Wicked Musical Schools Workshops with Mayflower Engage June – July 2018

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As a writer of diverse fantasy I love Wicked, book and musical. It’s a fascinating example the rewriting of a classic story to tell it from another perspective which I think is almost a postcolonial retelling, like Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. It tells the story of The Wizard of Oz from the view of the demonised, marginalised, Othered character of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and her struggles for justice and a place in the world of Oz as its only green-skinned citizen. I love the richly imagined world, the politics, the nuanced characters who are never totally evil or good, but tortured by choices, motivated by passions. Just like The Wizard of Oz, it is a fertile playground for rewritings and reimaginings.

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So I was delighted when I was asked to design a two-session schools workshop for an engagement project with Mayflower Engage and Artfulscribe/So:Write UK in the run up to Wicked returning to the Mayflower Theatre in October later this year.

The brief was an interesting one, and challenging in some respects. The workshops would be offered to school years spanning from early primary, Year 2, to middle and secondary, up to Year 9. The students by and large would not have seen Wicked, and few as a result would know much about it. Wicked has a simple premise (Was the Wicked Witch of the West born evil?) but a complex plot and nuanced characters with intricate individual storylines. Some of the material deals with romance, violence, oppression. And of course, it is related to, but also significantly different from, The Wizard of Oz. So how would I design something that would give a taster of the musical, but not overwhelm participants with information?

There was also a need to have a visual element to the workshops: participating schools have been invited to submit poster displays for a competition that will see some of the selected posters displayed in the Mayflower foyer, to be seen by the thousands who will come and see Wicked in October.

All of this in two short sessions ranging from 40 to 90 minutes each.

I decided to design 2 workshops: one for Years 2-5, and one for Years 6-9.

The format for Years 2-5 was thus as follows, and focused for the most part on The Wizard of Oz, but Wicked, through the idea of “Emerald City” as a fantastical place of hope and possibility for both Dorothy and Elphaba at crucial points in the stories. I thought it would be an easy “hook” for young imaginations: imagine the city – what would it look like, smell like, feel like? What wonders could you see there?

Emerald City Workshop for Years 2-5:

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Session One:

Interactive Storytelling on Whiteboard (10 min)

The benefit with Wicked is its relationship to a story so many of us do know in one form or another: The Wizard of Oz. We thus began with an interactive storytelling exercise where I asked the group to tell me the story, with prompts such as “Who is the girl who features in the story?” and “How does she end up in Oz?” It felt important that this was shared collectively, so that those students who didn’t know much about The Wizard of Oz would be confident enough to participate in the following activities.

Where we had time and space, we did this using sticky notes (yellow for Oz, green for Wicked) on a map beautifully designed by Hollie Ward:

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Wicked Detectives (15 min)

Vikki Simmons from Mayflower Engage had given me some promotional leaflets for Wicked that featured some fantastic, dynamic images from the show:

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I thus asked the group to split into groups of 4 and see how much they could deduce from the images and text on the leaflets of the plot of Wicked and how it might be different from Oz. Some of the hypotheses the students came up with were quite incredible but I am amazed at how much of the actual plot they could pick out from the images: that Elphaba was not always bad, that she and Glinda were friends, that Elphaba went to school so the story must be about when she was younger, even that maybe she was bullied at school for being different. It was an excellent, interactive way for the students to discover the story for themselves.

Emerald City mind map beginnings

If we had time, we started to imagine in words or through drawing, what Emerald City might be like. I encouraged students to write down “describing words” and to push beyond the obvious “green” and “as green as grass” options. As a result we got some inventive and wonderful words, even “as green as broccoli”!

Session Two

Emerald City Mind Map recreation (10min)

The second sessions began a week later so we repeated or began from scratch the mind map from the end of session one.

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However, I included a twist here. Each child who volunteered a word for the board was given a little piece of paper with the word “Writer” on it. I called them badges. As they got handed out, it intrigued the others, who were encouraged and curious, and so put up their hands more eagerly as a result.(I reassured those that didn’t get the badges that they would also get some, but different ones. They were given different badges: ARTISTS.

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This, for me, was an important part of the sessions. I knew that if I asked students if they wanted to write or draw the Emerald City, 90% of the class would opt to draw. It’s fun, it’s easier. But I really wanted the majority, any child confident enough (which volunteering a word in the group would indicate) to write their Emerald City into being. At the same time I knew there some in the group who had drawn amazing images and I wanted to encourage them too.

