Our First Outdoor Writing Workshop!
Saturday 21st April 2018 welcomed the first fully outdoor writing workshop we have ever conducted. This took place in the beautiful Bluebell Woods adjacent to Aintree University Hospital NHS – launched to coincide with the 21st birthday of the ‘Friends of Bluebell Wood’ and its commemorative poetry competition.
As I'm sure everyone who attended will agree - it really was the most special day. Our boardroom was an arboretum of red chestnuts, sycamores, and mighty oaks. We made a speaker’s podium out of an area of fallen logs by a tree for the poetry readings, whilst the incessant chatter of birdsong provided our background music. Meanwhile, the sun was shining and the bluebells were coming into bloom all around us.
I’ve attended a few creative writing workshops in my time – but this workshop had a completely different feel to it. We didn't need flip-charts or PowerPoint, all we needed was a blanket to lay on the ground for sitting, the books and papers we would read from, and the company of each other; no devices required.
As this was the first event we only had a small group, perhaps hard to coax people from the beer garden or the beach, understandably, on one of the hottest weeks on record in April. The small group format allowed the attendees to have meaningful conversations, talking about the past, the present, and the future.
We had attendees from all different backgrounds – some who had grown up on Great Barrier Island in New Zealand, one of the few remaining places on Earth with Dark Sky Sanctuary Status, several people who were of Irish ancestry, descended from the home of the shamrock, the delicate little clover leaf, our guest poet Vahid Davar Ghalati from Shiraz in Iran, a city famed for its red wine and gardens, and a dog named Sunny whose disposition definitely lived up to her name, whilst with her white she-wolf fur she could have been a mystical woodland creature amongst us.
I realised like the many birds who were singing all around us, who had also migrated from all corners of the globe and come together to sing their art, that writing is about connection, and that sometimes the most varied mixture of birdsong brings about the most beautiful choruses – as Henry van Dyke once said ‘Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.’
The most striking outcome for me was an observation that came about during an exercise I had set for the workshop attendees; a 3 minutes silence. I asked the attendees to close their eyes and simply listen. At the end of the exercise I asked people if they had heard anything unexpected – one of the attendees commented that she had heard a Gull. A few other attendees confirmed they had heard it too, we wondered aloud why a Gull would come so far inland.
Days later I used an online "As The Crow Flies" Distance Calculator to measure the distance from the Bluebell Woods to one of the nearest water points: Gladstone Dock. Our squawk-ous friend had in fact flown 4 miles inland. It is said that Gulls often fly inland due to their innate sense to predict subtle changes in the weather – later that day the Met Office issued a ‘Yellow’ weather warning and lo and behold the very next morning the heavens opened.
Had we all been lumped together in that woodland for some popular reality TV survival programme, we could have used the signal from the Gull to prepare for the change in weather. For me, this observation was proof that we only need to look to nature to find the words we are searching for, and that the subtlest of things in life can provide the most inspiration. We just need to listen out for them.