Creating a Writing Community: The Story of How a Festival Was Born

Creating a Writing Community: The Story of How a Festival Was Born

Writing can be a lonely business.

My name is Andrea Mason. I’m an artist and writer and I live in London.

Since 1986 to 1999 I was part of an art partnership Andrea + Philippe, and part of the emerging London art scene, since labelled as YBA. It was an incredibly collaborative period. We were always in and out of each other’s studios and homes, and meeting 3,4,5 times a week at private views and events, many of them artist-initiated.

Since shifting my focus to writing practice in 2002 I was naively shocked at just how isolating it was. Suddenly I was alone in a room without a community of writers to call on. Since there are no dedicated writing colleges (like art colleges), and writers tend not to cluster in studio complexes – the friendship and network creating platforms for visual artists, writers are harder to find. Instead they work alone at home or invisibly amongst cafĂ© or library clientele. And when I did finally identify my new tribe I found that many writers struggle with the idea of sharing work and ideas before they are fully formed.

I feel that writers – like all other artists – need space to experiment, bounce ideas, get things wrong at early stages in their work. In 2003, living in Norwich, where I was on the Creative Writing MA, I began hosting salons – firstly in a shed/summerhouse in the back garden of my rented house, then in a tall thin Georgian house which I bought in central Norwich, precisely because I thought it would be a great place to host an event! Then in a club in London, then in an art car at The Art Car Boot Fair in London.

I started Literary Kitchen, a creative writing school, in 2009, in order to earn a living. But the artist in me, who loves performance, process and exchange was always busting to get out, and so the Literary Kitchen Festival was born in 2014.

I want writers of all kinds – published authors, would-be novelists, creative scribblers – to experience the open dialogic and collaborative practices that visual artists benefit from. Most importantly I want to build a local writing community and to support and develop new writing. As such this year, with Arts Council support, Literary Kitchen Festival is hosting its first Writer-in-Residence, Thomas Darby, who will be making interactive work, engaging with the public via text messages. We have hosted an open call Fest Flash competition. We are showcasing as yet unpublished writers. And we have developed the first Peckham Writing Map, in collaboration with Writing Maps: an illustrated poster, which includes writing prompts and inspirational quotes specific to Peckham. Local writers are encouraged to meet at the festival venue every day at 3pm, pick up a map, and go for a writing wander, then reconvene and share their thoughts and ideas.

Writers need open dialogue.
Writers need exchange,
Writers need community.

As I write this I have one shoe on, have not yet had breakfast, am waiting for a delivery of festival mugs and totes, am paying participants invoices, managing a Fest Flash competition, and trying to fix the dishwasher and clear up ahead of a rehearsal tonight for a reading event. (I did some writing before all this, too!) Welcome to my writing world.

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