reviewed our case and kindly granted us some money to progress the anthology. This meant the project was run tightly and in accordance with ACE guidance, as we will be reporting back to them on the successes of our anthology.

2014 comprised workshops geared towards creation of content of our anthology - some run by group members, and some run by local writers who provided us with different viewpoints on 'identity', and armed us with different tools to enable us to write varied pieces. We invited guests to attend our workshops too.

Our members (and guests!) beavered away creating pieces which reflected the theme of 'identity'. Roma, Kuli and Cherry shortlisted, edited, proofread and compiled the pieces into the final anthology, as well as working with a local designer in the background to create a stunning cover.

So much hard work has gone into the creation of this booklet, from workshops run by local writers, to busy writers creating stunning pieces, and hours of editing and proofreading. Now we're gearing up to launch in several places.

Our main launch will be held during our March session, on 12th March, 11:00 - 13:00 at the Old School in Blakenhall, Wolverhampton. We will be providing a buffet lunch beforehand, followed by performances from our contributors.

We have also been invited to launch our anthology at City Voices, on 12th April, 19:30 - 21:00 at the Lych Gate Tavern in Wolverhampton city centre. We will be performing alongside other writers on the night (£3 entry).

Some of our members are also attending a poetry reading event at Walsall Arboretum on 13th March, 14:00 - 16:00, where they will be promoting and reading from the anthology.

Please feel free to join us to celebrate the hard work of our contributors. We hope to see you at one or more of these events.

Thank you to everyone who has supported Blakenhall Writers during the creation of this anthology.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

September 12th Session - Flash Fiction with Jeff Phelps

In September we were pleased to welcome Jeff Phelps as our guest facilitator, to run a session on Flash Fiction  on the theme of ‘Identity.’ The aim was to give our members and guests a varied interpretation of the theme – which is central to our anthology project – and ensure that poetry and prose writers were catered to alike.

Jeff first challenged us to categorise our identity. What kind of things makes up someone’s identity? Between us we came up with:

Race, Class, Ethnicity, Nationality, Gender, Culture, Education, Physical Presence, Family, Religion and Abilities, and agreed there were many more things which makes up someone’s identity.

Dictionary definitions suggest identity is ‘the distinguishing character or personality of an individual’, or ‘the condition of being a specified person’.

Of course, writing fiction using something as personal as our identity is difficult. To link our identity to writing flash fiction, we had 15 mins writing about a family ‘ritual’. This gave us a good outside perspective on personal events, as well as giving us practice writing in a smaller number of words than we  might be used to.

We had some great examples of how families celebrated together and how people interpreted events outside of their culture, as well as insight into different superstitions. Some good starting points indeed.

Jeff gave us a Tess Gallagher quote - “Tell me something I can’t forget” - to bear in mind as we read The Long Wet Grass by Seamus Scanlon, which was a competition winner in Fish Magazine in Ireland. Certainly a story to give you chills.

We had a look through some guidelines for writing Flash Fiction, which Jeff had compiled. We had a look at some examples which didn’t quite keep to them, to see why they weren’t as effective. We analysed a piece which didn’t have a satisfactory conclusion, and which had too much unnecessary detail in the story. A quick review of the guidelines and we were ready for our second exercise.

Jeff asked us to consider a time when we first realised that we had an identity. That is, when we realised that we were different from others, that we were female, or male, or rich, or poor, or English, or Indian, or any of the composites of identity which we discussed at the very beginning. This can be difficult – not just because we may have trouble recalling the memories, but because a lot of the examples that people gave were times when their identity had been used against them.  

Food for thought about how our identities define us – not only to ourselves, but in the eyes of others. With no time left, Jeff gave us a list of prompts to help get the creative juices flowing after the workshop and we rounded off the session.

Thank you Jeff for an inspiring lesson!

You can find all of the material for this session in a separate post here.  

September 12th Session - Materials

The Long Wet Grass

Seamus Scanlon


The resonance of tires against the wet road is a mantra, strong and steady. The wipers slough rain away in slow rhythmic arcs into the surrounding blackness. The rain falls slow and steady, then gusting, reminding me of Galway when I was a child where Atlantic winds flung broken fronds of seaweed onto the Prom during high tide. Before the death harmony of Belfast seduced me.

The wind keeps trying to tailgate us. But we keep sailing. The slick black asphalt sings on beneath us. We slow and turn onto a dirt road, the clean rhythm now broken, high beams tracing tall reeds edging against the road, moving rhythmically back and forth with the wind.

No lights now from oncoming cars.

We stop at a clearing. I open the door, the driver looks back at me. The rain on my face is soothing. The pungent petrol fumes comfort me. The moon lies hidden behind black heavy clouds. I unlock the trunk.

You can barely stand after lying curled up for hours. After a while you can stand straight. I take the tape from your mouth. You breathe in the fresh air. You breathe in the fumes. You watch me. You don’t beg. You don’t cry. You are brave.