The point of the badges, too, relates back to my difficulties with the terms “writer” and “artist.” Until the past year or so, despite writing prolifically, embroidering and painting and drawing to a decent A-level A grade standard, I’ve never been able to bring myself to call myself an artist or a writer. I found the two words deeply intimidating. I remember at the Penguin Random House open day, the moment when Nikesh Shukla told all of us, all fifty shortlisted writers that we were writers and we had to call ourselves such. Then I met Matt West for the first time, a couple of weeks later, and stammering and hunching my shoulders apologetically, I did say “I’m a writer” for the first time. He asked me to apply for the So:Write library residency, and those two moments led to all the incredible things that have happened since, including these workshops.

In giving out these badges to the children who offered words or who would craft drawings, I hoped that it might start them on that journey, if they so wished, that it might plant a little seed of possibility within them. I wonder, if someone had looked at my poems when I was younger, and told me I was a writer, would I have struggled so much all my life to own that as part of who I am? It was a brief, silly activity, but I really feel like the students enjoyed and luxuriated in the titles they were given. It made them feel important, special, and that being a writer or an artist are special, important things too.

One Short Day in Emerald City (video, 4 min)

I then played the group a video: the song One Short Day in Emerald City from Wicked. This was such a brilliant way to immerse the students in what Emerald City might be and what it might also mean for Elphaba and/or Dorothy. The Royal Variety performance on YouTube has a lovely introduction by Adam Garcia which gives even more contextualisation.

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Writing/Drawing (20 min)

Each student was then given a piece of green paper. Writers were asked to use the words they had come up with in the previous session, the ones on the board, and their imaginations and the song as inspiration, to start a piece which could be poem, story, diary entry or letter, with the words “One short day in Emerald City”. It was useful to give some of the less confident writers this first line as a jumping-off point.

I encouraged the artists to make their own skylines of Emerald City using the drawings they had made previously, and to cut them out. We circulated and supported the students who needed further encouragement.

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Performance/Sharing (15 min)

At the end of the making and writing session we asked writers to stand and read out their pieces, if they were proud of them. I gave each reader positive feedback and praise, picking out elements I loved, and each reader was given a round of applause.

We then asked the artists to line up at the front of the classroom or hall, and put their skylines together and high above their heads, to make one long, green, skyline. It looked beautiful! I then invited one of the readers (someone whose work showed real beauty and imagination) to read their piece with the collective skyline behind them. It was a really beautiful piece of performed art. The writers were asked to give the artists a round of applause.

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Wicked Voices workshop, session one (Years 6-9 and up)

Interactive Storytelling of The Wizard of Oz (15 min)

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Wicked Detectives (10 min)

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The first part of these 90-minute sessions was very similar to the Year 2-5 sessions, as we found that older students’ knowledge of The Wizard of Oz was in fact hazier and less immediate than that of the younger students, and it was important to establish a narrative foundation. However, we shortened the leaflet exercise, because the following activity would in fact give a much more detailed introduction to plot and characters.

Script Readings (30 min)

We then split the group into groups of 2, 3 or 4 and gave them copies of the script extracts that form one of Wicked educational packs, available for free online on the Wicked Musical’s website. There are some fantastic resources there, including a whole set of lesson plans on bullying in relation to Elphaba’s story, designed to encourage empathy and kindness. If I was designing a longer set of sessions with a school, where I could develop a stronger bond with the class, I would definitely use these as the basis of empathetic writing work focusing on race and difference.

The students were asked to adopt roles and read through the scripts, thinking through what was going on, who the characters were, and why they were behaving as they were.

Script Sharings (20 min)

Groups were then asked to read out their scenes in chronological order in front of the class (which was either very enthusiastically done, or done with some reluctance!) We then asked the group as a whole to summarise the scene and the main plot and character points, which were written up on the board. As all the scenes were critical plot or character points, this gave a much more detailed contextualisation of the plot of Wicked than the leaflet exercise. It was a perfect primer, therefore, for a more challenging writing task.

One Killer Line (5 min)

If we had time, finally I asked everyone to pick and write down one crucial line from either their character’s perspective, or from another’s if they were truly not inspired. I asked them to identify a line that intrigued, or resonated, or told us something really important about the character.

Wicked Voices workshop, session two (Years 6-9 and up)

Script Readings (20 min)

We went back over and finished the script readings, or repeated them, in order to refresh memories of the intricate plot – this time with a firm eye on that “killer line” – which I here told them would be for their writing task.

