As a young writer of poetry, fiction and script based in Doncaster, I was thrilled at the opportunity to take part in the Arvon Word Exchange, a three-day Tate Exchange residency based at Tate Modern in London. The Exchange, led by Arvon in conjunction with Tate Exchange, and in partnership with Hive South Yorkshire and the Writing Squad, was a chance for me to write alongside 14 other budding young writers with the same passion and ambitions as myself. It was also an opportunity to make new work and connections, gain inspiration and confidence, and receive feedback from professional writers. What more could I want?! So, here’s how it went down…
Write up by Iram Ahmed
Firstly, I have to say, it was so uplifting to see an opportunity this juicy for young writers in South Yorkshire popping up in my social media feeds. I felt excited and set about selecting a portfolio of my writing and overcame the daunting task of writing about myself in the application. It wasn’t long before I got an email stating it had paid off, and I had earned myself a place – I seriously could not have been happier!
Day 1 – Meet the Hive Squad
Travelling from Sheffield and Doncaster, the Hive crew (myself, Dom, Gina, Salma, and Vicky from Hive), rolled into London with anticipation. After a fascinating conversation with a taxi driver, who entertained us in the hope of a decent tip, Becky Swain from Arvon greeted us at the entrance to the Tate Modern. The place was HUGE and there was a buzz in the air of life and excitement. It was as if the whole of London knew of our visit and decided to come and join us. As we walked into the back of the Turbine Hall, kids on half-term break rolled and laughed their way down the carpeted walk area. In the background Philippe Parreno’s Anywhen Exhibition glowed and hummed with mechanical breath.
Introductions were made and the Hive five very quickly integrated with the writers from the Squad through a series of team exercises to get our writing juices flowing! – Little did we know that this would be the start of some amazing pieces of creative writing, friendships and memories. The warm-ups were facilitated by our mentors; Sarah Butler and Jacob Sam-La Rose, both published writers, and two very talented individuals who led us straight into the depths of the Tate with one simple mission – to unleash our creativity!
The rest of the day was filled with an eclectic range of writing exercises to really get us thinking about the space and the first exhibitions we’d seen. The best part? The ingenuous use of a whole lot of Post-its!
Day 2 – The Tate Modern
Pull up a window seat (by that I mean, lounge against the huge window frames and nosy out into the glass-sided postmodern apartments across the way), or pick a spot on the floor by an art piece and zone out; we were becoming very familiar, very quickly with the Tate, Floor 5 in particular. This became our writing hub, our source of inspiration navigation (even more Post-it notes!) and our home over the 3 days. Here we were pretty high up so we could enjoy a big slice of the London skyline, including the iconic Shard building spiking up through the chaos. On the other side, the Thames and St. Paul’s offered a bit of tranquility from the rush of the city.
With everyone familiar with each other, following a really productive first day and a lovely evening meal together, the project began to intensify quickly and before we knew it everyone was in the zone and up for whatever experimentation came our way. Along with wandering in and out of exhibitions, ogling works of art in turns wonderful, strange and puzzling, we were assigned writing tasks to stimulate ideas and put our writers’ pens to the test.
This day was a real highlight for me. By now, there was a real sense of union throughout the collaborated HiveSquad. The group frequently met up to talk and share ideas, giving everyone an insight into each other’s creative journey and we were able to start seeing how different exhibitions and idea were being interpreted through our own writing and creative themes. Everyone’s approaches were all so varied, it was really amazing to see how diverse our thinking was.
In the afternoon there was an opportunity to invite members of the public to interact or get involved in our writing. Some people shied away from this, preferring to go and zone out writing in one of the many galleries, others relished in the energy of talking to complete strangers about what they were doing. Some, like Dominic and Laura, made good use of passersby with various questions about the nature of art or what they thought of an exhibition. There was also chance to sign up for one-to-ones with Sarah and Jacob where we could ask them advice about our own writing journeys. For me, this was a great refresher for things I had forgotten, such editing tips to improve my writing.
Day 3 – The Showcase
Our final day at the Tate Modern was another lovely day in London, the weather had totally been on our side the whole time and the short walk from the hotel to the Tate was always a pleasurable one. We’d chatter amongst ourselves about what we have learnt, what we’re working on, and what we’re expecting from the day. This, though, as our final day, was a busy one. At 6pm, come what may, we would be sharing something of our writing residency with anyone who wanted to join us.
The day started with a prompt exercise taking us on a further exploration of the galleries within the gallery. No matter how many times I would venture off, there was always an exhibition I’d stumble upon that I hadn’t seen before. Jacob and Sarah provided a steady stream of writing and editing exercises (and Post-it inspiration!), to keep us going through the day, but we were left simply to write.
It was during this time that some of the material I had written over the last couple of days began to take shape and some real first drafts were emerging!
A extra little highlight during a break from writing was going up to Floor 10 quickly in the staff lift (bypassing the crowds), to get a higher and more panoramic view of the skyline. It was a lovely clear, bright day and we could see in every window. So many stories within them!
6pm rolled up and there we were, taking over the whole of Floor 5, along with Trinity Laban dancers and musicians, and a huge audience of public we had never seen before! The Word Exchange did our thing first with Jacob introducing the project and each of us to the floor.
Everyone, even those who didn’t feel quite ready(!), read some of the writing we’d been working on through the Exchange with a little info about our creative process and the journey we’d been on. You couldn’t get a more receptive and attentive public who appeared to completely love our showcase! Personally, I was terrified – but I did it. I read out a poem and it felt amazing. Being amongst such a talented group of writers, and the support and encouragement they gave, made the evening all the more special.
And we were all so proud of each other. Everyone had tackled something different. There were questionings about the nature of art, the world of the Squid (even drawings to go with it), a piece written using the time restraint of how long people had stayed to view a piece of art, even a piece made for and presented as an audio tannoy announcement. Together we were innovative, funny, moving and a huge success. People came over and commented on how much they had enjoyed our work and everyone was elated.
Towards the end of the trip, I realised just how much confidence the Word Exchange experience had given me. To be amongst a group of people I had never met before, all outside of our comfort zones, and, being able to express my own ideas with support in this way, was a new and eye-opening thing for me. What a great idea to take a group of young aspiring writers and dropped us into the middle of one of the most creative places in London and say – Write! It worked. I came home with a notebook full of new material and ideas that will keep my writing going for a good while yet.
It’s rare to access an opportunity to surround yourself with other young minds who share the same passion and interests as you, but this trip allowed me to do just that. I would recommend an Arvon course to all aspiring writers who, like me, are maybe insecure or doubt their own writing but are big for a new challenge. One of the things I remember being said was ‘Don’t be afraid to write what you want’ and it’s a phrase that I hope will stay with me as I continue on my writing journey, because, no one can write the way any of us can and that’s what gives us the potential to write something truly original.
What I felt was so great about this project was the absence of pressure to share work publically, and that we had the chance to go away and work on our own, yet the support of writers was there when we needed it. Despite my fears, the Word Exchange made me want to share my writing and that’s largely due to the reassurance I took from others.
Arvon well and truly spoilt us and we were treated to amazing dinners and refreshments to keep us sustained during some intense writing sessions. The Word Exchange was a writing programme I would most definitely love to experience again. I wouldn’t have to think twice about it!
Thank you to everyone from Hive South Yorkshire, Arvon and the Writing Squad for making this the most memorable writing opportunity possible.
Arvon is a national creative writing charity that produces residential and city-based creative writing courses and retreats for schools, groups and individuals. Founded in 1968, many of the UK’s most prominent writers have taught on Arvon courses, including Carol Ann Duffy, Malorie Blackman and Simon Armitage. www.arvon.org
The Writing Squad is the North’s professional development programme for emerging young writers www.writingsquad.com
Hive South Yorkshire is the new hub for young writers (14 to 25) in the South Yorkshire region. Whether you like to write as a hobby, want to express yourself better with words, or are focused on a writing career – Hive is here to help young writers reach their potential.