I hold your arm and lead you away from the roadway, into a field, away from the car, from the others. The gun in my hand pointed at the ground. I stop. I kiss your cheek. I raise the gun. I shoot you twice in the temple. The coronas of light anoint you. You fall. The rain rushes to wipe the blood off. I fire shots into the air. The ejected shells skip away.

I walk back to the car and leave you lying there in the long wet grass.  


Another example of an effective flash fiction:


At night Malcolm liked to visit the houses of old adversaries without them knowing. He never took anything, but usually left little clues. Enough to make them think someone might have been there. Enough to make them feel uneasy. He would leave  a radio playing very low, eat some cornflakes, or move the furniture.

Now he sat in darkness in a leather armchair that he had once owned, and lit a cigarette. He knew, without being able to see, where everything was in the room – the photographs of the children, the silent television, the glowering bookcase.   

This was the most rewarding of all houses to frequent. Malcolm stabbed the cigarette out in a conspicuous ashtray as the clock struck two in the dining room. Above him Alice, his ex-wife, stirred and mumbled in her sleep.

Later, he thought, he would sit by her bed and watch.


Some flash fiction guidelines

·         Keep it simple. 500 words is not much. Treat it as a challenge.

·         Be authentic and honest. It will show.

·         So write quite quickly – then go back and edit as if you’re reading it for the first time.

·         Don’t try and write a novel in condensed form.

·         Concentrate on writing one (or maybe two) good scenes with telling detail.

·         Don’t include so many characters that it becomes confusing. Remember you are introducing the reader to new people. Writing in the first person (I) is OK and often a good way to get inside the narrator’s head quickly. You can always change it later.

·         The rules about showing not telling, using your senses and so on are even more important here in this condensed form. Avoid summarising scenes and characters.

·         Endings – don’t obsess about a surprise or ‘meaningful’ ending. Trust that a suitable ending will make itself known in time. You might have to wait.

·         Shape – a ‘circular’  story, with a reference at the end to something at the beginning, can give a sense of completion. An ‘open-ended’ story can give a sense of intrigue and more to come.

·         Edit seriously. There is real strength in brevity.

·         Avoid – being confusing, being too clever, anecdotes with no purpose.

·         Read examples and think about which ones work and why. There are plenty on the web and in short story/flash fiction collections.

Some flash fiction prompts about identity:

These are prompts only. Feel free to adapt them in any way that works for you and to follow them into new places.


Imagine you lost your memory. Which of your possessions would your friends and relatives use to identify you? A watch? Pair of socks? Item of jewellery? A phone? etc Write a letter from the relative or friend to you explaining where it came from and explaining its important as part of your identity. Dear Jane, you might not recognise this gold watch, but…..


Write a story that begins when the protagonist is pulled out of a queue at an airport and is told that his/her passport is a forgery. What happens next? How could they prove who they really are?


Write a fantasy story in which you meet your double. They have the same name as you and the same history. What happens? Describe the person you met. What impression do they give? Perhaps they are ahead of you in time – or behind in the progress of their life. What warnings or advice would be given?


At a train station a mischievous woman poses as the children’s nanny that Mrs Dawkins had been expecting. Write what happens when the fake nanny gets to Mrs Dawkins’s house.


Write a scene in which a very wealthy man poses as homeless and looks for opportunities to help people.


A weary man approaches a house looking for some relief, but he’s greeted like he’s the returning owner.


A family with no children adopts an abandoned baby. What happens next?


Start a fable, like Toy Story, in which one or more of the toys rebels against the label it’s given – a doll wants to be a different colour or be played with by a boy, the soldier wants to be a ballerina. Make it lighthearted, but try and make it a metaphor for the labels/identities we give each other.


John is a very overweight young man who doesn’t feel accepted by his family or friends. When he goes away to college he follows a strict diet and loses five stone. Describe what happens when he returns home for a visit.


There are two doors into the place where I work. One is marked ‘average’ and one marked ‘beautiful’. Each day, we choose which door we use. Today, for the first time, I used the ‘beautiful’ door. Go on to describe what happened.



Thanks to Jeff Phelps for compiling these wonderful materials for our writing session on flash fiction.

August 8th Session - Showing Identity Through Poetry

In August, Roma ran the session on how to portray our identity through poetry, as part of our anthology project, which is all about the theme of ‘Identity.’


We looked at some of the ways poets use poetic techniques to demonstrate their identities.


·         Language & form – traditional forms or writing in dialect

·         Relationships – writing about how the poet interacts with people

·         Things you love – what’s important to the poet

·         Values and traditions – what rituals define their culture, family or self?

·         Important memories – key moments in the poet’s life

·         Fears – a look at vulnerability

·         Accomplishments, hopes  or wishes – who or what the poet aspires to be

·         Home – the poet’s place – physical or mental


We looked at an example of a poem which uses some of these techniques. Early In The Morning by Li-Young Lee describes a memory of a family ritual and explores the relationships between the poet’s mother and father.


