Priya completed the Young Writers Programme in 2019–20 at Landau Forte College in Derby, working with the Writer-in-Residence, Joe Marsh. The following year she was awarded a coveted Rathbone’s Folio Prize Mentorship, working with poet Kathryn Maris. Priya is a poet, a First Story Ambassador and also Derby’s Deputy Youth Mayor. She was commissioned to create a short film for the Young Writers Festival in 2021, alongside many professional writers – inspiring more young people to join the programme and find their own voice.
Wow! Here, in the midst of a global pandemic, I find myself celebrating the art of writing, having had a strong abhorrence for English as a subject, and knowing I would become an engineer up until around the age of 16. As an 18-year-old looking back on my poetic journey over the past two years, I can safely say that First Story has been and continues to be an incredible benefit not just to me, but my peers too.
Before the programme, I was definitely interested in writing and spoken word. Having finished my GCSEs earlier that year, I remember spending that extra-long summer experimenting with spoken word, delivery, and structures of poems for my Instagram page @officialchillpoetry but I always had that feeling gnawing away in the back of my mind, as if something was missing. My passion meant that I was ready to take my writing to the next level, but I was still very inexperienced in the grand scheme of things. It always puts a smile on my face when I talk about how I crossed paths with First Story. It’s at this point I’d like to pay homage to the English Department at my secondary school, Landau Forte College Derby, as the First Story Young Writers Programme wasn’t initially open to post-16s. Being in year 12, I didn’t know about First Story until my GCSE English teacher caught me in the corridor and said, “Have you heard of First Story?” The rest, as they say, is history!
Having quickly educated myself, I had a strong inclination towards doing it; I’d be getting writing advice from a practiced professional, we’d get to sit and test new ways of thinking and I would meet lots of younger writers and help them too. This inclination was confirmed when I held school’s previous anthology in my hands and thought “this will be me next year”. Because of First Story, I can now call myself a published writer!
The workshops with Joe Marsh were incredible. Each exercise we’ve done has become a tool for me to use when trying to add extra language into my work. One of the main things I took away from that experience was how much my confidence had exceled from the start. How I had slowly felt my confidence increase over the weeks, enough for me to apply for Youth Mayor of my city – I’ll come onto that later. I can’t pick one favourite exercise. The way we learnt to give characteristics to things you never thought we could and how we’d create characters from noises and colours are what inspired me the most. One of the most interesting pieces I wrote was about a war veteran dreaming about seeing his grandchildren in the enemy planes. This being an idea that stemmed from an old fraying chair. That’s the kind of creative freedom that we had. Alongside all of this, due to my newfound confidence, I decided to apply for Youth Mayor of Derby. I remember how Joe would ask me weekly how it was going; the group was so supportive. As a writer, I knew that my speech had to be a poem – It went down really well! I’m now proud to say that I am the Deputy Youth Mayor of the City of Derby, and will be until May 2022.
This was all good until the impending lockdown which unfortunately meant that we couldn’t have our proper book launch. Nonetheless, lockdown was a very interesting time for me. I had the space and time to find my style and put into practise the concepts from our sessions. It was during lockdown that I was incredibly lucky to be awarded a place on the Rathbones Folio Mentorship. I am currently mid-mentorship with my super talented mentor Kathryn Maris. She has introduced me to a plethora of new poetic forms along with helping me with a concept that I had come across with Joe but never had the courage to properly try – editing! During my time with her, I’ve learnt how to go about writing and editing to ensure the pieces are the best they can be. I even wrote my first sonnet which went down really well at school.
Most recently, I was truly honoured to be commissioned to create a craft resource, using lyrics as lessons, which in itself was an experience that has changed me. Seeing my name on social media, among others like Angie Thomas and Melvin Burgess gave me goosebumps. I am grateful that my learning journey with First Story is ongoing and am proud to say that they have been an integral part of my journey so far. Now, the puzzle is complete, First Story has filled the gap in so many ways: I’ve gained confidence, my writing has become more organised and sophisticated, and I’ve had the chance to express my creativity on a national level.
This leaves me with the future. First Story has taught me that anything is possible. Short term, I see myself focusing on performance poetry, as I’ve always loved music and had an ability to speak to an audience. Long term, the possibilities are endless, something that really excites me is film writing; I can combine poetry, performance, and storytelling… watch this space!