Write Like a Grrrl!

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Write Like a Grrrl offer creative writing courses for self-identifying women across the UK and have now worked with over 100 women writers. We caught up with course tutor and writer Claire Askew to learn more about what it all means to Write Like a Grrrl…

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Meet the lovely Claire Askew (@OneNightStanzas). Portrait by Sally Jubb Photography.

Can we just say that Write Like a Grrrl is a genius idea.

It came from Kerry Ryan, WLAG! founder and our brilliant London tutor. She invented the course as a result of her own struggles with her novel;  she was completing her PhD at the time, so she was up against a major deadline. Kerry’s also a mum – in short, she understands how tricky it can be to juggle the many commitments in your life and find time for writing! She realised that there didn’t seem to be any writing courses acknowledging that women writers face different (and often more) barriers to writing than their male counterparts. So, being the badass that she is, she started one.

Who are the other Write Like a Grrrls behind the scene?

Kerry approached For Books’ Sake (the unstoppable force behind the Derby Shorts short story and Furies poetry anthologies), and FBS‘s equally brilliant Jane Bradley immediately got on board. Jane is a total powerhouse – she runs the Manchester courses and handles all the behind-the-scenes stuff for WLAG!

Then there’s me. I saw courses being offered in London and Manchester and thought: wow, this looks amazing, why do cool things like this never happen in Scotland? Then I thought, wait, I’m a creative writing tutor, I could bring this to Scotland! So I emailed Kerry and Jane, pitched myself as a tutor and they very kindly (and bravely) brought me on board and trained me up.

About nine months on, we’ve now worked with over 100 women writers and we’re booking up WLAG! courses for a brand new autumn semester!

How do the WLAG! courses work?

Each course is six weeks long. We aim to have no more than twelve women in each class, so everyone gets a chance to speak, listen and feel included.

WEEK 1: Women meet and are introduced to the course material. We then have a big discussion about what prevents them from writing: what barriers do they face? This discussion is always really fascinating and sometimes touches on some strong emotions, so the class bonds really quickly as a result. By the end of session one there’s usually a sudden feeling of shared community. Women say things like, “I thought I was the only one who struggled with this, but now I have eleven new friends who can relate!” It’s pretty wonderful to see and hear.

WEEKS 2, 3 and 4: We concentrate on character, dialogue and setting – how to start tackling them, and how to write them well. In the fifth week everyone takes what they’ve learned so far and creates a piece of writing.

FINAL WEEK: We use that piece of writing to learn about editing, and what happens next. There’s also a lot of cake involved throughout!

The course is built on the idea that a lot of what we’ve all been told about writing is a big myth: for example, waiting for the creative Muse to be upon you. That idea just doesn’t work if you have a stressful job, you’re a caregiver and you’re studying!

WLAG! is all about finding little windows of time in your day, and using them to create writing that makes you happy.

Oh, and we’re now running something called Write Like A Grrrl!: The Next Step. This is for women who’ve completed WLAG! but want more. They can now come back for another six-week course that incorporates more ‘advanced’ stuff, including group workshopping and critiquing. On the Next Step course we also bring in publishers, editors and other industry professionals to chat to the women about taking their writing to the next level.

Where in the UK can you Write Like a Grrrl?

Right now we run regular courses in London (Kerry), Manchester (Jane) and Edinburgh (me). Jane and Kerry have also run one-day intensive courses (the whole six weeks of WLAG! squeezed into a very full-on, but very fun, day) in Liverpool and Bristol respectively. I’m planning a Glasgow course which will start in the new year. And we have lots of plans for world domination… er, I mean, widening our reach!

People also often mention online courses. It’d be a big departure, and something we’d have to plan carefully… but we’re open to all new ideas. We keep touching base via excitable Skype meetings, and each time we chat a new plan blooms.

Are there any requirements for getting on a course?

Not at all. You just need to identify as a woman and want to write. Many of the women who attend the groups have never written anything… they’ve just always fancied trying it. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had a couple of women in my Edinburgh groups who have finished at least one novel. One of the women who graduated from WLAG! Edinburgh in February this year signed with an agent shortly after the course finished!

