Throughout May and June I was working closely with a small but very dedicated group of writers from the 16-19 year age group. They were Frestie Ngongo, originally from the The Democratic Republic of Congo, Uche Iroh, originally from Nigeria, Yonas Tesfalem, originally from Eritrea and Chet Chanaphai, originally from Thailand. We met in Nottingham Writers' Studio on Monday evenings and occasionally in the cafe of Nottingham Contemporary. All of them were studying ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at South Nottingham College, where I work. Our remit was to write stuff about 'heroes' which would end up in a book, with funding from the Clore Foundation.
As far as I understood it, none of them had ever attempted to be creative with words before, either in their native languages or in English. What I found suprising, therefore, was how quickly and fearlessly they embraced the task in hand. A few workshop exercises were all that was needed to get their creative juices flowing. After that, their creativity was torrential. My job then changed. I became their editor. Occasionally - as with some of Yonas' stories - I was also amanuensis, trying my best to write down a story as he told it, while continually stopping to ask for clarification, or more details.
Uche said of the writing process: "It was very exciting. I think my writing improved. And I'm very excited about getting into a book." A few days ago he had the horrible news that his mum in Nigeria had died. He flew to Lagos yesterday for the funeral. So sad his mum won't get to see it. But I'm sure that somewhere, somehow, she's proud of him.
To be honest, I'm not sure who's more excited: them or me. I'm excited because I've had the privelege of working with these talented individuals who seem so thrillingly on the verge: on the verge of adulthood, on the verge of relationships and careers, on the verge of becoming fluent in English, on the verge of becoming part of British society. As Frestie says in his poem 'When I Think About The Congo': 'I feel the future coming like the fastest train in the world.'
These lads are the future. Ha! That's a horribly cliched thing to say I know - but they remind me of how rooted I am in the 20th century and how the 21st century is not mine, but theirs.
Even if they don't continue writing creatively, I hope they remember what we did. They are, without question, the true heroes of this project.
Incidentally, I'm teaching my first Creative Writing for ESOL learners in September.