Killer Line selection (5 min)

We then asked again for students to reflect on their scripts overall and think about the line they wanted to pick. We supported and guided those who struggled to choose – it isn’t an easy thing to do!

Writing task (35 min)

We then asked the students to focus on their killer line and the character who speaks it. The pieces of writing could be anything – from some of the lines already selected, I could tell some leaned towards particular genres: diary entries, monologues or short stories, for example. But it was completely open, and to be led through the line itself.

This was challenging for them because it required them to make an editorial decision based on a few words. We went around and supported those who found it too difficult. But most did get the idea and we even had a political speech come of a line!

Sharing (20 min)

Then writers were asked to share work, and given positive feedback. There were some exceptional pieces of work: a scene which perfectly rendered the voice of Chistery the monkey, for example, and a beautiful, extraordinary piece which I felt was better-textured and characterised than the original book!

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All the schools have been invited now to put together poster displays from the work done in these workshops, of which some will be selected for display at the Mayflower Theatre.

It’s been a joy to work alongside Hollie Ward, ArtfulScribe and Vikki Simmons of Mayflower Engage on this project. We all have differing skill sets and expertise, and it was a privilege to learn from them. We worked together so well as a team.

These workshops have been provided through the SO:Write Literature Development project, led by ArtfulScribe in partnership with Mayflower Theatre and generously supported by funding from Arts Council England and SO:Write UK project partners.

 

Session Nine, 22nd May: the editing process

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In our ninth session we went back over the various pieces we have begun over the course of the last six months. When we did this as a group in the form of a mind map, it was astonishing the number of different exercises we had done, and the range of forms of writing we had managed to start producing through our encounters with the archives.

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Begun to, is the important phrase. Many participants reflected this week that our fortnightly schedule has enabled great variety and challenge, but that it has also prevented the development of longer pieces and substantial reworking or rewriting. Instead we’ve moved from piece to piece, leaving them all unfinished.

Would monthly workshops have allowed more writing? Or would it simply have meant fewer pieces, all equally as unfinished? As a writer who has spent the last five years working at a novel, dropping it for months, picking it up again, with a string of other half finished projects stacked away, I wonder: without a publisher or a competition deadline, how do we finish writing anything? As a poet (I think that might be the first time I’ve called myself a poet), I also struggle with the question: when is a piece finished?

Accountability and focusing on outputs is useful. Both are part of our final phase of So Write Stories. We are working towards our own anthology, with great excitement and some trepidation. And we are doing so through monthly group meetings from June, where we will aim to give each other positive, constructive feedback.

To do so, we have to think about what editing is, and how it is most useful.

So in this session, I took the newspaper articles on Tristan de Cunha from the City Archives file, photocopied them, and asked writers to edit the writing, looking out for terms which seem out of date, phrases we disliked, or elements we would cut. It is often easier to edit an anonymous person’s writing then it is to edit our own, where we lack the cool objectivity necessary (I do subscribe to Stephen King’s advice to put a draft away for six weeks before looking at it, though I find with a 120k novel, the beginning of the novel is over six weeks away from its end anyway, so it always looks new when I start again!)

It ended up being a very illuminating exercise. Certain articles were very beautifully written and structured (we wondered if journalism now was quite so well crafted) and very little needed to be changed. Looking at it with an editorial eye revealed its strengths, not just weaknesses. That is something that is always worth bearing in mind.

But P’s editing of one piece led to one of those “Egad! lightbulb!” moments that all teachers in all subject areas live for. P stripped away a somewhat overbearing journalist’s commentary from a profile of one of the islanders. He stripped it all away, to leave the interviewee’s quotations, almost verbatim. P read the two versions, and where one was cluttered with unnecessary information and the islander’s voice was drowned out by the judgemental narrator of her experience, in P’s version, it was the islander’s voice that rang true, powerful and pure.

The two pieces, side by side, were a perfect demonstration of showing, not telling. One of the hardest things to balance in creative writing, stripping the telling away revealed the clarity and impact that unmediated showing can achieve. It was a powerful moment, and one I  have been keeping in my mind as I complete the redraft of my own novel, in which I LOVE to tell, and struggle to show.

Session Eight, 8th May 2018: archive as object

Our eighth session took us back to the area I wished to focus upon at the end of our seventh session: the archive as object.

