class="post-42611 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-news"This Is Our Place – a nature writing project for Londona composite image of 5 faces

Spread the Word, in partnership with London Wildlife Trust, is delighted to announce that This Is Our Place, our nature writing project celebrating London’s wildlife, nature and the diverse communities of the city through words, postponed due to the Covid pandemic, will now take place in 2021.

Nature writing is a powerful way of connecting people to the natural environment via creative self-reflection, mindfulness, and imagination. It opens up the conversation and supports the exploration of key themes such as climate emergency, healing and spirituality.  However, there is currently a bias towards publishing white, middle-class nature writers. London, as one of the world’s most vibrant and green capital cities (47% green), is the perfect setting to address this imbalance of voices, engage local communities with nature writing and connect people to their local green spaces.

This Is Our Place exists to reimagine how we live in London and reflect on our individual and collective relationship to nature and place. We want to see nature writing being created and read by a multiplicity of people, reflective of the backgrounds of the citizens of our great city.

Ruth Harrison, Director, Spread the Word, says: “Spread the Word is delighted to be announcing our partnership with the London Wildlife Trust. Over the past year we have seen the critical importance of nature and green spaces for communities. We want to read and hear nature writing that is reflective of the communities in which we live. This is Our Place provides a space for and invitation to London’s writers and communities to engage with our green spaces and create new nature writing that reimagines how we live in London.”

Leah McNally, Director of Strategic Projects & Engagement, London Wildlife Trust, says: “London Wildlife Trust is excited to be working in partnership with Spread the Word on This is Our Place. We look forward to hosting the project on our nature reserves across London and being inspired by writers that are currently under-represented in nature writing.”

Spread the Word and London Wildlife Trust are pleased to announce the appointment of the This is Our Place five writers-in-residence; Anita Sethi, Jackee Holder, Laura Barker and LiLi Kathleen Bright (who will work collaboratively in the role) and Elspeth Wilson. The writers-in-residence will lead in-person and online workshops, create a new commission, and develop nature writing activities for people to do in their own homes or outdoor spaces if they can access them.

Elspeth Wilson, writer-in-residence, says: “Writing about nature should be open and accessible to all and we urgently need new voices and perspectives on nature, particularly given the challenges of climate crisis and unequal access to outdoor space. This Is Our Place fills me with hope about the future of nature writing and environmentalism; I can’t wait to see what new writing comes out of the project.“

Anita Sethi, writer-in-residence, says: “I’m thrilled to be a Writer in Residence for Spread the Word’s exciting This is Our Place project and have the opportunity to contribute my love of nature and expertise in running workshops. Nature is vital to each and every one of us but not everyone has equal access to nature – I’m looking forward to working with both Spread the Word and the London Wildlife Trust to celebrate nature, wildlife and diverse communities, and help all to feel as if they have a place in the natural world.”

Jackee Holder, writer-in-residence, says: “There have been many important times in my life when I have found solace in the company of trees. I know myself in a way when I am in nature that is wholesome and real. I love creating physical, creative and emotional spaces where others can make nature connections that are meaningful and true. I am delighted to be a part of This Is Our Place writing residency working alongside such an awesome gathering of writers and artists.”

Laura Barker, writer-in-residence, says: “I’m super excited to be a writer in residence for This is Our Place. I’m pretty obsessed with nature, and I’m currently learning how to graft fruit trees. I’m also germinating San Marzano tomatoes and canary creeper seeds in kitchen roll on my bedroom windowsill. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to spend more time in nature with my incredible fellow writers in residence and hopefully get more people interested in the amazing things outside has to offer.”

LiLi Kathleen Bright, writer-in-residence, says: “Combining trees and writing with crafting workshops is a perfect trio and Spread the Word has been instrumental in developing my writing practice. So you can probably imagine how excited I am to be part of This Is Our Place. I keep bursting into grins when I think about it. Cannot wait to meet all the participants, and bubble over with enthusiasm alongside them. Let’s get creative in nature!”

