Thursday, 12 July 2018

Sun, Song and Seriously Good Writing

The terrors unfolding on the world stage at the moment and football fever aside, this summer has felt like something of an everlasting daydream. It is deeply pleasurable to wake up to blue skies every morning and to step out into heat and brilliant sunshine. I don't care that the grass has turned brown and that the leaves are sweeping off the trees like so many bits of crispy paper. I welcome the laundry fading as it's hung out to dry. I love the fact that the laundry barely takes an hour some days. Soon, the evenings will be filled with golden dust as the wheat is gathered in and it won't matter how many times I wipe the window sills and little piles of stones and shells I've gathered over the years, the dust will settle again and again.

I resent being indoors when it's this sunny and warm. I'd rather not work. I prefer to to be out on my bike or swimming somewhere. And yet I wouldn't have sacrificed a single moment behind bars watching a dozen or so prisoners and staff singing the other evening. Arne Richards and Isabel Knowland of Oxford Concert Party have been working with HMP Grendon's choir for nine weeks. The performance was attended by a number of men from the wings, officers, chaplains and the governor. It was an absolute joy to see everyone shiny eyed and grinning as their voices filled the room.

Grendon is, I believe, the UK's only therapeutic prison. We have a revolving door system, unfortunately. The focus is far too much on dehumanisation and not enough on rehabilitation. Having worked in High Security for a number of years, I can categorically state that the vast majority of offenders have begun life as victims. They have  grown up under very challenging circumstances. It takes a lot of unpicking and hard work before an offender can begin to turn his/her life around. We would do well to learn from the Dutch model, I believe and certainly, we need more Grendons. See Eric Allison's article.

Another highlight was a fascinating day at Pembroke College, Oxford where I was running a poetry workshop for a group of 15 - 18 years old as part of the Orwell Youth Prize Celebration Day. There were some really rigorous contributions and observations and the debate in the afternoon was great fun. Do explore the links to the writers who won awards. Their work was fantastic. These are, I believe, names we will see again at some future date.

Junior Prize
Senior Prize
Tomorrow I meet in Brighton with a panel of judges to choose the winners of this year's Creative Future Literary Awards. It's always hotly contested because there is so much to commend. I think I have two outright platinum winners chosen but, as is often the way, other panel members might think differently. The discussions can get quite passionate and, because we each bring our own sensibilities and experience to the table, we find ourselves considering things in new and unexpected ways. This is why I prefer panel judging to the single-handed variety which always feels slightly arbitrary.

And after that? Well, it's in Brighton. What else would you do on a bright sunny day by the sea?

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