I felt that we had just begun to touch on this at the end of the session and that there was more to be done with it. Perhaps this is due to my own enduring attraction to archives as material objects, to be touched, smelt, as well as read. The thrill of untying the ragged greyish ribbon around the grey box, of lifting out the files within, opening them. The smooth paper envelopes, the scent of ageing paper mingling with their newness.

But it was also that I feel the group is more comfortable diving straight into writing, than doing sensory kinds of activities, and we didn’t get very far the first time around due to levels of resistance to the actual activity. Indeed, it was familiar from my Fantasy Object workshops when I asked teenagers to describe the objects they passed around: a reluctance to go past the obvious adjectives to describe the object, a feeling of discomfort when going round and around. “I can’t think of anything.” When I do sensory activities with children, however, they come alive, easily able to voice the immediate things they feel and sense. When do we lose this connection to our bodies? When does it become so much harder for us to describe what our bodies feel?

We got there in the end, I think: with a rich mixture of words that described textures, scents, and the things that archives also evoke within us: their affective capacities, I would call them, if I had my other  [academic] hat on.

As a result of looking hard at these objects, we also got a fascinating story, one which we perhaps would never have heard otherwise. P, knowledgeable of, among many things, all things philatelic, told us that the islanders of Tristan de Cunha, until 1952, did not need to use stamps on their letters. Instead the Royal Mail funded the costs of postage for the tiny protectorate. For some time, they used the stamps of St Helena. Now they use their charming stamps as a way to raise money for the island, and even have their own postcode: TDCU 1ZZ.

 

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The sharing of this fascinating story made me reflect on another element of this project: a collective space for knowledge exchange. I am not the “teacher” in this setting. Rather I frame the sessions, and guide, but I appreciate that one of things that makes these workshops special and enjoyable is the opportunity to talk, share stories, and find out surprising, interesting things.

We then used the sensory qualities of the archival encounter as a way to frame pieces of writing. I asked the writers to think of a situation in which an old letter or document was discovered, and to base a piece of writing around this, using the archival material as prompts. In my own novel, letters play a very important role in the plot, and often a description of the moment of discovery, of the ldocuments themselves, can serve to make a reader thrill too with a shared sense of anticipation and then discovery.  There were some powerful examples started in the session, using the tragic and moving stories in some of the letters we read as a starting point.

Personally, I was struck by the address on one of the letters, now over sixty years old, which bore the same postmark that all our letters had growing up. I know that the Tristan de Cunha islanders stayed in Merstham before they were moved to Calshot, no more than a mile from where I grew up in Surrey (and not a very friendly place for migrants even when I was growing up, twenty years on from their stay there). Merstham, Calshot. Redhill, Southampton. A part of their unique journey, echoed in my own. These strange, geographical patterns and connections, which we all live in between, as if in a web of threads.

Session Seven, 24th April 2018: island stories and Tristan de Cunha

This session saw the introduction of a new set of archival material, our final theme for the year. After looking at the Oral History Unit archives, photographs and WW2 evacuee stories, we turned this week to look at the City Archives’ wonderful collection of material on a story that perfectly encapsulates the history of Southampton as a place of sanctuary, as a place where the “islandness” of England feels somewhat more real, a place which is tied to others through the water that flows between.

In 1962, a tiny, isolated British protectorate called Tristan de Cunha in the South Atlantic had to be evacuated of its tiny population of 250-odd, due to the imminent eruption of the volcano on the island. The community was brought all the way to England, first settled in a camp in Merstham, Surrey, and then moved to another camp in Calshot.

The community of evacuees provoked much media and national curiosity. Descended from just one British garrison who settled the island in the 18th century, the island community only bore seven surnames between them. They spoke a version of English more closely aligned to 18th century English, and lived what was viewed in 1960s England as a peculiarly stark, old fashioned life, with precious little technology, and no mod cons. Newspaper articles described them as “the unworldly people”, “strange”, from another time. Doctors prodded and probed them, fascinated by a society unexposed to many modern diseases and riven with interbreeding. Settled into camps, fenced off from both the broader Surrey and Hampshire communities, their settlement and adjustment to England was at best incomplete. After the volcano settled, there was a vote, and all but a handful chose to return to their home, and their simpler way of life.

The City Archives holds a range of material related to this time, including newsletters printed by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, newspaper cuttings, and most movingly, a series of letters from one of that handful of families who decided to stay. It’s these that we looked at in this session, alongside a narrative account of the island’s history.

