Daniella, who attends Skinners Academy in London, took part in our 2021-22 Young Writers Programme. She then applied for and won a place on First Story’s summer residential at Arvon Lumb Bank. Daniella has since signed up for First Story’s Young Ambassadors programme and continues to get involved in organising creative writing activities in her school.
How I first got involved with First Story was a bit of a blur. My teacher, Miss Hardy, told us about it and advertised to her classes that we’d write poetry and at the end of it we would be published authors. I wanted to do it for the vibes and convinced my other friends to get involved, so I didn’t feel alone. It wasn’t because I felt I could be a writer, but it was to pass time and have an interesting experience.
I used to do creative writing in primary school, but not poetry. In secondary, it was more focused on essays. I wrote short notes about where my head was at, but that was just for myself. First Story came along and I saw I had that talent. It had never occurred that I was good before. I thought that other people were better, more skilled.
When I started, I didn’t take it that seriously. It was a weird adjustment, being given prompts, being boundless. Ashley Hickson-Lovence, our writer, would tell us to take the first thing to come into our heads and keep writing. The ways that Ashley would help us to write really stood out to me: using fortune cookies, writing about the fortune inside, Kinder Egg animals, football figurines…childish, humorous, but eye opening as well.
The more I wrote, the more my meaning grew. With freedom and through feedback, I realised I had good results. Writing became more exciting and I wanted to do more. Reading out loud, getting feedback and knowing my writing meant something to someone was good too. I would have felt discouraged without that. The whole experience was positive and uplifting. It was fast paced, but I liked that too.
I’ve been involved in trips and the Summer Residential at Lumb Bank. Meeting Ashley at Lumb Bank again was refreshing because it had been months since our workshops. I enjoyed meeting other schools, other people, new friends, and bonding with other people I wouldn’t usually talk to. Coming together and doing things like cooking was amazing. We’re still in touch and still tight. On the way, I thought I wouldn’t be able to talk to anybody, but the icebreakers really helped and the fresh air was stimulating after a tiring journey.
I’ve learnt never to judge a book by its cover.
I’ve learnt to always make connections, wherever you go, to be open minded and creative, not to limit yourself to what you’re used to or what others want. My teacher Miss Hardy is like a friend and role model to me because of First Story too; she helps with my poetry and I trust her opinion on my writing with my heart. Something that will always resonate with me is when she said, ‘Don’t change your writing to what you think someone else wants to hear… People will always respect your integrity’.
My writing responds to what’s going on and my poems tend to be melancholic. They’re not always personal but they explore my views and the personal effects that societal issues have, for example the effects of colonialism, Black people within the mental health system, the family complex and my origin, Africa, Ghana. Not fantasy and not overly cheerful. I’ve been challenged to write about being Black and African in a happy light too, for example talking about our culture and colour. Writing about the light can help to add balance.
First Story has made me think about things more deeply, not just on the surface. Not everything is what it seems to be. It encouraged me to be more welcoming as well. It was good to meet new people on the residential trip who had different characteristics to what I’m used to. Thinking back, one of my friends now from the residential trip said when she first met me, she felt that I was tough and closed off. This helped me realise that sometimes I appear to be reserved but First Story helped me to ‘knock away my hard exterior’ and try to be more open and cheerful to others and myself.
Finally, it’s taught me to think of myself more highly. As the perfectionist I am, I tend to be critical and hard on my work which sometimes demotivates me. But I can do more than I think. I have the power to create amazing work in poetry. It is all about my head and convincing myself of my true worth and ability.
I’ve already been working on a collection of poems that I haven’t shared yet. I have signed up as a Young Ambassador to be involved in the Young Writers Festival and would be interested in the Rathbones Folio Prize Mentorship, continuing my writing journey and seeing where it can take me.
Giving up poetry would never be an option to me. I want to go into a professional banking or finance role, but I would like to publish a poetry collection and maybe eventually open a book café with workshops and open spaces for kids and adults to connect through words, whether it be spoken-word, poetry, or storytelling.
One thing for sure is, I know no matter where I go, poetry will follow beside.