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Jo Weston on Maggie's Nottingham Creative Writing Group

26 April 16 words: Aly Stoneman

"Although everyone in the group has been affected by cancer, the focus is on an interest in reading and writing"

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illustration: Ian Carrington

What is Maggie’s Centre?
It’s based at City Hospital and is an amazing place that provides practical, social and emotional support for people with cancer, as well as their family and friends. I was diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2013 and Maggie’s helped me enormously during and after treatment.

Why did you join the Maggie’s Nottingham Creative Writing group?
I saw Creative Writing on the timetable and thought, “I’ve got to do that.” I’ve always loved writing and it was an opportunity to do something enjoyable in amongst all the awful treatment and decisions to be made. Although everyone in the group has been affected by cancer, the focus is on an interest in reading and writing. Sometimes people write about cancer and it can be a very useful way to express the complex feelings involved, but often they write about other things as all the other aspects of life are still carrying on as well.

What are the benefits of being a member?
I think most people have found it beneficial to share their work and receive supportive feedback from others. The added benefit of this group being at Maggie’s is that writing takes place in an environment where it’s safe to share your feelings about cancer – if and when you need to.

Best writing tips?
Sheelagh Gallagher ran the writing group when I attended, and the two main things she made clear to me were the need to read as much as possible and the importance of editing your work.

The writing group recently published an anthology, Between The Lines...
It’s a collection of poems, short stories, memoirs and letters on all kinds of subjects by fourteen of the people who’ve attended the creative writing group over the past few years. There’s a shared awareness of how experiencing illness can affect the way we see the world, but the content is funny and entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Following a launch in December 2015, we did an interview on BBC Radio Nottingham in January and a relaunch at Bromley House Library in February.

What inspired your poem Loss, which features in the anthology?
I was thinking about how when you lose someone – whether it’s through them passing away or a relationship splitting up, etc. – if you’re thinking about them, they’re still with you, but at the same time it’s only your thoughts which keep them there.

What are you reading at the moment and who are your greatest literary influences?
I’m reading Kim Slater’s YA novel Smart and Kate Tempest’s poetry collection Hold Your Own. I’m also looking forward to reading Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. My greatest influences are Alan Bennett, Roald Dahl, Bill Bryson, Kate Tempest and John Cooper Clarke, to name but a few.

What’s next?
The group is now run by Clare Stevens, a recent graduate from the MA in Creative Writing at NTU, and meets every Friday from 1pm to 3pm. The writers involved in Between the Lines hope to do further readings and some members are working on other writing projects. As for me, I’ve finished my main treatment now and I’m back at work. But as a result of having cancer and being part of the group, I decided to take my writing more seriously and last September I started the MA in Creative Writing at NTU. I hope to have some pieces in Monster Anthology, the collection showcasing the work of this year’s MA students. Whatever happens, I’ll continue to write.

Between The Lines is on sale online or direct from Maggie’s Centre. £5. All proceeds go to Maggie’s Centre. Here are a couple of the poems..

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Oncology
Diane Pinnock

No one rocked up here with boxing gloves,
a harpoon gun,
a Samurai sword,
ready
(exceptionally bravely)
to do battle.
There are no special secret reserves of
strength
being tapped behind the consulting room doors.
It’s true that for some
there are some interesting underwear options.
But these do not include
superhero pants.
Nothing to see here.
Behind the consulting room doors,
ordinary people
continue to breathe.

Loss
Jo Weston

Loss is not a sound
But a silence.
Not a sight
As there’s nothing to see.
Loss is there
Every day
Through its absence.
Between what has been
And what will be
It lingers
Neither embracing nor letting go.

Loss and Oncology were both first published in Between The Lines by Tell Tale Writers, 2015.

City Hospital Campus, Gate 3, Hucknall Road, NG5 1PH. 0115 924 6210

Maggie's Centre website

Interview with Maggie’s Creative Writing Group on BBC Radio Nottingham
Nottingham Trent University Creative Writing Anthology 2016

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