London’s communities will be able to get involved in This is Our Place by:

All of the workshops and celebrations will be held in wheelchair-accessible London Wildlife Trust locations. BSL interpretation will be available for one in-person workshop, one online workshop, and the anthology launch.

Workshops are for adults and bookings will open in July 2021. Spread the Word and London Wildlife Trust will announce that bookings are open on our websites and on our social media.

This Is Our Place is funded by the Emergence Foundation.

Published Monday 15 June

class="post-42541 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-interview category-network-knowledge"Interview with Santanu Bhattacharya, winner of the Life Writing Prize 2021a person wearing a grey suit jacket, wearing glasses and smiling at the camera

Santanu Bhattacharya won the Life Writing Prize 2021 for The Nicer One, a piece about a chance encounter with a childhood classmate that sets off a series of difficult memories. Prize judge Frances Wilson said: “Understated and novelistic, this superb piece is a masterclass in the exploration of trauma.” 

In this interview, Santanu shares his thoughts about writing across different genres, how he waited a year after originally writing The Nicer One to come back to it, and how his writing journey began. 

How does it feel to win the Life Writing Prize?

Winning this prize has been such a shot in the arm. Earlier this year, I won a London Writers’ Award in the literary fiction category, and both wins have not only given me the confidence to think of myself as a writer, but also as someone who can attempt to write across different genres and subject matters. It’s important to me, as a writer, to know that I am able to tell the multitudes of stories that reside within me, and can find the right language for each of them.

Can you tell us a little about your winning piece, The Nicer One, how you came to write it, what the challenges were in writing it and why you chose to enter it into the Prize?

The Nicer One was a very impulsively written piece. I sat down on a Sunday afternoon and I was done with the first draft in less than an hour. A few days ago, I’d run into a schoolmate of mine. I was seeing him after two decades, and I found it difficult to reconcile between the person I am now and the person he knew. It was like we were both referring to a third person who’d ceased to exist. It brought back a lot of difficult memories from childhood, but also made me reflect on my journey from then until now. These weren’t things I didn’t know or hadn’t thought about, but writing about something helps to go into the depths of vulnerability that one otherwise doesn’t in everyday life. I felt relatively at peace while writing it. It was afterwards that I was hit by a wave of emotion that manifested itself in many ways. I had to put the piece aside and forget about it for over a year.

When I got to know about the Life Writing Prize, I thought of The Nicer One immediately. The Life Writing Prize is a rare platform that celebrates writing of personal experiences in a way that neither fiction nor essays allow for. It was the perfect fit for The Nicer One. But I had to edit first. What I’d written was angry and low on craft, and I had to tease out every strand of what I was trying to tell from a place of calm and reflection. I’m so happy it paid off.

Tell us about your writing; how long have you been writing for, why do you write?

I’ve been writing since childhood. I used to write essays. Then I had a blog in the early 2000s. That turned to short stories later. There was also a phase when I was journaling my travels. As you can see, it’s been the most trusted form in which I express myself. I’m an extrovert, but I still find it difficult to say verbally what I can say in writing. It opens up a whole different space. It makes me think in ways I otherwise wouldn’t. That’s also why I’m not a huge believer in social media as a form of expression. It’s too clipped. It doesn’t allow for nuance and craft.

Are you working on anything at the minute?

I’m deep into my literary fiction novel. I started writing it four years ago, though the idea was seeded a decade ago! I hope it will be a published book in bookstores some day!

Who are your writing inspirations?

So many! I grew up reading English and Bengali classics – Rabindranath Tagore, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay. There was also quite a bit of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Then in my early twenties, I turned to contemporary fiction, and a whole new world opened up. It was liberating to read modern day stories told with such finesse yet directness. Arundhati Roy, Chimamanda Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Mohsin Hamid, Teju Cole, Mohammed Hanif – these authors showed my generation that it was possible to tell stories of coloured people in the global south to a worldwide readership, that our lives and tales and cultures mattered, that we didn’t have to be so apologetic and over-compensatory for who we are and how we live. They’ve been my north star ever since.

Do you have any tips for budding life writers out there?

