Culture, Literature

“It’s an exciting way of generating innovation”: Creative Writing Summer School returns for 2024

0 216

Featured image: Juan Pablo Cifuentes


The Manchester Writing School launched its annual Creative Writing Summer School, designed to give people a taste of life at one of the UK’s most esteemed literary centres and home to one of the UK’s largest postgraduate English and Creative Writing community.

The Creative Writing Summer School provides a space for students, writers, poets, and those interested in writing to come together, learn, and share their ideas in presentations led by industry professionals.

This year’s sessions took place across two days and consisted of masterclasses, specialist workshops, guest lectures, and industry talks, led by lecturers and alumni, bringing these creative minds together. Participants were current students at the Manchester Writing School, including students who usually study remotely traveling to Manchester for the event.

The summer school was organised by James Draper, Senior Lecturer and MFA/MA Creative Writing Programme Leader at the Manchester Writing School. The summer school started as what was called ‘Campus Days’. It gave distant learners a chance to meet their classmates and tutors, and those interested a taste of the Manchester Writing School.

James says, “It’s a really exciting, big, and multi-faceted event – an opportunity for everyone in the School to get together and immerse ourselves in two days of writing, and thinking and talking about writing, while catching up with old friends and making new ones, too.

“It also still holds that magical element that made the ‘campus days’ so special where, in lots of cases, this is the first time we’re meeting online students in person, with some of them coming to the University, and indeed to the UK for the first time.”

He added: “Another great aspect of the Summer School is that, as it’s happening outside of the curriculum, it allows tutors to try out new things and go for it in terms of being creative in coming up with sessions. We’re already talking about how we can bring some of this work into courses at the writing school. It’s such an exciting way of generating innovation.”

The first day began with a walk and talk with author and lecturer Adam O’Riordan along the Oxford Road corridor and to Whitworth Park. Adam shared that he often does this walk to reset and find inspiration amid the city.

He said: “The further I get into my writing life, the less desk-bound I feel and the more I want to move and generate ideas.” Adam described this as “an embodied dynamic element”. The students, both established and aspiring writers, chatted amongst themselves and shared their upcoming works and ideas.

While some participants were enjoying the rare sunny weather in Manchester with Adam, actor and writer Isobelle Whinnett hosted the other morning session where she explored the creation of apparitions in her lecture, ‘Writing Witches and Ghosts’. Participants were also invited to join an online session with author and lecturer Laura Barnett for ‘Interiority in Fiction: Making characters come alive on the page.’

The second set of morning sessions included ‘Writing as Listening’, led by author and lecturer Joe Stretch, followed by a Q&A with playwright and Manchester Met professor of Scriptwriting, Simon Stephens.

The session ‘Building Brilliant Language’ was led by playwright and Manchester Met lecturer, Joe Ward Munrow, who claimed: “Constraints are essential to creativity.” During the session, participants described their journey that morning in their own writing style, and then instructed to rewrite the sentences without certain consonants and vowels, causing constraints in their creativity.

At the end individuals were encouraged to read their writings aloud to see how they progressed – rhythms and emotions began to show with constraints.

Joe said: “It’s lovely to come in and do this event where you’re not entirely sure of everyone’s level and you get to create a group in the moment which allows them to be more vulnerable and in control of their writing.”

The first set of afternoon sessions included ‘Battledress: Immersive Techniques and writing the Self’ with writer and Manchester Met lecturer, Dr Rachel Genn, a publishing workshop ‘Journals and Book Projects’ with poet, literary translator, and Manchester Met lecturer Dr Brian Sneeden, and ‘Finding your Non-fiction Voice’ with author and Senior Lecturer, Dr Catherine Wilcox. 

In Catherine’s session, she strived to take the fear out of essay writing, stating: “Working on kindness to yourself helps you write from who you are and from where you are.”

Catherine highlighted a challenge to essay-writing and non-fiction writing: “We are taught there needs to be an argument but [the Manchester Writing School] is trying to move towards a lyric essay.” This session was a way to experiment with lyric essays, which combine elements of writing in a memoir, and a poem whilst having academic references.

The final sessions of the day were ‘Brandon Bennet: Poetry and Publication’ with Joe Stretch, ‘Creative Translation: Writing Faithful Originals’ with Dr Brian Sneeden, and ‘The Art of Writing: designing and lettering book covers’ with special guest and Manchester Met alumni Stephen Raw.

The second day began with special guest and poet ‘Michael McGill in conversation with lecturer at the Manchester Writing School, Dr Kristy Bunting’, and poet, performer, and Manchester Met lecturer, Dr Malika Booker’s ‘Reading to an Audience.’