But first, I wanted us to think about island-ness.

Does being of an “island” mean anything in particular, I wondered? Does it mean openness, for example, or insularity, or a strange combination of both?

I asked our writers to reflect on these questions in some free writing on the theme of “island.” And this produced, I think, some of the richest and most powerful writing that has come out of the session. Perhaps it is because as a word, it has such a powerful visual and conceptual resonance, at the heart of which is an irreconcilable tension between openness and closedness, community and isolation. Several pieces reflected on the dichotomies embedded in the term. One piece, by the talented B, played with the makeup of the very word, using the “IS” within Island as a way to think of the word’s relationship to identity and ways of being. Another used “Island” as an acrostic. It was a very rewarding exercise, particularly satisfying for me as geographer-historian-writer.

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We then set about our main workshop task. I had a challenge when approaching this material. How could the group absorb all the rich, unique detail of the Tristan de Cunha story, all its quirks and eccentricities, AND begin to write something on it over the course of perhaps two workshops? There is so much to read, and find out and I had discovered, in preparing for this week’s session, the most evocative and detail written account of Tristan de Cunha: Margaret Mackay’s Angry Island, which is available to read online.

I realised that this dilemma related to another element of writing, and that I could effectively base the session task around it: research. How do we as writers extract information in order to use it as the basis of a new story? What are the pieces of information that call out to us, which demand to be restructured into pieces of writing?

For the main task, then, I gave the writers a chapter each of Mackay’s fascinating book. I asked them to make notes and highlight them using my beloved pastel Stabilo highlighters, and to summarise their discoveries to the group. By going in chronological order, we got a wonderful summary of the most interesting parts of the book as seen by each writer.

This perhaps meant that the story we ended up with was partial, and that some details that would have fascinated one person but didn’t interest the reader were left out. But, as we discussed in the group, this is essentially what writers do, even those writing wildly imaginative flights of fancy (like me). Even I, as a fantasy writer (albeit of a historical bent) have taken real things that called out to me, even real archives, and I have reshaped and translated them into a different kind of story.

Research is a mysterious process when it comes to creative writing. I didn’t really want the summaries to be very fact driven: this was not an academic report we were working towards. It is more instinctive than that. As we saw before, certain photographs might speak to us, but not others. What that speaking to is, is a moment of inspiration, empathy, connection. It’s a spark that can then grow into the inferno of a whole other story.

Session Six Place as Person writing by J: Shirley/Upper Shirley

Shirley

OK, I’ll admit I’m a bit common – basic I think it what they call it nowadays – but I don’t really care. And I know I’m a bit shabby, not very attractive but that’s because I’ve worked so hard for so long, been useful, and that’s been my true purpose.

People look down on me, say, ‘You don’t really want to visit her,’ but what happens when you need something? I’m the one who’s there for you and you’re quite happy to come and take what I have to offer. I’ve housed you, fed you, looked after you when you were ill, made you look beautiful, provided you with life’s basics and entertained you for decades.

Yes, I admit I’ve seen better days, was once young and fresh and what you might describe as more natural, but you’ve got to change with the times. I’ve had so many changes that’s why I look a bit random, a bit thrown together. And I’m friendly; look at the people I’ve welcomed over the years, quite literally thousands, and I don’t care where they came from, they’re all the same to me. So call me common and ugly if you like but just appreciate what I’ve done for you.

Upper Shirley

I like to think I’m what you might describe as an awfully nice class of person and I’m not ashamed to say it. I make sure I always look smart and presentable, quietly elegant, and put up a good front, even if I’m falling apart inside. I’m never untidy or unkempt and take great pains to improve my appearance but without standing out from the crowd. People looking at me will see me as professional, reliable and with high standards.

Mostly I keep myself to myself, I’m a kind of elegant fortress defending myself against others, those not like me, although I do see some of them such as the window cleaner or my gardener. In fact, a lot of them are the salt of the earth; I just don’t want to have to live with them. To tell the truth, I’m not even sure about those around me so I make sure I’ve put up strong barriers between me and everyone else.

I know a lot of people would look at me and think I was a bit aloof, a bit of a snob, but secretly, in your heart of hearts, I know you’d give anything to be me.

