Weston’s ‘Chapter One’ adult creative writing group is inviting members of the community to free their imaginations this New Year and come along to the popular sessions starting up again in January.

A Theatre Orchard initiative, led by associated practitioners Bob Walton and Sue Hill of The Write Box, the free, fortnightly sessions will take place online via Zoom on January 11 & 25, February 8 & 22 and March 8 & 22, with further dates in 2022 to be announced.

There is also an open invitation for all to join the January Speakeasy event, featuring widely published guest poet Kathryn Bevis, founder of The Writing School Online and Hampshire Poet Laureate in 2020-21. Kathryn recently headlined alongside Patience Agbabi at Winchester Poetry Festival and is currently working towards her first collection. To find out more about joining Chapter One, please email becky@theatreorchard.org.uk.

Since ‘Chapter One’ was founded in 2020 as part of Theatre Orchard’s ‘Becoming Stories’ community project with Big Worle, the group has gone from strength to strength, taking its original sessions held at the Big Worle Hub online as Covid-19 measures were put in place.

Throughout 2021, hundreds of people from Weston and North Somerset, across the UK, Wales, Ireland and as far afield as the USA and Australia, have come together online for inspiring, spoken word gatherings. The digital forum has opened new possibilities for the group, providing vital opportunities for some older members of the community to feel creatively enriched and both locally and globally connected.

The success of ‘Chapter One’ has led to regular, digital ‘Speakeasy’ evenings, presented by Theatre Orchard in partnership with The Write Box. The online poetry evenings have showcased performances from an eclectic mix of award-winning guest poets alongside open mic readings from local poets, including Chapter One members.  In the summer, a stellar line-up of The Spoke Poets, accompanied by Weston-based musician Mark Ely, took to the stage for a Spokeasy evening under the stars at Theatre Orchard’s ‘Live at the Quarry’ event.

Acclaimed guest poets this year have included, Rebecca Tantony, whose work has been published in magazines such as Magma, Ink, Sweat and Tears and Mslexia and her writing described as ‘mesmerising’ in The Guardian; Claire Williamson, whose most recent poetry collection, Visiting the Minotaur, was described as having ‘the skill to make your spirits soar’; Kim Moore, who was recently on BBC Woman’s Hour talking about her latest collection ‘All the Men I Never Married’; Shagufta Iqbal, whose poetry collection, Jam Is For Girls, Girls Get Jam, is one of Burning Eye Books bestselling collections; The Spoke Poets – Claire Williamson, Bob Walton, Abeer Ameer and Elizabeth Parker – have won a number of awards and all had collections published by Seren; and John Freeman, who launched his twelfth and very special collection, Plato’s Peach.

Sue Hill at the Write Box, who lives in Weston, said: “What a transformative year Chapter One has had. Through 2021, the Speakeasy events have presented local writers with an opportunity to read their work alongside published guest poets in a friendly and comfortable atmosphere. During every fabulous open mic performance, we have seen their faces glow with exhilaration at the appreciation of their poetry. There is no doubt that those who used to say, ‘I’m not a writer’ can now say that they are!”

Fiona Matthews, creative director at Theatre Orchard, added: “The confidence and skill of all the Chapter One writers has grown immeasurably. Finding an affirmative, inclusive space for writing and expression has felt more important than ever given the uncertainty of the world around us.”

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