Oh dear, what do I know! I’d just say that you are your biggest cheerleader and worst critic. Believe that what you’re writing matters. Even if it’s been told a million times, only you can say it with your unique flair, language, structure, inflexions, humour. At the same time, push yourself to find your originality, mine feelings no one else has gone into before (and this includes joy and kindness and love, there’s a pressure on writers to only talk about the grim stuff).

And of course, writing is very hard work. It means finding yourself a routine and keeping to it, being brave enough to tear everything up and start afresh, work on endless drafts of the same piece. Don’t be scared to share your work, in whatever stage it might be. Submit to literary magazines, enter for competitions, send to friends. If you’re writing to be read, the sooner you can see what your writing does for others, the more empowered you will feel.


Santanu Bhattacharya grew up in India. He started his writing life with short stories. In 2012, he won the Chapter One Promotions Short Story Prize. In 2021, he won the London Writers Award and was selected for the Tin House Writers’ Workshop in Portland, USA. His work-in-progress novel was longlisted for the BPA First Novel Award 2020. His non-fiction essays have appeared in The Oxford Student, Feminism in India, and the book Revealing Indian Philanthropy (published by London School of Economics). Santanu has degrees in public policy from Oxford University and in engineering from National University of Singapore. He works as an education consultant and has previously worked with the United Nations, British Civil Service and Teach For India. After having lived in eight cities across three countries, Santanu now lives in north London. 

You can read The Nicer One in the Life Writing Prize 2021 booklet here

class="post-42212 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-news"Announcing the Life Writing Prize 2021 resultsa person wearing a grey suit jacket, wearing glasses and smiling at the camera

Santanu Bhattacharya is the winner of Spread the Word’s national writing competition, the Life Writing Prize 2021, for The Nicer One. Now in its fifth year, the Life Writing Prize, run in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, was established to find and develop the best new life writing from new and emerging writers. Santanu wins £1,500, a writing mentor, an Arvon creative writing course, and membership to the Royal Society of Literature. 

The Nicer One explores a chance encounter with a childhood classmate that sets off a series of difficult memories, and a carefully-constructed yet fragile life begins to unravel. 

The judges were writers Damian Barr and Frances Wilson, and Catherine Cho, an author and literary agent. They made their selection from a longlist of twelve, announced in April. 

Catherine Cho comments: The Nicer One is a powerful, gut-punch of a piece that reads like a taut thriller. It is evocative, atmospheric, and incredibly moving in its depiction of schoolboy cruelty. I felt moved and haunted by the piece and the steadiness of its voice, it’s one that will stay with me for a long time.”

 Frances Wilson comments: “This is a beautifully paced story about the afterlives of stories; it is also a tale of manhood, doubleness and not fitting in.”

Damian Barr comments: “This has all the polish of a novel and all the punch of a memoir. We see the trauma and how this leads to normalization of abuse which leaves us winded.”

Santanu Bhattacharya grew up in India. In 2021, he won a London Writers Award and was selected for the Tin House Writers’ Workshop in Portland, USA. His non-fiction essays have appeared in The Oxford Student, Feminism in India, and the book Revealing Indian Philanthropy. Santanu has degrees in public policy from Oxford University and in engineering from National University of Singapore. After having lived in eight cities across three countries, Santanu now lives in north London.  

He comments: “I’m so delighted to have won this Prize. It means a lot to be recognised at this early stage of my writing career. The Life Writing Prize is a platform like no other, and celebrates the kind of stories we need more people to tell. Writing this piece was both a haunting and healing experience, and has helped me explore a certain vulnerability that I didn’t know I could write about.”

two images; a person with short hair and glasses sitting at a mixing desk, and a person with long blonde hair wearing a white top smiling
Matt Taylor and Carla Jenkins

Two writers were highly commended for the Prize; Carla Jenkins’ Carving was written in part to capture memories of her father, and is both an exploration of the father-daughter bond, and the fragility of remembrance. Matt Taylor’s Tromode House recounts the chain of events that led him and his brother being taken into care. As part of their Prize, they will each work with a writing mentor and receive £500.  

