“Before First Story, I enjoyed writing, but I hadn’t really invested in it or considered it as something I could build a future around. Working with First Story has made a huge difference, if nothing else, it has made me look again at the opportunities around me, to see them as being something I could succeed at, and it has given me the confidence to assess critically what is right for me.
I was so excited when I was selected for the First Story programme and found out I was going to be working with playwright Amanda Whittington. I hadn’t heard of Amanda before, but I quickly realised, she was actually a big deal! After a few sessions, I started to pick up on opportunities around me. I entered a competition in our local shopping centre that was judged by Anthony Anaxagorou; and had a poem that was ‘highly commended’ in the Royal Society of Literature’s Peace Pamphlets project.
Participating in the RSL competition was thanks to First Story, they organised a visit from the poet Ian Duhig to our school which inspired me to enter. I was so proud of my piece! The experience really changed how I looked at my writing and more importantly how others saw me as a writer.
I took this growing confidence back into sessions with Amanda who, understandably, encouraged us to look into scriptwriting in our sessions. I was always really excited by being on stage and seized every opportunity I could. What Amanda made me realise is that I didn’t need to wait for a play to come along (only to miss rehearsals, looking at you Bugsy Malone!), I could write my own pieces and perform them on my own terms. Now I do just that, I write for school shows, our in-house school radio station, Radio Grange, and even out in the community like for Chapel FM in Leeds or working with Freedom Studios in Bradford.
I am so proud of the work I have produced, even the work I created when I have been challenged (and wanted to wrestle free to find a creative space that is definitively my own), I know that all these things have made me a better writer.
One of the memories I’ll treasure the most – alongside the workshops, trips out of school, the anthology we made and the launch – is the summer residential at Lumb Bank. I feel indebted to Dan Powell and Rebecca Tantony for all that they shared. Being fully immersed in the experience – a new place, a house steeped in literature, being selected to share it with people of my own age, people who saw themselves as writers and were each incredibly driven and talented – made me want to improve and step up. I was in awe of the things that came out of me during that week and very moved by the writing everyone else produced too.
What I learned from this whole experience is to shake off any feelings of nervousness, it will only hold you back. I was scared at first to explore this more creative side of myself because it was new. Well, it wasn’t totally new, everyone has an imagination and inner voice, but this was a more professional approach… a real writer, a real writing group! If you fight through those fears, you come to a special place and I know for sure it has made me grateful that I came to a school that values these things. That feels quite special.
If it wasn’t for First Story, I don’t think I would have considered acting, directing or a whole world of other careers in the same way I do now. Right now, I’m keen to focus on my GCSEs and A-Levels and I know my choices reflect me and how I want to see the world. I want to study philosophy and what makes people tick. I want to go to college, maybe study at a European university and a whole bunch of other things in between. Point is, I don’t feel any of these things are out of reach.
I also want to thank Ms Blashill and Mr Bradshaw, my friends in the writing group and First Story – especially Amanda Whittington, Daniel Ingram-Brown, Dan Powell and Rebecca Tantony – for supporting me as a writer. You don’t push; you encourage and that’s an important distinction. It is so awesome to be surrounded by such passion. Thank you so very much for encouraging these stories into life.”
Diana completed the Young Writers Programme at Co-op Academy Grange in Bradford, during the 2018–19 academic year. She lives between worlds: not just between her old life in Liepāja, Latvia, and her current life in Bradford, but also between the worlds of page and stage of poetry and prose and of writing, directing and acting. She applied for and won a place on First Story’s summer residential course at Arvon, Lumb Bank. Her work has been highly commended by the Royal Society of Literature, and she has read her work on Chapel FM.