 

Session Six Place as Person writing by R: St Denys/Bitterne Park

St Denys

Monks once worshipped here but now the priory, dedicated to the martyred Saint Denis, is sadly now just a few bricks.   But the light of the river still bathes the area.   I am honoured to say that this is regarded as Southampton’s bohemian area.   There are artists living in the small Victorian houses, you may notice in the front garden of one of them the painted red bicycle with flowers growing out of the front basket.

The Belsize Boatyard has long gone.   I and many others objected to the characterless block of flats which replaced it but it would take a lot to destroy me, to iron out all those lovely wrinkles and make it all bland and boring.

Bitterne Park

I am a decent sort and worked hard for these fine houses and leafy streets.    Unlike the other side of the river we have hills and still some of the woodland which once covered these slopes.   From the highest hill you can see right across the west side of the city, the civic centre clock and the sixties tower blocks beyond.   I am pleased to report that there are no tower blocks in Bitterne Park.

 

I do sometimes cross the river, over Cobden Bridge to the flat lands beyond.   I must admit to enjoying wandering around St Denys, so bohemian, so refreshing after all that white suburbia.   But I would not wish to live there, to abandon the anonymous respectability that suburbia bestows.

Session Six, 27th March 2018: a visit to Maritime and Local Collections

Session Six saw us going on a little trip again: this time staying within the walls of Central Library itself. A theme that had been coming up time and time again, with the Southampton focus of this project, was place. So I decided to dedicate this whole workshop to thinking geographically (my UCL colleagues will be so happy!) about Southampton. As part of this, I designed a short writing exercise, followed by a trip to the see the Maritime and Local Collections, which are based on the lower ground floor at Southampton Central library.

Like the City Archives, it is an underused treasure of an institution which is not widely known. Yet it contains multitudes. When I first came across it, I confess it took me some time to understand what City Archives held vs. the Local History Library. But it is very simple in reality: Local History holds mostly public printed information on Southampton, books, school reports, as well as a great deal of information on its shipping and naval history. City Archives mostly holds private records. (There is, of course, some overlap.) A fuller description of the collections can be found here.

So we first began with a quick writing exercise. When I first arrived in Southampton seven or eight years ago, I was struck by the complex, intricate microgeographies of the place. When I say struck, I mean bewildered, confused, and somewhat entertained. Where exactly does Inner Avenue end, and Bevois Valley begin? When walking from one edge of one to the end of the other takes all of five minutes, does it really matter? It turns out, yes, it really does: something that really became apparent to me when I moved to Shirley, and was frequently asked, “Which end? Upper or lower?” Frankly, I still don’t know the answer to this question. The geography of Southampton is something that is lived and learnt over time.

Each of these micro-places, I’ve found, connotes particular things. They have distinct identities. The group agreed and we teased some of these out in discussion: Bitterne, versus Woolston, St Denys, St Mary’s. We thought too about the different kinds of markers that divide Southampton’s spaces into smaller places: bridges, the water, the terrain (Bitterne! Hilly! Central Southampton! Flat!)

For the writing exercise, I asked the group to pick an area they knew well, and to write it as a person, in a first person narrative. A This ended up being a truly delightful bit of work and produced wonderful, often hilarious, wry observations in the monologues that were produced. They were so enjoyable to listen to and read and I think will illicit a great deal of pleasure and recognition amongst readers in the city. I very much look forward to including them in our end of year anthology.

A few of these will also be published in the following blog articles. I would have loved to make it an interactive guessing exercise, and concealed the corresponding places from immediate identification, but alas, I think that might be beyond the capacities of WordPress’s basic version (and certainly it is beyond my knowledge of it).

We then went down to visit the Local History Centre, guided kindly by its staff, who gave us a wonderful overview of the collections: including a stunning range of maps and plans. From these, we got the most dizzying sense of how Southampton has changed over time, grown, and reshaped itself. Seeing the old pier and the water where Ocean Village is now, really struck us all. Once, Southampton was a seaside town, a place people would come on holiday. If only we could reclaim a little of that, as well as pride in our industrial heritage.

I love urban plans and planning. It goes back to my work at UCL, where I spent months in an odd little room in Ealing Council, poring through the planning applications of various religious buildings in the borough. I loved every minute. To me, urban planning, as a fantasy writer, is the making of a series of “what-if” worlds, the visual equivalent of what I do on the page. They are imaginative experiments, some of which go on to get made into reality, but many which never get realised. To look at historical plans of Southampton, therefore, is not just to see how the present city came to have its form, but it is also to see the Southamptons that could have been, but never were.