 

Carla Jenkins said: “I’m delighted to have been highly commended for the Life Writing Prize. I’ve read the previous anthologies and been in awe at the high quality of the writing, so to be included this year is an absolute honour. Life Writing can mean delving into memories and places which can be raw, dark and difficult. You make yourself vulnerable – but it’s a great creative outlet and helps you make sense of the world. This Prize has made me recognise that I’ve got a few good stories up my sleeve and inspired me to carry on with Life Writing. I can’t wait to meet my mentor. Enormous thanks to the team and judges at Spread the Word.”

Matt Taylor said: “Stories from people like me are rare, and so I genuinely didn’t believe that anyone would find my story interesting, let alone worthy of a prize. To say being highly commended is a massive confidence boost is an understatement. Speaking about growing up in care is the last great taboo in our society, but the only way we can change the perception is by talking about it.  And I’m so thrilled that Spread the Word are doing their bit to change that. It really does feel good to be part of one of their creative projects.”

The three writers to be shortlisted are: Lois Warner for White Lines, SJ Lyon for People That Might Be Us and Sara Doctors for Grief Bacon. 

Ruth HarrisonDirector of Spread the Word said: “Now in its fifth year, the Life Writing Prize continues to find talented writers from across the UK and the stories they want to tell and we are thrilled to announce this year’s winner and highly commended writers. The Life Writing Prize is unique in terms of its accessibility and reach across the UK and also the development support it gives to writers to move their writing careers forward. We are seeing the impact of the Prize, as its writers are now being published and changing the type of life writing that is being read.”

Mentors for Santanu, Carla and Matt are the writers Max Porter, Winnie M Li, and Katy Massey.  

The Life Writing Prize, which is free to enter, is funded by Joanna Munro.  

Life Writing Prize 2021  Anthology 
A special anthology featuring the 12 longlisted writers and their work is published by Spread the Word online and available to download in PDF format. The anthology features Santanu Bhattacharya, Carla Jenkins,  Matt Taylor, Sara Doctors, SJ Lyon, Lois Warner, Nic Wilson, Laura McDonagh, Penny Kiley, Imogen Phillips, Susan Daniels and Pete Williams. 

Celebrating five years of the Life Writing Prize

To celebrate five years of the Life Writing Prize Spread the Word has published an online pamphlet featuring articles and new pieces of life writing from former judges and winners including: Blake Morrison, Catherine Cho, Joanna Brown, Charlotte Derrick, Lorelei Goulding, Jon Paul Roberts, Kerri ní Dochartaigh, Claire Lynch and Xanthi Barker. There is also a further reading list of books and resources for aspiring life writers to read.

 

Published 9 June 2021

class="post-42537 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-interview category-network-knowledge"Interview with Matt Taylor, highly commended in the Life Writing Prize 2021a man sits at a mixing desk

Matt Taylor was highly commended in the Life Writing Prize 2021 for Tromode House, a piece of life writing that explores events leading up to Matt being evicted from his home at thirteen years old, and ending up living in the state care system. Prize judge Catherine Cho said: “Tromode House is such a compelling read. It was both heartbreaking and humorous, and that contrast made it even more moving.”

In this interview, Matt shares his thoughts how obtaining his social work files compelled him to write Tromode House, how he finds inspiration from songwriters and his future writing plans. 

How does it feel to be highly commended in the Life Writing Prize?

I honestly didn’t feel anyone would be interested in my writing. So, since receiving the phone call, I’ve become infected with imposter syndrome. Now I’ve had time to process it, and confirm they didn’t call me by accident, I’m truly honoured and can’t wait to work the team at Spread the Word.

Can you tell us a little about your highly commended piece – how you came to write it, what the challenges were in writing it and why you chose to enter it into the Prize?

