I first attended the Young Writers Festival in Cambridge in 2019, the year before the cliché of the solitary writer became a reality for everyone, even people who aren’t writers. Not only was it my first time at the festival, but my first time in Cambridge, and I had a lovely couple of days, so I was excited to return to the festival this year.
As First Story has grown as an organisation and expanded into different regions across the country, it has also grown as a network of freelance writers and educators. Although many of us have managed to keep working in some form via Zoom and video-conferencing for the past couple of years, it’s safe to say that there’s something special about being able to meet up in person and swap stories, anecdotes, and just get a chance to have a general natter and catch up with other writers.
In addition to getting the chance to work with schools from different areas of the country, the Young Writers Festival also provides a crucial opportunity to observe other writers as they deliver their own sessions. And for me, it’s not so much about taking notes as being able to take in different energies and approaches. Even if two writers were working from the exact same lesson plan, they would each deliver it a completely different way, and I was very grateful to be able to sit in with Ioney Smallhorne and Emily Diamand as they worked with students.
The day was topped off with the incredible showcase event, featuring students from around the country reading their work on the stage. Hosted by the inimitable Khadija Ibrahiim, it’s a huge inspiration to witness first-hand the transformative power of creative writing and the work of First Story, as evidenced by ongoing the success of alumna Habiba Desai, the founder of Fox and Windmill, who spoke about her journey from participant to publisher on the stage.
It was also great to be able to meet members of the First Story team, such as Melissa, Lusungu and Emma for the first time. The people without whom there wouldn’t be events like the Young Writers Festival in the first place.
And I’d like to say a quick thank you to all the First Story team, and the staff and volunteers at University of Cambridge for making us all feel so welcome.
I’m already looking forward to next year.