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Facebook ImageMy second Snail Mail: Creative Letter Writing Workshop of the season took place on Saturday 31 October at Foyles, in our lovely meeting room just above Charing Cross Road. Ten enthusiastic participants wrote new letters and shared stories and thoughts about writing and communication. To give a flavour of the workshops and to celebrate the originality and creativity of the writers, I’d  to share some of those new letters here. Two generous ladies have agreed to contribute… one remains anonymous. Both of their letters came from an exercise where I ask participants to list significant people, objects, places, emotions etc. and then choose one to write a letter to. The results are eclectic and exciting…

Letter to Flirtatiousness

Dear flirtatiousness,

I have an interesting relationship with you, flirtatiousness, and I often wish that I could feel more comfortable with your presence in my life.

I love you for your humour and warmth. You bring complete strangers under your wing and giggle a while with them.

So why do I feel guilty – a little ashamed to admit the fun we feel when we play together on someone’s mind like an impish confidence that knows its power and enjoys it.

Perhaps I am afraid of my reliance on you to get me through the boredom, and of the weight of infatuation that you can bring. You are a cheeky bastard who I can’t resist, but resent the power you hold.

I love to laugh with you and with my friends, but know there’s more depth to life than you’ll ever know how to share, and I fear you lack respect for your prey. I, however, care for them deeply, and though we play together I have written to tell you that I am always going to stand up against your power, and love.

All the best,

G

Letter to My Flat

Dear Flat,

You are flat number 2, 9 Sherwood Rise as listed above. It took me ages to find you, those 7 years ago and we’ve seen so many good and bad times together. I feel like I’m writing a love letter. I know I don’t spend much time with you at the moment but I crave you when I’m away. Sometimes I only come in to take something from you but I’m sorry for being selfish. I did paint you a lovely red colour though. You can be so cold sometimes and the double glazing doesn’t help. And I don’t mean to be horrible when I say ‘I wish I had a garden’- although we’ve grown so many plants together, it would be nice to get fresh air, like I said the double glazing doesn’t help. Without being cheesy, you have been my sanctuary and the neighbours have heard that. Actually, was it you who called the police when I was smashing everything? Anyway this is really to say thanks for being there for me and accommodating me, especially when I have been out of order, really out of order. You share a lot of secrets with me that I haven’t told a soul. It’s funny when we laugh secretly and mischievously isn’t it? I promise to spend more time with you and maybe we should have a nice night in like we used to- your choice of food.

Lots of love,
Di xx

Diana Ali is a Visual Artist & Curator. She is doing some very exciting work around text, correspondence and connectivity.

www.post-authorship.blogspot.com
www.dianaalidefamiliarization.blogspot.com
www.olfactionexhibition.blogspot.com

The next Snail Mail workshop takes place on Saturday 28 November 11am – 1pm at Foyles, Charing Cross. Visit www.foyles.co.uk/events and scroll down to book your place.

There is also a Slow Down London Day on Saturday 21 November, with a whole range of slow food, activities and discussions. I’ll be running a letter writing taster workshop as part of the day. Again, you can book tickets through Foyles. Hope to see you there!

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throwing leaves in Victoria Park

throwing leaves in Victoria Park

I’ve been offline for a while with flu, but I’m now back to full health and also back on the blog. Here are some of the things I’ve been up to over the past month…

I helped project manage the Lit Up Showcase & Conference at the Albany on 24 September. You can read all about the conference in the post below.

My first Snail Mail Letter Writing Workshop of the season took place on Saturday 26 September. A friendly group of people, some new, some familiar, met upstairs at Foyles, Charing Cross for a morning devoted to the writing, reading and discussing of letters. As I explained in my last post, the idea behind the workshops is to use letter writing and a form of creative expression, and participants dived right in. One woman wrote a beautiful letter to her walking boots, remembering places they’d been together. Another wrote a letter to flirtatiousness. We discussed what letter writing meant 50 – 100 years ago, and what it might mean today. We also looked at poetry by Richard Hugo, whose collection 31 Letters and 13 Dreams explores poetry in the form of letters and Catherine Pierce, whose Love Poems to unexpected things (America, the phrase ‘Let’s get coffee’, the word ‘Lonesome’) read very like some of the letters participants wrote. The more I explore letter writing and run these workshops, the more excited I am about letter writing as a form of creative writing – one that is accessible and starts from freewriting. I’m looking forward to exploring this more in my poetry, so watch this space.

The next Snail Mail Workshop takes place on Saturday 31 October 11am – 1pm at Foyles, Charing Cross. Visit www.foyles.co.uk/events and scroll down to book tickets.

More recently, I took part in writing a communal poem for National Poetry Day over Facebook. The idea came from the wonderful poet Naomi Woddis, who like me, believes that poetry can come from anywhere and anyone, anytime. A diverse range of poets from different countries took part. If you’re my friend on Facebook, there’s a link to the poem from my page. It may appear somewhere more public soon…

And this week Naomi Woddis and I took part in the first ever StorySLAM at the Albany. We wrote a joint ghost story in the form of emails, texts and letters. Naomi began by texting me some ideas and beginning the story by email, and we then went back and forth by email and text as the story emerged. It was fun to experiment with collaborative writing, especially in a genre I’m not so used to. The story should soon be appearing on the StorySLAM site. While I was ill I spent most of my time listening to The Moth, a podcast of true stories told live in New York and other cities across the U.S. I’ll be looking out for more StorySLAMs and storytelling events in London.

Enjoy the October leaves… I’ll be back soon.

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P1000723 Some of you may remember the Slow Down London Festival in April this year. You may even have taken part in a (very) slow walk across Waterloo Bridge during rush hour. The aim of the festival and project is to encourage Londoners to challenge the cult of speed and explore things at a slower pace. As part of the festival, I ran a Snail Mail workshop, exploring creative letter writing. It was an unexpected hit! As well as receiving a mention in the Financial Times, Liz Hoggard of the Evening Standard actually called me up to ask for ideas for letters she could write as part of the Standard’s Week in Slow Motion.

So what exactly is ‘creative letter writing’? Well, I’ve sort of made up that term myself to try and describe what the workshops are about. They are essentially creative writing workshops, but instead of using poetry, short story or scriptwriting, they take the letter as a starting point. Letter writing is beautiful because it offers total freedom. Rather than worrying about whether your writing is ‘good’ or if you’ve chosen the ‘right’ subject, you can just focus on writing freely and communicating whatever it is you want to. Letter writing is a form of freewriting – letting ideas and thoughts flow freely without censoring every word as soon as it meets the page. Of course, these aren’t letters you necessarily have to send (although Foyles provided envelopes and stamps for the last workshop), but they are creative explorations into territories you might not have visited before. To me, writing a ‘creative’ letter is a bit like writing a poem addressed directly to someone, or something, but without worrying yourself about the term ‘poem’.

To demonstrate: in my first letter writing workshop, one participant wrote a letter to the science cabinet at his primary school. He described the mystery of the cabinet, with its skulls, skins and odd-smelling plants. For him, the cabinet represented everything that science promised to be: delicious, strange and tempting. On his first day at secondary school, he was deeply disappointed to discover that there, ‘science’ was all about categorisation. All the excitement of the cabinet was forgotten. This letter was written in response to an exercise where I asked participants to make a list of objects that were important or significant for them and write a letter addressed ‘to’ one of them. This participant’s letter had many ingredients of a poem – detail, epiphany, striking imagery – but had I asked him to write a ‘poem’ he probably wouldn’t have arrived at the same place, in fact, he probably wouldn’t have come to a ‘poetry’ workshop at all. That doesn’t mean that what he had written was some kind of ‘poem in disguise’ – it was a letter. The point is, the letter opened a door into something this man, who was now a teacher, had wanted to explore for some time but hadn’t known how. This is the long version of what I mean by a ‘creative letter’.

These workshops are not about how to write letters, they don’t push letter writing as something we should be doing more of, but they do give people the chance to explore creative writing in a form they feel safe with, and in doing so, they draw out some beautiful, original and unexpected material.

Snail Mail Workshops take place from 11am – 1pm at Foyles, Charing Cross on:

Saturday 26 September
Saturday 31 October
Saturday 28 November

You can come to one workshop for a taste, or all three for deeper exploration…

To book, visit: www.foyles.co.uk/events and scroll down.

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