Exercise 1: Think of a person in your childhood. It could be your parent, childhood best friend, school enemy. Write a short poem about that person, exploring what you most remember about them. Try to write concrete images. Explore what you feel towards them.


Next we looked at a poem called Jade Mountain Peak by Marjorie Evasco. It describes a place (which may be familiar or unfamiliar), and the poet learning and growing in that place.


Exercise 2: Write a poem that starts with your journey to an unfamiliar place. Where are you? What can you see? Try to include concrete images, and use your ‘zoom in lens’ to spot small images. What do you discover about yourself?

Monday, 10 August 2015

Anthology Update - September 12th Workshop

We have another great opportunity for non-members to join us for a workshop on September 12th. Our workshop will be led by Shropshire writer Jeff Phelps, and will be all about how to write Flash Fiction (prose <500 words), with an emphasis on 'identity' - the theme of our anthology!

Check out the details below, and get in contact if you or anybody you know would be interested in coming along!

Friday, 17 July 2015

July 11th Session - 'My Place' with SImon Fletcher

For our July session we were very pleased to welcome Simon Fletcher, a local poet and publisher, to head up a workshop on the theme of ‘My Place.’ We also opened up the workshop to non-members of the group so we had a couple of visitors with us for the session.

Simon led a discussion on our individual ideas of ‘My Place’, and we discovered that different people interpreted the concept in different ways, from a house, a home, a country, heritage, community or even a role. We each feel in our ‘place’ in a variety of locations and situations – and sometimes it’s the culmination of everything that’s come before which creates your own ‘place.’

Then we looked at some different writers’ ideas on the theme of ‘place’, including an excerpt from Meera Syal’s Anita and Me, where she considers her mother’s Punjabi upbringing, and part of a Gabriel Okara poem, Piano and Drums, in which the poet reminisces on his homeland of Nigeria.

Our first writing exercise was to make notes on somewhere we could call our ‘special place.’ It was interesting to hear how people felt about certain locations, houses or places they’d visited. We had descriptions of places all over the world, from right on our doorstep in Wolverhampton, to Africa and Asia.

Then we expanded on this by describing the place in detail.  There were some very good preliminary pieces emerging from this second exercise. Some people stuck with the same place, and some people changed their places. After all, we’re not confined to being connected to only one place! We had some great ideas which also encapsulated more abstract ideas of ‘My Place’. Hearing the stories about places people felt close to gave the writing much more depth. It will be very exciting to read the pieces when they are tidied up!

We’d like to thank Simon for leading such an inspiring workshop – it certainly gave us a lot to think about in terms of writing about ‘My Place’!

‘My Place’ is a key part of your identity…which you might remember is the theme for our anthology! Don’t forget, you can submit your works – including any written in Simon’s workshop – to be considered for the anthology, as per the guidelines, which can be found here.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Call for submission to our anthology!

Our anthology project is now live, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and we would like to officially invite our members to begin submitting their work to us for consideration for our anthology. We have some important guidelines to run past you first, so please make sure you read the below to brush up on what the project is all about.


1) Please submit work on the theme of 'Identity.' You can interpret this as broadly as you like, but it may include pieces on your community, your history, your childhood memories or anything else that's all about who YOU are.


2) Please submit no more than four pieces of unpublished work. We really want to showcase everybody in the group so please be considerate to your fellow writers by submitting up to four pieces of work each.


3) Each piece can be up to 25 lines of poetry or up to 500 words of prose. Again, we need to make sure we fit everybody in to the anthology, so please keep your submissions within these lengths.


4) We are accepting submissions from our regular group members, as well as non-members who attend our workshops. We want to represent the talents of Blakenhall Writers, but anybody who attends one of our sessions by invitation is welcome to submit.


5) You have until 30th September 2015 to send us your work. You don't have to send everything at once - you can send in your pieces at any point up until that date. We have some more Identity-themed workshops lined up, including another guest facilitator in September, so make the most of the time to really clean up your pieces.


6) Please make sure you proof-read and spell-check your work before submitting. Although we will let you know if we find any errors in your work, it will make the editing process a lot smoother if you make those final checks on your work before submitting.


7) Please send your submissions to with 'Submission' in the subject box. Alternatively, you may hand in printed copies to Roma, Kuli or Cherry at our August or September meetings.


8) We will be undertaking a feedback process during editing. We want this anthology to help us all develop our writing, so Roma, Kuli & Cherry have received training in best practice for editing an anthology. Therefore we may offer suggestions for improvement on your pieces, or open them up to feedback from the group, in line with our training. Please bear this in mind when submitting.


9) There will be a chance to perform your work which is accepted for the anthology. Should you want to, you will have chance to showcase your work at our launch events in early 2016.


10) You will receive two free copies of the anthology. Members of Blakenhall Writers, as well as non-members who have a piece included in the anthology, will receive two free copies of the anthology.


If you have any questions let us know. We look forward to reading your pieces!

Roma, Cherry & Kuli