Malika floated into the room, completely capturing the attention of everyone in the audience. She taught the audience to debunk the idea of reading a poem without learning the craft behind it and shared her top tips from her experience as an award-winning poet.

Malika claimed that whatever stage individuals are at, whether they are already a performer, or have never been on stage, they will take something away from the session. She said: “I wanted the participants to become confident and understand that performing poetry is a craft. I hope they understand that by preparing they will alleviate the nerves of performance and there is a ritual to being able to step onto stage and do poetry.”

Environmental philosopher Dr Paul Evans posed some intriguing questions in his session ‘A wandering writing workshop to discover a hidden cityscape beneath’, asking participants to ponder on how we are moved by things, and where these things come from – all while taking a morning stroll to River Medlock. 

Paul shared: “I got really interested in the idea of cobblestone from the restoration of All Saint’s Park on Oxford Road. I saw the contractors pull up cobblestone from two feet down and I realised it hadn’t seen the light of day in decades and I thought what a fantastic thing.”

He explained the cobblestone is an interesting thing because it links us to the city and its history: “When you think about the material the world is made of and our interactions with these materials, it allows us to question its frequency and vibe when we are writing about it.”

The second set of sessions included ‘Writing Romance’ with Dr Kristy Bunting and Dr Catherine Wilcox, a session by Manchester Poetry Library Project Manager, Martin Kratz, which explored writing poems in response to Helen Mort’s exhibition ‘Landscapes of Change’, and ‘Starting to Publish: Poetry’ with poet and Manchester Met lecturer, Dr Kim Moor.

Kim decided on this topic when she was teaching on the MA Poetry, and realised many of her students wanted advice on how to get published and pitch their poetry to different publications. 

Kim said: “I wanted the participants to gain a sense of the practicalities and robustness, as well as the ability to deal with rejection as well as acceptance. I want them to see that everything is connected. It is not just about being published in a magazine, it’s being part of a wider conversation around poetry because your poem will be in conversation with other poems, it’s about seeing yourself as part of a community.”

The lineup for the afternoon sessions included ‘Building an Author Brand Online’ with guest speaker Isabelle Kenyon, ‘Lyric Poetry: What it is and how to write it,’ with Johnny Payne from Mount St. Mary’s University in the US, and ‘A Screenwriter’s Life’ with special guest and film writer Hugh Stoddart. Hugh’s film, Remembrance starring Gary Oldman and Alan Bates is being rereleased by the British Film Institute (BFI).

The concluding afternoon sessions were ‘Writing in the Second Person’ with writer and lecturer at the Manchester Writing School, Lara Williams, and ‘In Conversation with the Writers of Castlevania: Nocturne‘, led by Manchester Met lecturer Zodwa Nyoni speaking to special guests Temi Oh, and Testament about their experiences as writers of the Netflix animated series. Author, playwright, and lecturer at the Manchester Writing School, Anjum Malik also led the session, ‘How to Have Your Cake and Write it with AI’ and the session involved actual cake for the participants to indulge in.

Anjum said: “AI has been making so many headlines. Almost every creative writer I know is against it.” During the session, the participants wrote a story and then fed it into an AI program for it to be turned into a poem.

Many of the participants had little to no experience with AI because they saw it as a threat to the arts. Erik Ranoo, an MA student at the Manchester Writing School said: “AI is here to stay, don’t be on the wrong side of history, it’s time for us to embrace it”, leaving those in attendance to ponder on the advantages and disadvantages of AI.

Anjum explained: “I’m really curious about AI because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using it, it’s about how you use it and what you make of it, whether it’s something good or bad. It’s for you to decide.”

The event concluded with another poetry reading series with PhD students from Manchester Met at the Manchester Poetry Library. Poet and PhD student Wendy Allen, performed a collection of her works which focuses on the sculptures of Barbra Hepworth to create a new poetic form and the themes of sex, menstruation, and art.

“My work revolves around talking about things that we hide but we shouldn’t hide, and it just makes me furious. All I would like is that people stop hiding these menstruation and female sex,” says Wendy.

For more information about the Creative Writing at Manchester Met, visit the Manchester Writing School website, Manchester Poetry Library: Manchester Poetry Library home page | Manchester Metropolitan University (mmu.ac.uk), join the Poetry Library mailing list: Join our mailing list | Manchester Metropolitan University (mmu.ac.uk) and follow @McrPoetryLib and @McrWritingSchl on Twitter.

About the author / 

Makenna Ali

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More News Stories: