Archive for the ‘Workshops’ Category

This week, I’m taking part in readings and talks and running workshops for Singapore Writers Festival Schools Programme, ‘Words Go Round’. If I have a moment, I’ll check in here to write about it. So far, a real highlight has been reading and speaking with Sri Lankan poet Viviemarie VanderPoorten – today we gave a talk to a group of students taking a ‘Women in Literature’ A-Level paper at National Junior College. Very interesting to think about how/whether issues of gender creep into my writing, and to be challenged to talk about this. Viviemarie is a truly wonderful and inspiring poet. I’m honoured to read with her, and so happy we’ve met.

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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,


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.


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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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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From 24th April – 4th May 2009 I’ll be taking part in Slow Down London, a brand new festival that urges Londoners to experiment with taking things slowly. 


On 2nd May, I’ll be teaming up with WRITELondon‘s Jasmine Cooray for the London Canal Write – a creative writing workshop that meanders along London’s canals, with time to ponder, write, share and think about our city in new and different ways….I’m feeling summery just thinking about it. I’ve ordered some good weather. The workshop starts at Warwick Avenue Tube Station at 11am. See the Slow Down London website for details.

The other workshop I’m running is something entirely new for me. It’s a Snail Mail Workshop on 25th April, dedicated to the slow art of writing letters. For someone who’s grown up in the age of email, I’ve written a lot of letters – I’ve just never thought of this as something other people would be interested in. But since I decided to run the workshop all sorts of people have started talking to me about it, from friends and family to a journalist from the Evening Standard. It actually seems that people are bothered about letters. Many of the people I’ve spoken to are convinced that we say things in letters that we would never say in an email and are excited about the possibilities of just sitting down to write. This has also made me excited – people are often a bit reluctant to think about writing a poem, but everyone knows they can write a letter. This makes the creative potential of letter writing something well worth experimenting with. The way I see it, because letters have been outdated by email, texting and instant messaging, we can make them into something else. If letters are no longer an essential means of communication (and no one can argue that they are) then what can they be used for?

In the Snail Mail workshop I’ll be exploring these questions and giving everyone a chance to play with new ways of looking at letter writing as something creative. It’s free, and will take place at Foyles, Charing Cross on Saturday 25th April 2pm – 4pm. To book, contact: events@foyles.co.uk.

As well as the workshop, over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some of my thoughts and findings about letters on the blog. Hopefully I can get hold of a scanner and show you some of the letters I’ve received in the past. One of the things I love most about letters is how random and rambling they are. You can’t cut and paste in a handwritten letter. I’ll see if I can pick out some examples of this from my letter stash. I remember my then 13 year-old sister writing me a letter while she was living in Germany that ranged from her thoughts about German school to her teacher’s facial hair and some cookie cutters she wanted to buy.

To see Slow Down London (and some mentions of my letter writing escapades) in the news, take a peek at the Financial Times, The Times and look out for an upcoming letter writing feature in the Evening Standard over the next week or so….

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