2001 was my final year as an English teacher at Richmond School in North Yorkshire, the school where I’d very happily spent the first four years of my teaching career. The highlight of my time there came that spring, when I took a group of sixth form students for a week’s writing course run by the Arvon Foundation at Lumb Bank.
Our tutors that week were the late Julia Darling and Jackie Kay. Both were inspirational tutors: funny, patient, wise, generous with their time and feedback, and full of both playful and subtle exercises to get us all exploring new territory with our writing. It’s no overstatement to say that the week was life-changing for those students, several of whom had come to it from challenging personal circumstances.
It was life-changing for me, too, in that I got to write alongside my students – something I’d not done since I was at school. And I found that I loved it! At that stage I felt that I’d discovered something I was passionate to develop – but family illness and bereavement, relocating to Cambridge, and stepping up to a demanding new job all got in the way, and over the next year or two my writing ground to a halt.
So, fast-forwarding 18 years, for the last three of which I’ve created more space in my life for writing, it was especially exciting to have had a poem selected by Jackie Kay on the shortlist for the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition, and to be invited to read it at the awards evening on 28th November. Shortlisted poets don’t always get invited to the winners’ readings, so I was really delighted to have been included in the invitation, and it was a lovely event. We were treated to a reading from Jackie, who always reads with such musicality, with an ear for silence as well as intonation, and then it was wonderful to hear the range and power of the winning and shortlisted poems, some read in person and some played as video or audio clips.
The evening finished, as all good evenings do, with tea and cake.