At The Nottingham Festival of Words, I took part in a fiction workshop with Author in Residence, Deborah Tyler-Bennett. Using the theme of the festival and Nottingham’s lace industry as our focus, we weaved our tatting tales under Deborah’s expert direction.

To begin our afternoon, Deborah read one of her own poems, inspired by a photograph taken of female lace factory workers in 1932, wearing plain pinafores. The table was littered with beautiful objects from which we were to draw our own inspiration, including an old wooden bobbin wrapped in lace, a quirky net hat and images of intricate patterns and designs. A collection of embroidered lace-trimmed handkerchiefs carried postcard-like slogans that Deborah’s great-uncle had sent his wife during his service in The First World War, and there was also a vintage business directory containing advertisements for lace companies. Each object was highly evocative and, as Deborah said, a source of stories.

Despite the friendly and laid back atmosphere, I was rather apprehensive, having never seriously written any fiction myself, to invent a character with a tie to the lace industry. The outcomes of the task included an elderly factory worker losing her eyesight and the ability to work on intricate lace, and a fashion designer searching obsessively for the perfect piece of lace for a project.

As we continued to develop our writing, it was really interesting to listen to one another’s work. Deborah gave us feedback and, at times, took part in the tasks alongside us, which was a really enriching experience. I feel the session was well structured but could have been more dynamic and encouraging for those with little practice in story writing.

Following this, I went to see Play on Words, a set of performances of three stories from Hilary Spiers’ The Hour Glass. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet my expectations; The plots were rather predictable and the attempt at humour only mildly amusing. I’m not sure that adapting the prose pieces into plays worked in bringing them to life as well as was hoped.

The visual impact was rather weak. The actors read from scripts and the plays relied heavily upon a narrator to set the scene and to convey a large amount of dialogue; a complete character from Nighthawks was not represented by an actor at all! I wondered whether the tales might not have been more effective had they remained simply as readings.

It was interesting, however, to hear where Spiers found her inspiration for the plays. Nighthawks, for example, was based on a painting by Edward Hooper which was projected as a backdrop to the performance, whilst Break Break Break was based on a news story.

As I left the Festival of Words, I felt  enthused by the ethos of the event and encouraged to write. I would have liked to have seen the day busier, however, and with a more youthful audience. Unfortunately, there lacked an overall sense of excitement which I believe Nottingham’s rich literary culture deserves.

Emilia Eyre

All images: Debbie Davies www.debs-photography.co.uk

For more info on the Festival of Words go to: www.nottwords.org.uk

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