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Telling tales – why creative writing is great for the soul

In this blog post, our Programme Coordinator Gilli shares her passion for creative writing, and the different ways it has brought much joy throughout her life. During this unprecedented time we're going to be providing you with some creative inspiration to see if writing can help you make sense of things, or simply provide a welcome escape to a new land...

By Hannah Thornton · April 7, 2020

I write, not because someone else will read it but because it gives me pleasure and helps me to make sense of living.  

At different times it has been my therapy, my comfort, a safety valve, a place where I can set down my hopes, my fears, my sadness and my joys.  

When I was growing up I saw my Grandparents once a yearmaybe twice if they came for Christmas. Back in the ‘60s when my Dad (finding himself on Civvy Street after 20 years in the Royal Airforce) was working in engineering foundries, summer holidays were taken last week of July and first week of August: Works Weeks. We’d make the yearly pilgrimage from Lincoln to the Isle of Wight to spend a fortnight with his parents in a small semi-rural community on the outskirts of the one of the Islands busiest resorts, Ryde. I think I loved my grandmother mostly for the novelty of seeing her rarely while I loved my Grandad unreservedly for himself. He was the teller of tall tales, yarns, dirty jokes and the purveyor of make-believe and fantasy. He concocted stories from thin air and passed these on while we sat “up the garden” on a rickety wooden bench painted such a particular shade of green that it was almost perfectly camouflaged against the hedge that separated the garden from Bill and Molly next door.  

I was a child with a vivid imagination, often alone in the house with adults who didn’t see it as their role to amuse me unless it was Christmas or my birthday. Sometimes I was lonely, but more usually I would be absorbed in a flight of fancy where I was transformed into an empress or cowboy, a castaway on a dessert island, a farmer with livestock to feed or a queen with magical powers. I inherited my Grandad’s love of making up stories and wrote long compositions about gnomes, elves, animals and clever children. I made up plays after being bought my first glove puppet when I was 8 and my passion for expressing myself creatively through the written and spoken word has never left me.  

I graduated from University aged 32, a Mum with two young daughters living in West Yorkshire. I knew I could write both academically and creatively; my Bachelor of Arts degree confirmed that. The last 30 years has seen me in various job roles where writing has been an integral part of what I do, even if the writing has tended less towards makebelieve and more towards recording, reporting, and persuading.  

I have been lucky in that I got to share my passion for putting words on a page with both undergraduates and language school students, teaching creative writing at Huddersfield University, journalism at an HE college in Sierra Leone and writing skills to foreign students taking tests for entry into English speaking universities in London and Italy.

As I’ve grown older my own love for keeping a journal has developed and I now have dozens of notebooks which catalogue the important events and mundane happenings of my life since 2004. I’ve written about extensive travels in India, living in West Africa and five and a half years spent in ItalyI’ve written about death, divorce, birth of Grandchildren, love found and lost, friendships, meals cooked and eaten, places visited and long days when nothing really happened, but still I recorded them. 

Now, as I adjust to vast periods of time spent alone in my twelfth floor flat and the new rhythm of endless days at home where I try my best work but often produce very little, I’m again captivated by the way creative writing can take me away from my immediate reality and transport me to another world, another time, another identity. If you love reading fiction, you’ll have experienced that delight in immersing yourself in a story that is not your own. I belong to creative writing group which meets monthly at the Central Library. Last week, our wonderful facilitator Claire Walker moved us “online” via Facebook and email; she gives us daily inspiration and ideas to keep us motivated to write and we get to share our work with the group if we want to. At a time when I am strugglingthis provides me with real moments of joy as well as satisfaction.   

My imagination takes me to destinations where currently I cannot go. Memories of the places and people I have known are reignited. I put the words on the page and allow myself to be somewhere else and someone else; intrepid explorer looking down on the plains while herds of antelope and the occasional  pride of lions pass beneath me, a Venetian gondolier gliding along the Grand Canal at dead of night to a secret assignation with my love. I go back to the Isle of Wight and sit on the garden bench in the August sunshine with my Grandad, “Tell me a story”, I say, and he does.