Mentoring the Northern Girls - some thoughts on the process
One of the greatest privileges of my practice is facilitating writers’ groups and working with people to craft their stories into being. Working as writing mentor to the group of young women from Scarborough on the Northern Girls project has been a delightful experience. Spending time with Shannon, Claire, Amy and Ariel has been such a tonic after a brutal and unforgiving year. 2020 has been devastating for so many in our industry in so many ways, but there has been a tiny spark within it all that I have found liberating and refreshing. We have been forced to think differently about what we make, how we make it and who we make it with. The act of telling stories and connecting in person to share hopes, fears and experiences has never felt more urgent or essential. Radical even.
I am a Northern girl; I grew up in West and North Yorkshire and spent holidays in Scarborough and along the East Coast. The moors, cliffs and coastline of this county are my home and it was in this landscape that I first put to pen to paper to find ways to express myself, my world and my voice. Now, telling stories and helping others to shape theirs is my job and it has been such a joy to get on the train to Scarborough once a week and share my craft with this remarkable group of young women.
It was exciting to be in a room working together to create material that we knew would form part of a live performance and I was impressed with how much each of the girls took on board in such a short space of time. Northern girls are often presented within narratives as unhelpful stereotypes and our frustrations with this served as a starting point for our creative discussions. We had all experienced the feeling of having certain stereotypes being forced upon us and had all, at times, played up to them. The gobby sidekick, the straight-talking no nonsense ditz, the big-busted-no-coat-wearing-binge-drinking loudmouth, the daft but loveable flat-vowelled clown; we had all masked up as bold as brass, common as muck, calls a spade a spade and will do owt for a bag of chips. It was these representations that the girls wanted to blow apart with their words.
Being part of these discussions and hearing the girls share and feedback so supportively on each other’s work was invigorating and inspiring. Seeing the final pieces performed alongside the other commissioned writer’s pieces, by a fabulous cast in the beautifully transformed YMCA carpark was such a reward to end the process. Watching the final collection of pieces, I was moved by the strong sense of place that ran through the evening, the urgent celebration of the female experience and the salty song of the sea.
Northern stories are important. Let’s keep telling them.
One of the exercises I love to do with writing groups is to create a co-written poem. Here’s one penned by the Northern Girls.
I’m a northern girl and I’m weak like a feather
I’m a northern girl and I have power, like a queen
Northern girls are like a drizzle of rain
They are rough teeth like jagged branches
carefree, a brash delicate mess, a piss-up gone wrong
eyes glassy like a morning frost
Northern girls are trouble, like the edge of a cliff
and the smell of salt and vinegar