At Freedom to Write
“Memoir writers advise us to examine our preoccupations – what do we think about, obsess about, dream about? What makes us passionate when we talk to other people? What stories haunt us?”
The stories that haunt us? For me, that’s the home and the prison, and the book I’m writing – ‘An Architecture of Hope: Reimagining the Prison, Restoring a House, Rebuilding Myself’ – asks the reader to imagine confinement in many guises. Covid-enforced lockdown caused many of us to contemplate questions of freedom and constraint. So, while I take the reader behind the walls of the prison, it is also a personal story about the homes and relationships I’ve inhabited (including growing up with an alcoholic parent) and how I found myself restoring my house as I rebuilt myself.
The writers I admire most are those who, in examining their life, come to new conclusions, and are fundamentally changed as a result. My writing has a strong feminist slant and balances conceptual discussions of some of the most pressing social justice issues with an emphasis on our emotional and sensory experience of place.
Turning my hand from academic scholarship to writing about my personal life and professional experience has been challenging in all sorts of ways, but I’ve learned a lot in the process and am excited to pass on what I’ve discovered, particularly about finding an agent and landing a publishing deal.
In February last year Picador published my first book, ‘The Life Inside: A Memoir of Prison, Family and Philosophy’.
An Irish Times and The I Book of 2022, it combines the story of growing up with my dad, brother and uncle in prison with reflections on teaching philosophy to people inside. Geoff Dyer described it as ‘Tense and intimate…an education’, while Sir Lenny Henry said ‘Enriching, sobering and at times heartrending. A wonder’.
Writing is a form of enquiry. It’s a quest to find out what I really believe about something or why a story still moves me years after I first heard it. The writers I admire the most interrogate the world at the same time as allowing the world to interrogate them.
I love to teach for the same reason that I love to write: to ask questions. As your teacher, I want us to go on an enquiry together for the detail, idea or story that will make your writing more honest, vivid and beautiful. Of course, I enjoy passing on tips and advice about style to developing writers too – ‘Watch those adverbs’, ‘Don’t strain for gravitas’, ‘Let your hair down more in this paragraph.’ But what I find most thrilling about teaching is facilitating people to get deeper into their work, to find out what it means to them and what they might really be trying to say.
I’ve taught for ten years in various places including schools, prisons adult education and art galleries. I have published in (among others) Aeon, 3am Magazine, Unbounded, Open Democracy and The Guardian, including, most recently this article from January 2023.
“Writing is a form of enquiry. It’s a quest to find out what I really believe about something or why a story still moves me years after I first heard it. The writers I admire the most interrogate the world at the same time as allowing the world to interrogate them.”
Guest Tutor 2022 & 2023
We were delighted to welcome Will Buckingham as Guest Tutor on the first Freedom to Write retreat in June 2022 – and even more thrilled that he came back in 2023! Will has a PhD in philosophy and has taught creative writing for many years. He is co-director of Wind & Bones, a community interest company exploring the intersections of writing, creativity and social change.
Will’s memoir, Hello, Stranger, was published by Granta in 2021 to great acclaim. It was Radio 4’s Book of the Week in August 2021 and was described in a review in the Guardian as a ‘beautiful meditation on the pleasures and pains of a world to which many of us yearn to return’ and ‘an elegant and moving exploration of what it means to connect with strangers…an elegy for a much-missed way of life’.
Will’s other books include the travelogue Stealing with the Eyes (Haus Publications 2018) the children’s novel Lucy and the Rocket Dog (Knopf 2017), and the philosophy book, A Practical Guide to Happiness: Think Deeply and Flourish (Icon Books, 2012/2018). Will’s books have been translated into multiple languages and he has written for a wide array of publications including BBC travel, Aeon and i Newspaper.
The tutors worked really well together – providing not only a good breadth of content but also a lovely range of teaching styles and approaches to writing. Their wit and generosity helped make a daunting task an adventure, their kindness and sense of mischief made the retreat a real delight.