Kerry has put the whole thing together beautifully, so that the course can accommodate everyone from a complete beginner to someone who’s putting the finishing touches to their book. There’s something in WLAG! for everyone. Every woman is welcome.

What are people saying about Write Like a Grrrl?

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By the end of the course, I felt very inspired to continue, and had a renewed passion for short story writing in particular. The course gave me a much-needed confidence boost, too, and I realised my writing isn’t actually that bad!

– Nadia Henderson, Write Like a Grrrl:London graduate

Here are a few lovely things said by graduates from my own Edinburgh course (you can see more on my blog):

“Talking things through and getting different perspectives is so helpful. Meeting other really cool writers has been amazing… if you are serious about getting serious about writing, it’ll kick you into shape. I’ve written more in six weeks than I had in the previous six years. I don’t want it to end.”

“Do it! It cures all self doubt. It stops you from being your own worst critic.”

“I would say that it stops you from procrastinating and makes you get on with it. It’s not a passive course – don’t expect to be spoon-fed. There is work! But it’s excellent. And I doubt there is anyone who actually manages to finish it and not feel that [writing] is something they can do, and even enjoy doing!”

“It was really the best decision in terms of writing but also meeting people with similar interests. Turned up quiet and unsure about talking about writing, now have like a little circle for advice and encouragement, and look forward to seeing where everyone goes from here!”

Finally, here’s a very happy result!

What do you get from the experience as a course tutor? I feel massively privileged to be able to teach on the Edinburgh course and meet the phenomenal, inspiring women who sign up. My personal favourite moment so far happened just a couple of weeks ago. In March, a fledgling writer named Alison Gibson enrolled for WLAG! Edinburgh, and wrote a short story called “Fifth sister” which absolutely knocked my socks off. I suggested that she apply for the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s very prestigious Story Shop programme: each year, the EIBF pick thirteen short fiction writers from hundreds of entrants, and give them a spot to perform in the EIBF programme. Alison was really uncertain, but I eventually cajoled her into applying… and she got in! Fast-forward five months to this August. A nervous Alison stepped onto the stage in the EIBF Spiegeltent, and was greeted by a sea of familiar faces… loads of the other WLAG! alumni had come out to support her, including many who weren’t on the March course and had only met her earlier that day. Sitting there among them as they cheered Alison on, I really felt part of a community. I may even have had a little proud-tutor cry!

Can people support WLAG! by becoming a tutor?

That’s a good question. I did it without asking for permission or instructions first, and that’s probably not a good idea. Don’t be like me! If you’re interested in this aspect, email Jane via jane AT forbookssake.net and test the waters first.

How can someone go about booking a course?

All bookings are taken through the For Books’ Sake website. There may still be two places left on the Edinburgh September 2015 course, which starts on Monday 21st, so get in there quick if you want one! And Kerry is booking for a London course in October/November…

Before we say goodbye, please tell us a bit about yourself. You’re a published writer! You’ve set up a Patreon!

Well… I’m a fiction writer, battling through a big, dark first novel, the main theme of which is male violence. Cheery, right?! I’m also a poet, and my first collection, This changes things, is coming out with Bloodaxe Books in the new year — it was already shortlisted for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award in 2014, which was very exciting! I’m now hard at work on a second collection, working title How To Burn A Woman (yeah, my writing is generally quite dark).

What else? I work as a freelance writer, creative writing tutor and groupwork leader for hire. I work a lot with the brilliant reading-and-writing organisation Scottish Book Trust, and I’ve just been hired as the Creative Writing Fellow for a Scottish organisation called Tyne & Esk Writers.

And yes, I have a brand new, baby Patreon account! I’m using it to widen my reach as a creative writing teacher and mentor: if you pledge to my Patreon, I give you back monthly help and support for your writing.

Finally, is there something we really, really should have asked you but forgot?

No, these questions were great. But I’ll use this space to say…

Please follow us WLAG! tutors on Twitter for news and updates about our courses! We are:

@WriteLikeAGrrrl (Kerry)

@ForBooksSake (Jane)

and @OneNightStanzas (me)!


write for Mookychick