Every anthology that we publish includes an introduction by the school’s Writer-in-Residence. This one is an excellent example, written by Mashuda Snaith to introduces the 2019 anthology by students from the City of Leicester College.
Our stories began where all good stories end; the library. Every Wednesday afternoon, as the corridors swarmed with students exiting the big sliding doors of City of Leicester College, twelve young women would take a different route and enter the library.
They sat on desks behind the bookshelves, scribbling poems, flash-fiction, monologues and dialogues. They did ‘free-writing’ – writing without judgement or fear of getting things ‘wrong’ and letting the words flow. Then they would go to the other end of the spectrum and edit, thinking about what they could add but also doing the far harder work of thinking about what they could take away to make their pieces stronger.
Most of all, they played. With sounds, with words, with ideas. This for me is the joyful part of creative writing (and let’s remember that creative writing should be joyful, at least for most of the time). I believe that it’s when we are at our most playful that we produce the most inventive, personal work, and that definitely proved to be the case with the final pieces that emerged from our First Story sessions.
It seems pertinent that our group was an all-female one in the same year that we celebrated the centenary of women’s suffrage. This was not intentional. I believe writing and reading is for everyone regardless of gender, race, or beliefs. In fact, it is the one form where we can truly escape into someone else’s world without having necessarily lived in it. That’s what makes it so magical as well as so incredibly important.
Neither did having an all-female group particularly affect what we wrote or what I taught, but, when the First Story group decided on naming the anthology ‘The Fault in Our Stories’, I did wonder whether this was a reflection of the insecurity girls and women are constantly filled with from a young age: the scrutiny of the way we look in the media, the need to please when we are told to be ‘nice girls’ and the way we pick out our faults far quicker than we pick our strengths.
But then I did an exercise (inspired by the same exercise that resulted in the shared poem ‘Life is a Box of…’ that opens this anthology) by asking the group to finish the line ‘The Fault in Our Stories is…’. When I read the responses, they were not about the faults in the writers themselves but the faults in society, the faults in Brexit, the faults in stories not told, written on scrunched-up pieces of paper that lay at the bottom of the bin. They were in the fault of stories themselves and how they could ‘never become real’.
I found something empowering about this, something honest, something true. Moreover, after reading and editing the final pieces, I feel there’s no small coincidence that the title’s inspiration, The Fault in Our Stars, is also reflected in the many references to stars in the group’s written work and the final cover art. There is a certain level of aspiration in these references, a ‘reach for the stars’ attitude that feeds into the anthology as a whole.
Our stories began where all good stories end; the library. And, in a strange, serendipitous way they will end up there too, in school libraries and the libraries of our homes.
Before we began writing, way back on day one, I asked the group why they wanted to do the sessions. One pupil wrote that she wanted to write creatively ‘like I did when I was younger’, before adding, ‘also because it will improve my English writing skills and is something to put on my personal statement in Year 11’.
This came as a surprise to me. I knew about writing for fun as well as writing as a therapeutic device, but I’d never really thought about how writing can help you in a practical academic sense, even though, on reflection, it had helped me tremendously as an undiagnosed dyslexic teenager to pass my English exams.
With this in mind, I hope this anthology will inspire others to have fun and joy with their writing but also inspire them to attempt to master the crazy beast that is the English language.
I hope that I’ve taught the young women in my group that you do not do this by getting everything ‘right’ the first time, that in fact we learn best when we make mistakes. Because, of course, mistakes, like faults, are not really mistakes but opportunities to learn.
So, let the faults in our stories remain because it is the faults that make us stronger not weaker. And, as the First Story writers at City of Leicester have taught me, it is our faults that make us who we are.