Sunday 25 November 2018

Igniting the Creative Spark by Emma Pass

It's been a busy year. I've completed the new draft of a novel which is now with my agent, and it's been fun, but a lot of work. However, writing is not what I've spent most of my time doing this year – probably not even 50%.

I used to have a day job in a library, which I loved, but 4 years ago, it all got a bit much. The pressures of trying to fit almost full-time work around writing and everything that goes with it were making me stressed and ill. Something had to give… so I decided to resign my permanent hours, and start running workshops instead.

I facilitate two creative writing groups, one for adults at a local community centre, and one at a local library for young people aged 4-14, which is supported by writer development agency Writing East Midlands. The latter group has been going in various guises for over 6 years now, and I'm lucky enough to work with a brilliant shadow writer who helps me plan and run the sessions. Recently, went on a trip to a tram museum where the group looked at archive objects, dressed up as tram conductors, rode old trams and wrote stories about it. It was a fantastic day. I couldn’t quite believe that it even counted as "work" – but it did!

Riding on top of an open-top tram

 I get asked to go into schools, too. I've been a Patron of Reading where I not only ran creative writing and literacy workshops, but accompanied a group of students on a weekend away where we made films in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside, and I've done a stint as a First Story writer-in-residence. I also run one-off creative writing workshops for writers of all ages, and have been part of a scheme mentoring other writers wanting to run their own workshops.

But I don't just run workshops on my own. My husband is a painter and printmaker who builds his own printing presses. The biggest, which has a 6-foot wheel, is made out of RSJ girders – the sort you use to build houses! But he's built several smaller ones, too, out of Victorian washing mangles, which are on trolleys so they can be moved around. He does workshops too; in March, we applied for a joint author/artist residency with Inspire Nottinghamshire Libraries – and we got it!

Mangle printing press

The residency was three months long and based around the summer reading challenge which takes place in libraries nationwide every summer. 2018's theme was comics, so it started with us going into two primary schools, where we helped four different classes write and make printing plates for their own giant comic strips which went on display at Worksop library. Then, in July and August, we did a "grand mangle tour" of 12 libraries, running family workshops where participants could write and print their own comics to take home with them.

Mischief Makers exhibition at Worksop Library - artwork by Y5 and Y6 students at St Anne's and Worksop Priory schools

We've also run sessions for a dementia group, and next year we're doing more work with people who have additional needs, as well as family workshops and wellbeing days.

It's been slow to build up (I still have a relief contract with the library), and if you'd told me seven years ago, before I got my first book deal, that all this is what I'd be doing for a living, I'd've looked at you "gone out", as they say round here. That sounds exhausting! I'd've said. Not to mention intimidating!

But it's not. It's wonderful. And the reason it's wonderful is because of the people who come to the workshops. Writing (and art) can be a lonely business – you're there in your office (or studio) day after day, on your own. Getting out there and helping other people to realise that the arts are not elitist but can, and should, be accessed by anyone, is not only fun, but incredibly rewarding. Igniting the creative spark in other people is one of the most important things we, as authors and artists (and musicians and actors and makers and…) can do.

Emma Pass lives in the north east Midlands. Her YA novels ACID and The Fearless are published by Corgi Children’s Books/Penguin Random House. You can find more details about her writing and workshops on her website at


Joan Lennon said...

Your workshops sound fabulous, Emma!

Emma Pass said...

Thank you, Joan! :)

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

What an amazing venture to work in tandem with your husband in an artist residency ... seems perfect to me. Good for you in making it happen. And the work displayed looks wonderful in these pics. In total admiration! Thanks for posting. And love those Wrangler machines!

Emma Pass said...

Thank you, Diane! It was a lot of fun.

Anne Booth said...

This sounds great!

Emma Pass said...

Thank you, Anne!