My piece is the tale of how I was evicted from my home at thirteen years old. When I obtained my social work files from growing up in the state care system, they revealed circumstances and decisions in my life that were hidden from me. Reading them compelled me to write about it. Writing this piece was like cutting into an undercooked steak. It looks perfect on the outside, but as soon as you cut through that seared surface, you find it’s still incredibly raw. Stories from people growing up in care are scarce. We’re often brushed under the carpet of society. Having written this piece, I felt I should do something with it, and by pure coincidence, this competition popped up on google.

Tell us about your writing; how long have you been writing for, why do you write?

I’ve been writing on-and-off since the age of 15. First with songs, and then essays. However, for the past two years, it has become a primary focus. I have quite an addictive and obsessive personality, so writing is much less of a choice for me, but more like a fix. It’s the only drug I’ve come across where you get to maintain full control!

Are you working on anything at the minute?

I’m currently working on a memoir about my time in care – which is a follow on from this piece. It’s the first time I’ve ever tackled a book, so I’m hoping with the support of the mentor, I may actually make some headway.

Who are your writing inspirations?

My background is in music, so a lot of my writing inspirations are songwriters. I’ve always been in awe of how the master songwriters are able to turn songs into three minute novels. They leave out all of the emotion, leaving you to fill in the gaps. In terms of prose writers, Christopher Hitchens would be my biggest inspiration.

Do you have any tips for budding life writers out there?

It’s tempting to say I wouldn’t be so arrogant to presume anyone would care for what I have to say, but I’ve just offered up a piece of life for a writing competition, so… The only tip I have is to just keep writing, and enter competitions like this. What they provide is two things. First you actually finish stuff! Second, you’ll push yourself to achieve higher standards. Writing is a craft. I’ve read it a million times myself, the only way to become good at writing is to write.


Matt Taylor is a relatively new writer; this is not only being his first writing competition, but also his first publication. He was born on Isle of Man, where he grew up in the care system, and leant writing is the only way he could make sense of it all. At the age of 16, he moved to mainland UK to forge a career in the music industry. Matt is currently a recording engineer, a director of the Music Producer’s Guild, and also studying an undergraduate diploma in creative writing: non-fiction at the University of Cambridge.

You can read Tromode House in the Life Writing Prize booklet here

class="post-42217 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-interview category-network-knowledge"Interview with Carla Jenkins, highly commended in the Life Writing Prize 2021

Carla Jenkins was highly commended in the Life Writing Prize 2021 for Carving, a piece of life writing that explores memories of her father. It is both an exploration of the father-daughter bond, and the fragility of remembrance. Prize judge Frances Wilson said: “this is a memoir that explores the instability of memoryThe portrayal of the father, both hero and antihero, is superb and the reader is left wanting more.”

In this interview, Carla shares her thoughts on writing, finding solace in reading about people’s mental health struggles, and how her creative writing journey began.

How does it feel to be highly commended in the Life Writing Prize? 

It feels delightful! It’s a prize I’ve long admired as I think the quality of writing is superb and so to be included is an honour.  It feels gratifying that the judges thought my life and family are interesting enough to get highly commended. When people say they’ve had an interesting life, you usually sit back and wait to be bored… but this validation has encouraged me to keep on with life writing.

Can you tell us a little about your highly commended piece – how you came to write it, what the challenges were in writing it and why you chose to enter it into the Prize? 

I took a Nature Writing module as part of my MA and had to write, funnily enough, a nature-themed piece. I love being in nature but can’t name much of it and I’m not good at lengthy descriptions. My Dad had an ‘unusual’ relationship with nature and wild animals so I thought I’d write about that. My tutor was intuitive and got what I was trying to express and his teaching was inspirational. There were no real challenges. I’ve always found such solace in reading about people’s mental health struggles that I wanted to be similarly honest in the hope it may help others.

I read part of Carving to a group of fellow writers and their responses were so generous and enthusiastic that I thought it was worth entering to Spread the Word.

Tell us about your writing; how long have you been writing for, why do you write? 

I’ve written since I was a teenager but only started taking it seriously three years ago when I attended an Arvon ‘Starting to Write’ course. Then I started a part-time MA in Creative Writing at Exeter University which has been an absolute pleasure and taught me loads. Why do I write? It helps me makes sense of the world and gives me a creative outlet. I used to paint and draw but was kicked out of GCSE Art for bad behaviour – so I ploughed that creativity into writing instead. I get immense satisfaction from taking ownership of difficult experiences through writing about them.

