Our venues may now be closed, but our city-wide programme continues. Now, more than ever, we are committed to supporting creative practitioners, businesses and organisations.
We already have an established programme of online support and development sessions shaped by what local creative practitioners and organisations told us they needed. In total, we have supported 178 artists and creative businesses – 145 during the period of lockdown alone.
But we want to do more. One way is to use our voice. So, each Thursday we will be spotlighting the fabulous work being done by local creatives across #CreativeCitySunderland on our social media and blog.
In this, the first of our #CreativeCitySunderland blog posts, we are shining the spotlight on Alan Parkinson, one of our 14 Creative Development Fellows. He talks about the creative networks and support he has found in Sunderland and how they have supported his development as a writer.
You don’t need much to be a writer. A pen and paper is all that’s required to get the thoughts out of your head and onto the page.
To be a successful writer, you require a little more. Talent should be top of the list, but I’m sure we’ve all read best-sellers where they’ve skipped that requirement. We need time, determination, encouragement, support and even a bit of luck.
Following the success of my first novel, Leg It, I was struggling to complete my second one. I realised I needed help, and I stepped into Holmeside Coffee on a Wednesday night in early 2015 and asked, ‘Is this the writers’ group?’.
By the end of the year I’d published my second novel, Idle Threats, and given up my job to become a full-time author.
I won’t be as dramatic as saying it was life changing, but it was a pivotal moment in my writing career. The support and inspiration from Iain Rowan and Holmeside Writers gave me the confidence to ‘give it a go’.
Alongside the words of wisdom within the group, it opened my eyes to the wider cultural network in Sunderland. I got involved in exciting projects such as Putting Southwick On The Map, and I was an enthusiastic advocate of the Sunderland 2021 City of Culture bid, becoming a Community Champion.
Whilst the 2021 bid was unsuccessful, its legacy lives on and Sunderland Culture have been central in supporting my career.
In 2019 I was one of the first recipients of a Creative Development Fellowship through the Sunderland Culture Unlock programme, which paid for crucial editing software and a week at The Hurst in Shropshire where I worked with best-selling authors, Mike Gayle and Freya North, learning about their processes and receiving feedback on my latest book.
Writers also need challenges and the Sunderland Stages project offered me the chance to try a new discipline, writing for stage. Devised by the whirlwind of encouragement that is Helen Green, the programme offered free workshops with industry professionals, visits to the theatre and a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The highlight being the astounding ‘I’m a Phoenix, Bitch’ by Bryony Kimmings, something I wouldn’t have dreamed of watching had I not been part of Sunderland Stages.
Inspired, I began writing for stage and one of my plays, ‘The Empty Seat’, was chosen to be performed as part of Writehouse at The Peacock in April. Covid intervened, and the play was postponed, finally being streamed live on Facebook from Arts Centre Washington in October.
Undeterred by Covid, Helen came up with the idea for Sunderland Stories, a series of monologues, written and performed during lockdown. Again, I was lucky enough to be selected and Paul Dunn did a fantastic job with Parting Shot:
Whether I am a successful writer is open to debate, however, I can’t deny that I’ve had the encouragement, support and the luck to make it happen.
If you are thinking of ‘giving it a go’, don’t hesitate. Just bring your pen and paper, the rest will fall into place.
If you are a creative practitioner, organisation or business based in Sunderland and would be interested in having your work featured as part of #CreativeCitySunderland, please get in touch: [email protected].
Sunderland Stories and Sunderland Creative Development Fellowships were supported through the Unlock strand of Sunderland Culture’s Great Place programme, supported by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund, and funded by Coastal Communities Fund, a partnership with Sunderland City Council. For more opportunities, available throughout the year, visit Sunderland Culture’s opportunity page at sunderlandculture.org.uk.
Writehouse was presented as part of Sunderland Culture’s Great Place programme, funded by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund.