Lily completed the First Story Young Writers Programme at The Dukeries Academy in 2022. Since then she has attended the Summer Residential and was awarded a place on our Folio Mentoring scheme. She was mentored by Diana Evans on developing her poetry and a short novel. She has recently taken a place at Oxford Brookes University to study Japanese, her ambition is to write poetry in Japanese.
I decided to get involved in First Story in the sixth form. We had to do an extra-curricular activity, and I was into creative writing anyway. My English teacher at the time, Miss Russell, said we would get to have our work published, and I thought, “Wow, that would be so cool.” So I did it.
I thought we’d just do writing exercises, and that’s obviously what our writer, Kevin Fegan, did, but he challenged us. I’d never written poetry before, and he asked us to write a poem. I didn’t think I could do it, but I really liked it, and I just carried on writing poems. Now that’s mainly what I write.
I really liked meeting people who were also interested in writing, because in this area you don’t find a lot of people who are interested in writing. Even reading, no one really likes reading around here. So it was really nice to be with people who enjoyed that as well. I liked that the year I did it we had a mixed age group, it was just sixth-formers before. And even though we’re older than them, the Year Eights and Nines had a very alternative view on writing, so we got to learn from what they wrote, and they got to learn from us. We got to share the experience, and even though they were younger, we didn’t look down on what they wrote because it was still good stuff.
When I was seventeen I went to the Summer Residential with fifteen people from other schools. We were all complete strangers and we’re friends now, we still talk on group chat. I liked how we all worked together and even doing the cooking was very nice. There was a lot of teamwork. It’s great to have that experience of being in the workshops, when we shared our writing and everyone listened to each other. There was no judgement so that was really comforting. Ashley Hickson-Lovence and Chrissie Lewis, the writers, were helpful and very insightful.
Then I got a place on the Folio Mentoring Scheme and worked with Diana Evans for a year. She taught me to look at my own work objectively and not be too harsh on it. I think we’re all quite harsh on our own work, but she’s taught me to leave it for a while and then go back to it with a fresh set of eyes. I think a little bit before just writing stuff and then having to go back and delete half of it because I’ve just been rambling. I think she’s taught me to be objective about it, but also stay true to it as well.
I’ve been writing a short novel and Diana has helped me to set myself goals and work towards those. It’s been challenging for me because I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of that without her input. For example, the novel opens with the main character and his therapist, and I think if it was just down to me I wouldn’t have written what I did, but Diana asked questions about the scene, and that got me thinking and writing in spirals. Then I deleted the parts that didn’t work. She gave me the confidence to do that, and I can carry on doing it with my writing in the future.
The face-to-face meetings with Diana in London were great. Seeing so many different people and being in in a new environment, it does help with inspiration. And it was fun to get Diana’s input on my writing. She helped my work a lot, especially with the the longer prose pieces. It was fun to meet everyone at the Folio Showcase as well and hear all their work. I really enjoyed it, and it helped me find more confidence in myself.
I’m much more confident now. If I feel something, if I think something, I can put it into a poem. And it’ll make me much more confident about the way I feel. On the residential Ashley really helped me with my confidence speaking in front of people. That was great because I had zero confidence when I started sixth form, and First Story did help a lot, and then the Folio helped again then because I was reading to a much wider audience. Now I can feel confident in my work and myself. I express myself through poetry and then I reflect it back on myself. So it’s been a very transformative experience for me.
I think the most significant change from doing First Story is I’m overwhelmingly invested in poetry. I didn’t like poetry before, so doing my GCSE poetry paper was awful, but I really like it now and I can find comfort in it. It’s nice to write it. It’s nice to read it. That’s a big change. And I really like that change. I’ve learned to trust myself with my writing. Before I would always second-guess everything, now I’ve learned to be more confident and not care about what other people think of my writing, because some people’ll like it, some people won’t. That’s their opinion. I just write for the sake of it, not because someone’s telling me to write something.
Because I love poetry so much I read anything I can get my hands on. There’s a really nice poem called ‘Weather Patterns’, by Kyong-Mi Park. She’s Korean, moved to Japan and writes poetry in Japanese. That’s what got me really invested in Japanese as well, and then I started researching other Japanese poets. So creative writing with First Story has helped me get into Japanese.
Now I’m at Oxford Brookes University studying Japanese, and I want to write poetry in Japanese. That’s one of my big goals, but also I want to go into subtitling and translating for movies and TV programmes. I think that’s quite interesting. So if I can do both of those that would be great, but in the meantime, I’ll just stick to poetry in English.
I’m really proud that I have a a big collection of poetry now and I wouldn’t have had that a couple of years ago, so that’s a big achievement for me. I have a novel in progress. I have a lot of confidence with reading my work and writing it and just being a writer. And calling myself a writer, because I am a writer now.