Living with a brain injury is a difficult and oftentimes raw experience. However, the writers and editors involved in the creation of the newest Global Words Press book Making Headway: Living with Brain Injury are willing to share their stories and inspire us all to live better and braver lives.
There was a palpable buzz in the air on Saturday 11th of November in the Sillitoe Events Room at Nottingham’s Waterstones. A mix of excitement and nervousness emanated from the seated audience, and well-earned sense pride appeared in the smiles and excited whispers of the people who filled the space. The stage was set, flanked by two modest banners and a side table showcasing the colourful, intimate efforts of the recent collaboration between Headway Nottingham and Global Wordsmiths. The former, the only long-term brain injury and rehabilitation support centre covering the city and county, collaborated with the Arts Council Funded initiative, for a series of eight week wiring sessions which resulted in the incredible publication of Making Headway: Living with Brain Injury.
A hush fell as Victoria Villasenor stepped up to commence the launch event. The Co-Director of Global Words Press and Global Wordsmiths exuded warmth and compassion as she introduced herself, her co-Director Nicci Robinson, keynote speaker Rhiana Lakin of Headway, and alluded to the upcoming readings by contributors of the new anthology. Victoria’s introduction was altruistically succinct, as not to take any time or attention away from the afternoon’s speakers, but the experienced editor did make an enthusiastic and heartfelt reference the passion and humour present in the collection’s stories and the afternoon’s readings.
Rhiana, fundraiser from the charity Headway, commenced her keynote with a weighty statistic — there is an admission of acquired brain injury patients every 90 seconds in UK hospitals. For hundreds of people each day, life can change immeasurably in just a second. Those who suffer from an ABI (an injury caused to the brain since birth, whether through trauma, tumour, stroke, or haemorrhage) will find that their emotions and memory, as well as the ability to talk, walk, eat, read or write, may have changed beyond recognition. People affected don’t lose their voice, though the medium in which it can be transmitted and expressed may be affected--so what happens to their stories? They remain, of course, within the individual. In her career as fundraiser, Rhiana is accustomed to recounting the stories of people who have experienced brain injuries, but began to realise that this in itself was a disservice to people, who, given the right tools, support and opportunity, may once again be able to express themselves freely and fully.
A powerful round of applause erupted when Rhiana mentions the encouraging work of Rosie, a clearly beloved creative writing tutor involved in the project between Headway and Global Words. The project has now resulted in the publication of sixteen stories from those who had either been affected by ABI, or those who work with service users at the charity in Nottingham. Rhiana explained that the process had been (understandably) cathartic, and that the creative writing process has been a therapeutic and emotional release for all those involved. The partnership with the all-encompassing service for prospective and established writers had empowered people to tell their own story, and provided a platform for these very special first-hand accounts. Rhiana wrapped up her eloquent and emotive keynote with a honest thank you to the writers, praising their generosity and honesty, noting that their passion and endurance transcended the definition of disability, and praised the newly-published writers for achieving something in just a few short months, which many people, even without the experience of brain injury, could only dream of.
Rhiana, an evident champion of others, took this opportunity to verbalise the notion that Victoria and Nicci, Co-Directors of Global Words, allowed this unique philanthropic union to come to life. Victoria and Nicci, both with extensive publishing history of their own, facilitated the ability and talent of the Headway service users, with their own superlative expertise.
The emblematic stage had been set by Headway, the medium and microphone provided by Global Wordsmiths, and now the launch event had materialised an enthralled audience. Each of the sixteen stories were granted the time for a reading, predominantly delivered by their authors, but also vocalised by family, friends and colleagues, where necessary. Perhaps a little unexpectedly, the readings did not focus on detailing the various traumas and complications that the writers had undergone, and each piece was vastly different from the next. These stories were not plain-dealing, autobiographic detailing of trauma and incident; they were nuanced narratives, filled with imagery and allusion, ranging in subject matter, from familial fears, to comedic accounts of everyday goings on, to life as a sailor. The speakers themselves were courageous and clear, with no trace of anxiety or apprehension present. Throughout the two-hour event, the audience was alive with enthusiastic applause, signalling a community of people bursting with admiration and support. Behind each speaker, the screen presented a bespoke illustration from artist Buster Fisher, which captured the heart of each piece perfectly.
After the event, I sat down with Nicci Robinson, who explained that the intention of Global Words was, through their various charitable efforts, to give precedence to, and amplify, marginalised voices in society. Previous work from Global Wordsmiths has focused on training and publishing work from females, the LGBTQ community, the elderly, young school children and teenagers, and those who have experienced domestic violence. In a time where narratives are overwhelmingly populated by the voices and stories of mainly heterosexual, white, able-bodied male figures, it’s refreshing to see people dedicated to directing the spotlight towards people whose experiences may, in the past, have been overlooked.
All in all, this was an event that put the lives of those suffering with brain injuries first. In being willing to openly discuss subjects that we may otherwise choose to remain silent on, Making Headway brings the experiences and stories of many to a wider audience. This book launch confirmed that just because a voice isn’t always heard, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth hearing.