Life as a Writer In Residence (And Also A Librarian)

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I’m writing a poem about Emily Davison hitch-hiking on the A14. That might not be how you expected this to start, but it’s all true. I’m sat in a sixteenth century hall on the edge of Cambridge, and I’m writing poetry about a dead American poet.

Let me explain a little...

I’m a librarian but I’m also a writer, and right now I’m working with the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge as the A14 Writer In Residence. Technically, I’m not actually resident on the A14, what with that being a road and not immensely conducive towards a quiet night’s sleep, and so I’m resident at the Institute instead. Every day I’m looking for stories about the A14 and trying to write my own.

The task

The position has been funded by the government’s A14 Community Fund. The scale of the work around the A14 is hard to grasp, really particularly if you’re not familiar with the area, so let me direct you to official information about the work. Big, right? It’s due to finish in 2020.

My role of Writer In Residence has me coming down to Cambridge for three days a week during six weeks and as I write this, I’ve just got a month left. That’s just a blink of the eye in the greater scheme of things and so what I do has to be able to be taken on by others. So, for example, once my six weeks are done, the team at the Institute of Continuing Education will be running free creative writing classes (which I’d love to see librarians at!).

What’s in an A14 story?

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about the project, whether that’s on the radio or informally in the bus queue. And I don’t judge the stories they tell me about the A14 because it’s not my place to mediate the type of story, I just want people to gain the confidence to tell that story. And maybe, perhaps, to use something that they experience every day as a springboard into creative thought and empowerment.

There’s a lot of parallels there for me with librarianship. I’ve always worked to centre people in my libraries, to allow them to dictate the journey that they experience and to facilitate their learning within that space. I want this project to help people realise that creativity isn’t the remit of the privileged and powerful, and that powerful opportunities for self-expression lie, quite literally, at your doorstep.

Championing libraries and stories this October

I went into librarianship because I loved books. But the more I’ve done in this realm, the more I realise that it’s about people. It’s about being the person on the other end of the phone when they need to ask about surgery opening hours, it’s about helping a lady Skype her grandchildren in Australia. It’s about not judging the stories that people have to tell - and it’s about helping people tell them.

So that’s what I’ll be doing this Libraries Week (9-14th October). I’ll be listening to stories from people who live in and around the A14 and who use it on a regular basis. I’ll be listening to people who drove to university on it, who drove home after breaking up with their partner, or who used it to move house and set up a new life. I’ll be encouraging children and adults to tell real stories and those with a more fictional edge (please can somebody write me a story about a spaceship landing on the A14?).

If you have a story to share about the A14 (we’ve had some excellent limericks through and even a cinquain...!), you can submit them through social media #a14stories, our Facebook group, or via email to a14stories@ice.cam.ac.uk .

And now I’m off to finish that poem about Emily Dickinson. Maybe she’ll get on a spaceship...

References

Photo by Daisy Johnson.

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