Last year, Blakenhall Writers Group, in Wolverhampton, was successful in gaining Arts Council England funding to produce an anthology of poetry and prose. It was our first funding request for Blakenhall Writers and we were delighted when we were granted just over a thousand pounds. The whole process, from start to end, took about 15 months.
The three writers leading the project were dedicated members and organisers of the Blakenhall Writing Group: Cherry Doyle, Roma Ante and myself. We met regularly to arrange workshops, facilitators and keep an eye on the budget. Sometimes, it was very difficult to meet up and we had to use other forms of communication like text and email. The group had decided to focus on the theme of identity. We had specialised training on how to edit professionally which was very useful. Then the written material from workshops started to come in. We helped our members and contributors by providing feedback on their work and how their work could be improved. We enjoyed helping writers to improve/redraft their work for publication. For some contributors, it was their first time they’d see their work in print, so it would be a boost to their confidence.
Being an editor was exciting, exhausting and time consuming. The experience of it all was invaluable, as well as being great achievement for me personally. It taught me about working with various writers at different levels in their creative skills. We had many difficulties and misunderstanding in the editing process but we got through them, such as choosing a cover, artwork, how many pieces we wanted to include, spelling and grammar, layout of the pamphlet, reading, editing, re-reading, asking professional writers to review it, etc.
Finally, after weeks of hard work, our publication was ready for printing. We wanted our first ever anthology poetry and prose to be as perfect as possible. The group was pleased to see it in print and everyone was satisfied with the end result.
The next step was performance and marketing the anthology. A performance workshop was held and it was great to see so many members perform their work in front of an audience. Some shy members who’d never performed in their life, got up to read their work out. It was amazingly satisfying to see this outcome. We are extremely proud of our members and contributors, so well done! And thank you to the Arts Council England who made this possible.
If anyone would like a copy of the Blakenhall Writers Anthology, it's £2.50 per copy, please let me know.
On 8th March 2016, it was International Women’s Day. I had been invited to ‘City Voices’ to perform my poetry with a short interview. 'City Voices' is a live literature event on the second Tuesday of the month (7.30-9pm) at the Lych Gate tavern, Queen Square, Wolverhampton, WV1 1TX.
Organised by Simon Fletcher, formerly the literature development worker for Wolverhampton libraries, it features local and regional writers sharing their work and includes poetry, stories and good humour. Plus the venue has good disabled access.
Simon had drawn up an event to celebrate International Women’s Day featuring poetry and stories from five different women from around the world- an Irish, a Canadian, an Indian, a Caribbean and an English each with a fifteen-minute slot. These women shared and performed their work.
I was third on the program. For me it was a very special event as it was one of my first live interviews in front of an audience. In previous events, my poetry and prose was simply read out by someone else. Although, I very occasionally read one short piece myself.
This time Simon was experimenting the possibility of an interview with me. He asked me some leading questions. Santosh Kumari, a friend of mine read a poem after each question was answered. I was a bit nervous. However, when I was invited up in front of the audience, I took a deep breath and simply pretended that there was no audience. I just sat and answered Simon’s questions comfortably and as clearly as I could.
At the end I could not believe it! Yes I did it! The audience was very supportive and sympathetic, for many of the people in the auidence, it was actually the first time they'd heard my voice!
Recently, I’ve had a few falls that knocked my confidence about. The thing about falling is that I always manage to get back up again; for those watching it’s quite shocking, however, for me it’s a regular activity. My bodily balance isn't in equilibrium at the best of times but I try to deal with it in a positive way, adding my favourite word "Whoops-a-daisy!" to my daily dialogue.
I wrote a piece about the Paralympics 2012, published in Disabled World. Now in Rio, Brazil it’s all happening again. I thought it would be interesting to share this piece with DAO as a reminder of the last leap year and what is feels like to be a disabled person in everyday life...
The Paralympics 2012 was an inspiration - those athletes were far from perfect; those professionals trained hard, worked for their success and found it. However, this does not happen to us all. For most people with disabilities, the Paralympics challenge is what we have to face every day of our lives from the moment we get up in the morning right through to the end of the night. We do not dwell on the negative side; instead, it is the success from inception through these obstacles that makes it all worthwhile…
Basic survival becomes very dangerous for someone who is a wheelchair user, someone who suffers from multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, accidental damage or a combination of all these disabilities - be it physical, mental, sensory, emotional or developmental: spasms, jerks, lack of control, medications, doctors, hospitals, special schools and care homes.
Leading a normal life as homeowners, finding partners, having families and kids is hard. It’s an unprofessional Paralympics game - the tasks we have to teach ourselves - then train with pain sometimes without the gain (so watch out injuries here we come!)
Simple tasks taken for granted like washing, walking, daring to drink without spillage; difficulty with talking, multi-tasking is a game of its own, carrying a cup of tea, dinner on a plate, serving oneself can be amusing.
Prepare meals: chop, slice, burns, scalds - ouch! It is tough. Dare to eat while people stare. Clearing up and dropping stuff - utensils, cutlery goes flying, crockery smashing, “Whoops I think I’m crashing!”
Looking good to go out visiting our family, friends - dressing, buttons, zips, laces, Velcro, belts, make-up and so much messing, it’s not easy going out to have fun or just a night out with friends. We have to depend on carers/others and taxis. Obstacles obstruct us like doors, tight spaces, steps, lifts, ramps - excluded from the crowd and feeling like fixed clamps. Holidays sometimes are just impracticable because of the trouble we cause others.
Earning a living is sometimes not possible, yet with the right equipment, it is never impossible. Getting mobile with driving lessons and specially adapted vehicles - invaluable for those who can manage it. Managing, dodging, battling with busy shops, crossing roads, bus journeys and bus stops, coping with queues and banks, dropping coins all over the floor and notes flying off from the grasp of our hands – no thanks!
Appearing the fool and drawing attention, life is appalling at times, but we don’t complain, we just smile and carry on. People assume that we are drunk or on strange pills. Never judge a book by its cover; you will miss the real story, in fact, we are more than what meets the eye, we learn to believe that we too can touch the sky.
Ideally, we set an example of equality. It is easy to be deluded by disability, to be blinded by lack of awareness, having little wisdom and responsibility, leading to injustice and unfairness.
Let your eyes see beyond your mind,
Surprise yourselves with what you find,
Let your thoughts go beyond restrictions, delusion,
Imagine a world we all fit in as one - all inclusion.
I have struggled to speak up for myself in the past which is the main the reason I write. I have always been a writer, it was a means of getting the sealed emotions, feelings and desires out of me. I had no professional to guide or teach me to improve my writing skills until I found a writing group.
After years of writing intermittently, I finally completed my first novel "Dangerous Games - What Will People Say?" in 2009. I had written a manuscript of just under 100,000 words. What a relief it was to have finished it and thought 'Now what do I do?'
My first thought was the library, but no one helped. One day, I was wandering around in my lunch hour with my manuscript in my bag, when I bumped into Jeff Phelps, a published author and poet, and a colleague in Wolverhampton Council. I asked him for advice. His first question was “Kuli, are you a member of a writing group?” 'A what? What’s a writing group?' I thought. Jeff encouraged me to contact the Literature Development Officer at the council. It took me a couple of days before I finally attempted to contact Simon Fletcher, the LDO. He was very helpful and invited me to come along to the local writing group, Blakenhall Writers.
Joining a writing group that meets up once a month and being introduced to Simon Fletcher, a tutor of great knowledge of literature, changed my life and turned everything positively around for me as a writer. I made new contacts and new friends with other local writers in the region.
I have been invited to share my work at different locations in the West Midlands. I have had my work published in national magazines and anthologies. I have won a prize at a local poetry competition and been introduced to writers around the West Midlands and built up contacts.
This is the first poem I wrote at the writing group. This was published on Wolverhampton Libraries website:
I have a dream; please don’t influence it,
It belongs to me.
I have a delicate heart; please don’t break it,
It belongs to me.
I have peace of mind; please don’t disturb it,
It belongs to me.
I have to follow a path; please don’t obstruct it,
It belongs to me.
I have an amazing life; please let me live it,
It belongs to me.
I have a choice; please don’t choose for me,
It belongs to me.
I have freedom; please don’t capture me,
It belongs to me.
I have incredible feelings; please don’t hurt me,
They belong to me.
I have a lot of love; please don’t hate me,
Love is mine to share.
I’m on my material journey; don’t follow me
It won’t be fair.
So… I have a dream; it’s my dream to be free.
Last year the Literature Development Officer was made redundant. Now, I help in the running and management of Blakenhall Writers and I am proud to keep it going.