Akila Richards photo

Akila Richards reflects on her experience as our 2020 Writer in Residence

08 December 2020

My residency at Creative Future was my first. I was very excited and had big plans in how I could include nature, artistic practice and experimentation, and possibly a digital soundscape which I had successfully produced for another project. I particularly wanted to work with people from a variety of backgrounds, writing abilities, and wellbeing, including lived experiences of mental health issues through the Preston Park Recovery Centre. This is close to my heart as I too have experience of mental health difficulties that I need to manage depending on the intensity. I was also really mindful that I would be running a considerable series of workshops with a range of groups. While I threw myself wholeheartedly into this intensive period to support writers and poets in their writing practice and craft, it also filled me with trepidation as I felt under-confident whether I could offer something sustainably and progressively enough–apart from the odd workshop I had run in the past. And there was most of all the production of the Creative Future anthology with the theme of ‘Tomorrow,’ and to be involved was most exhilarating with a planned launch at Southbank.

Then Covid19 and lockdown happened, which completely changed the nature of the residency. After getting the virus myself–thankfully with mild symptoms–the recovery was a long road. The residency was also delayed, as we needed to rethink and eventually run everything online. That meant whilst trying to create something artistically and exciting was no longer possible as participants were affected in various ways, the resources were not available and it was practically too complicated. So I had to mostly manage through Zoom and other online means. At times it became incredibly exhausting to only work via the screen, as this also was taking place in my other work and I felt Zoomed and squared out.

It did however create new possibilities. Participants from their various locations in the country could take part in the comfort of their homes, which created consistency and saved us all enormous travelling time and expenses up and down the country. I also had time to plan a progressive series of workshops for poets and short story/novel writers and was able to implement exercises and methodologies I myself had taken part in. It was great to see it work and combine a number of ways to pull out particular themes to ensure that everyone got value and felt enriched and enlivened throughout this unprecedented time where energy levels, emotional, physical health were uncertain. Running the workshops online meant that participants could zoom in and out literally or block out their screen or lie down on their bed or just listen, which made it so much more accessible for people who did not feel well enough to be seen or travel or participate fully, but were still part of the activity. This was good to experience and I value it greatly. Sometimes I did miss executing or involving people in my original creative ideas, which in the future I would like to find ways to include online. I have had an incredible boost of confidence in delivering the workshops for various levels of expertise and capacity and see myself more capable to offer a variety of stimulations and fun exercises that engage.

I particularly enjoyed facilitating workshops for clients of Preston Park Recovery Centre. I very much enjoyed how we all made ourselves feel at home and created an accessible and accepting atmosphere. Participants took part in various ways, by dropping in, or doing the whole course, declaring when they needed time out or how a particular exercise affected them and all of us, and how this honesty produced deep literary work and storytelling. I so like how we lounged in various ways on the bed, sofas, floors, with or without screens, or were able to say when it was best to leave. Working with the poets and writers from Preston Park was such fun with lots of humour and wit. It has given me a blueprint in how I’d like to fashion and structure my workshops and when possible work in smaller groups to be able to provide the space and time to each writer in the group, which I believe was much appreciated. I shall miss them.

CFWA Writing Workshop

Taking part in the selection process for the anthology was my highlight, although I didn’t feel too well on that day and had to block out my screen. It was highly educational to select the incredibly diverse range of poems and short stories, and the care and diligence we all took in the process. I submitted a new poem as a response to the police brutality in the States and the Black Lives Matter protests. I very much enjoyed viewing the launch of the video anthology and the process of recording myself reciting my poem, drawing on my confidence as a spoken word artist. I think the video showcase is a fantastic accessible way to reach future participants, people who wish to submit, and future Writers in Residence applicants.

What I’ve also gained that hugely benefitted me was to establish a regular writing habit. It has always been a challenge in my writing. By providing regular workshops and engaging with writers (particularly in the lockdown period), and by providing exercises for home and further development has also helped me to take my writing more seriously. With my current manuscript for a novel, I have been able to create space every evening, no matter how tired or distracted, be it rewriting certain paragraphs, editing spelling mistakes, adding new writing, changing the order of chapters, and checking for flow, or doing some research. This has been and is incredibly rewarding as I am acutely aware when I miss an evening of writing, as it has become part of my routine and makes me feel good.

I hope to apply for another residency in the future. I have from this experience changed my approach to always include online and real locations, as it increases accessibility and affords a wider reach and I can see greater possibilities to make it this happen. I do feel proud to have achieved and completed my residency with Creative Future that was challenging at times and having persevered through it. I most valued the poets, writers, and artists who participated and their honesty and realness that helped us to continue in the best way we could. I’ve grown through this experience value greatly.

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