Disability is not visible in this self-exploration collage I made in 2016, though it was and is such an integral part of my life and my activism and my art. Why? Was I ashamed? I only saw pity or inspiration. Where were all the disabled writers? I asked that question in 2017, having realised I’d been wanting to know and held back by that for two decades. And that meant that other disabled writers, potential writers out there, must also be feeling the same too…
All of the work that I do, write, make and create seeks to make the invisible visible. As a disabled person I have felt like a missing, I still often feel like a missing, I don’t want anyone else to feel the same. I want there to be access to all projects for everyone. Being able to choose to join in is a fundamental human right, and as practitioners it pushes us to think creatively and make truly exceptional work.
I want access for all people to be able to find themselves represented. That’s where validation and acceptance begins, that’s where we can be role models and say that the arts welcomes you. That’s where Writing the Missing began for me. Where was I in books, on the radio, on TV in films? And if I was there I was a prop-up to the protagonist, a pity, a villain, a sob story or an inspiration. Where are all the disabled stories? Where are all the disabled writers?
This project began in 2017, though it wasn’t until 2018 that I discovered its name. It has been a research and development project lasting 4 years and counting; self-funded and building on work through paid commissions (some of which you can find out about below), discovering the support that disabled writers need to excel, and undergoing a creative leadership programme with the SSE. Writing the Missing ties all of the strands of my practice together; it’s how I’ve realised I make sense of myself as an artist, how I make sense of my work and the work that I want to do for and with my community. The work that must be done.
Action. Not talk.
So many tick box programmes and at the end of it the door softly closes once more, and the next round opens up for new, fresh, talent. The only way this changes is by showing what we can do, supporting work being made, mentoring with access in-built from the start, and showcasing the incredible talent. Making it impossible to ignore. Making it on our terms. Then sharing this best practice. We don’t have to come to you, you will need and want to come to us.
Action. Not talk.
Where are our stories? Where are all the other disabled writers? Where is the place that holds us together, provides a beacon of creative accessible excellence, provides support, provides networking and development opportunities, provides a space where we can be found and spotlighted by and for the industry, generates new industry leaders, stops the excuse ‘I would have used a disabled writer, but I didn’t know how to find one’.
These are the questions I ask myself, that I talk about with other disabled writers when I eventually find them. With disabled people who do not know that they are allowed to call themselves writers. With disabled writers who do not have a space in which to develop their talents, without having to fight for access.
Action. Not talk.
Durham Book Festival Film Commission – Writing the Missing – A River Cycle and Disability Arts Showcase
Click on the play button in the YouTube link above to watch ‘Writing the Missing – A River Cycle’ or watch it here on the Durham Book Festival website.
Personal, political, profound. I’m in tears, and I’m making a commitment not to give up, not to hide. I feel like you’ve given me a voice today and I suspect I’m not alone.
I was commissioned by Durham Book Festival to write, produce, direct, and perform in a film based on my New Narratives for the North East commission, ‘Writing the Missing – A River Cycle’. I also commissioned three new pieces of work in response from extraordinary North East disabled artists Bex Bowsher, Sarah Crutwell and Vici Wreford-Sinnott. Working with filmmaker, Rob Irish, we created a beautiful, startling and mesmeric lyrical dialogue with my brain, the river and the sea, in which I weave together character and setting to provoke debate and action: 25% of people in the North East are disabled, why do we not take up that cultural space?
With captions, BSL interpretation and audio description embedded from the beginning, this film shows the power of disability arts; that access is a right, a right which leads to creative freedom, innovation and wonder. The film premiered on 10th September 2020 at 5pm at Durham Book Festival.
Creative Leadership Programme – SSE
In July 2020 I gained a highly competitive and sought after place on the 2 year programme Creative Leadership, delivered by the School for Social Entrepreneurs and funded by Arts Council England.
It allows me to build on the management experience I have from a senior position within the Army Welfare Service managing multiple international projects and transfer these skills to building my own organisation for disabled writers. It is designed to enable me to to develop and apply leadership skills in order to create greater social impact within the arts and cultural sector in England for the duration of the programme and beyond. It will give me time and space to work on the following:
- Develop personally and feel more confident about achieving ambitions
- Build a support network of people in similar roles
- Create greater social impact through my work as an artist/creator/maker/producer
- Improve my business and entrepreneurial skills
- Learn how to strengthen the project I work on
- Benefit from time to reflect and map out next steps
New Writing North New Narratives Commission – Writing the Missing – A River Cycle
It’s unusual to find a competitive commission which completely fits a project which is your heart song. This was just that.
My commission for New Narratives of the North East is titled Writing the Missing – A River Cycle. It is a collision of poetry, verbatim text from interviews I’ve conducted with disabled artists, lyrical essay and manifesto looking at disability arts and crip culture in the North East, how we do not take up enough cultural space, and linking this to an ambitious form based on a river cycle. You can read it here.
The work was presented in a variety of forms from autumn 2020, including as essays, films, podcast episodes, and as part of a special digitally-focused Durham Book Festival, before being collected in an anthology to be published in 2021.
Little Cog Staging Our Futures Commission – Writing/Righting the Missing
In July 2020 I was awarded one of three Staging Our Futures commissions by disabled led theatre company Little Cog and funded by Arts Council England.
Little Cog Staging Our Futures commissions are aimed at disabled theatre makers who are pushing boundaries, questioning the world we live in and delivering powerful performance work. We want to support vibrant and pioneering artists who make work that provokes, excites and engages audiences.
I used the paid time and space to R&D (research and develop) a new piece of theatre, write an essay about ‘Who is it for?’, to create a disability toolkit, and make a short film.
Disconsortia Commission – Project Fear & Evolution – a strand of Writing the Missing
I was awarded a commission by Disconsortia for Project Fear and Evolution – a strand of Writing the Missing. To research and develop the beginnings of a workshop, or a ‘something’ which can provide a tool kit/space for others to safely and bravely fail.
A novel for middle grade readers – The Secret of Haven Point
How do you know that writing is for you, adventures are for you, the world is yours for the taking, if you don’t see yourself reflected in books on the shelves? My middle grade novel is full of adventure and intrigue, set in a lighthouse on the north east coast, and just so happens to be full of disabled characters doing all of the adventuring. It won me a place on the Write Now programme from Penguin Random House and secured me representation by The Bent Agency in agent extraordinaire Molly Ker Hawn.
How you can contribute
Help me to Write the Missing! Please use the contact form and send me your missing. This could be something you physically miss, something personal, something you feel you’re missing from. It could be any of those things or none of those things. I promise to keep your missing safe and anonymous and to use it with care and kindness. You can read more about it on my blog.