Who am I? What makes me unique? Where do I come from? How do I want to be remembered? Just some of the questions posed to (and by) participants in the six-week Life Stories project in July/August at HMP Warren Hill in Suffolk, funded and facilitated by English PEN. Eight men of various backgrounds and abilities took up the challenge of journal writing and completing a series of writing exercises based upon their lives and experiences.
Led by writer in residence Julian Earwaker, each session started off with feedback, discussion and readings from the men’s journals and homework. The themed workshops then used warm-ups and a range of enjoyable but challenging writing tasks. Visual prompts, music, games and group activities were all employed.
Life Stories guided participants through the rudiments and rewards of journal writing and encouraged them to record everyday occurrences, observations, thoughts, emotions and much more, in search for, as Virginia Woolf put it ‘diamonds of the dustheap’. If they didn’t always find diamonds, most of the men understood the thoughts of W H Auden, who noted that journal writing was ‘a discipline for [my] laziness and lack of observation‘.
Feedback from the men made it clear that they had hugely enjoyed Life Stories and had learned much about writing, and themselves, through the six-week course. The legacy is a new creative group, formed by six of the participants, who are now keen to use the supportive and creative environment – and individual and shared experiences – to further their writing, and life writing, skills.