Are you working on anything at the minute? 

I’m editing my first novel, Fifty Minutes, which was longlisted for the Bridport First Novel Award last year and will be sending it out to agents in the next couple of months.  I’m also working on my MA dissertation which is the beginning of a YA novel. And I’m extending Carving to book-length.

Who are your writing inspirations? 

I love M J Hyland, Mark Haddon, John Steinbeck, Bernardine Evaristo, Roddy Doyle, Kazuo Ishiguro, Rose Tremain, Raymond Carver, Anne Enright, J.M Coetzee, Ben Rice, Lionel Shriver, Herman Koch. I could go on.

Do you have any tips for budding life writers out there? 

Aim for the top and don’t be shy. Write and talk as though you have a publishing deal in the pipeline and put the hours in. I expect to redraft at least thirty times. Make friends with other aspiring writers and swap work – critiquing their work will teach you a lot and you’ll get good feedback from them too – but make sure it’s feedback you want and not praise. Praise is nice but won’t help your writing improve. You need people to be honest and tell you they found this bit boring, and that this bit didn’t make sense. Use all that to up your game. Read excellent books and think about why they’re good. Scribble and make notes all over the pages – nobody will tell you off (unless they’re from the library.)

Do as many courses as you can. Look out for funded opportunities. Do yoga to counteract all the sitting. When you get rejected, set your alarm a little earlier and write even more.

Carla Jenkins is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at Exeter university and editing her first novel Fifty Minuteswhich was longlisted for the Bridport First Novel Award in 2020 and placed as runner-up in a Curtis Brown competition earlier this year. An ex secondary school teacher, she now runs Creative Writing for Wellbeing classes and is passionate about how writing can be used to make something positive from the painful. Carla also enjoys yoga, walking, birdwatching and volunteering for Read Easy, a charity which helps adults learn to read.  You can read Carving in the Life Writing Prize 2021 booklet here

class="post-42448 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-opportunities"CRIPtic x Spread the Word Retreat for d/Deaf and disabled writers

Taking place online, the Retreat is completely free and runs from Thursday 29 July to Sunday 1 August. Expect a residential retreat – but from your own home.  

Convened by CRIPtic x Spread the Word, the Retreat is for 10 UK based d/Deaf and/or disabled writers of poetry, fiction and/ or scriptwriting and aims to encourage people to experiment and broaden their writing practice, get insight into the industry and become part of a writing community. 

The 2021 Retreat will focus on poetry, fiction, and scriptwriting. There will be creative exercises, workshops, guest readings, industry insights, and a public sharing event where participants can showcase their work to a wider audience.  

The Retreat will be BSL interpreted. 

The CRIPtic x Spread the Word Retreat is supported by Arts Council England.

Criteria: 

Apply to be part of CRIPtic x Spread the Word Retreat 

Places on the Retreat are by application only. Alongside completing the online application form, you will be asked to provide two samples of your work either in word/ pdf/ audio or video format.  

You can view the application form questions by downloading it in PDF format here. 

The deadline for applications is 10am, Monday 5 July. 

Apply by completing our online Google form and uploading two samples of your work: forms.gle/dJEePsLiViGCNuSc6

Applications will be assessed by the Spread the Word team and Jamie Hale from CRIPtic. We will let people know the outcome of their application by Friday 9 July.

The decisions made will be final and no correspondence will be entered into. 

More info 

The Retreat: 

Accessibility: 

Writers applying for the Retreat should be intending to attend everything, although we know that unexpected circumstances may arise and will be flexible. We know that this structure may not be accessible to everyone, but it is based on our experience of running the Experimental! online retreat for d/Deaf and disabled writers in 2020, while adapting it to make it suitable for as many people as possible.  

Please email us about any other access needs: hello@spreadtheword.org.uk  

Published 4 June 2021