Write to Life

Write to Life is the creative writing group of Freedom from Torture. In the twelve years of our existence, we've grown from a small group of clients writing for each other, to a thriving family of twenty or so, who read all over the country, write for online and print publications, and star in both live theatre and film.

We meet for a group workshop every two weeks, and every member is also offered private one to one mentoring. Our mentors are all professional writers, who volunteer their time.

Members of the group are referred by their clinician, but they can stay as long as they like, and after their clinical treatment has ended. Often Write to Life becomes a bridge between Freedom from Torture and a new life in the world.

How we grew

Our first external partnership was with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in 2005. Work by our members was read to audiences of several hundred by distinguished authors, under the aegis of Amnesty's 'Imprisoned Writers' series - a relationship which continues to this day, with five writers featured in 2014: Hasani (The Asylum), Soraya (City of the dead), Yamikani (Souvenirs), Jade (My Journey around London), Aso (Greenwich dream time / kite flying).

This gave our writers the ambition to read their own work in public. Appearances at the Ledbury Poetry Festival and many others followed, including an ongoing relationship is with the Chipping Campden Literature Festival.

But performing, in public, in what may be your fourth or fifth language isn't easy – hence the masterclass in 'non-verbal performance' with Tamasha Theatre which became our first film Finding a Voice.

Performances in various settings and media have flourished since then: in the galleries of Tate Britain, at a dining table at Feast on the Bridge, in our very own play, Souvenirs, and in a new, forthcoming multimedia project based on the Poverty Barrier report.

How we work

Write to Life meets every two weeks, on Wednesday evenings at FFT headquarters in London. We begin with a meal, as many of our writers travel long distances. One cycles twenty-three miles each way from Northwood (and has worked out that he needs 4,600 calories to compensate – that's a lot of pizza). One, despite severe disabilities, travels for nearly two hours each way from Greenwich. Childcare, Jobcentre appointments, study and even the threat of eviction all compete for this precious time. Something about sitting in a room with others who've been through similar things, and sharing those experiences, makes it worthwhile.

"When I write in the workshop, it's much better than in my house, because the room is full of community for me, I feel my mind relaxing, even if I don't understand everything" (Aso)

The main business of the workshop can take many forms: it may be about technique, looking at the work of other great writers, or simply developing a subject we all share. The main objectives are to develop a love of writing and its possibilities, and to have as much fun as possible.

"Write to Life created an environment where I could regain trust. I could express myself knowing that nothing bad would happen to me. I feel that I have regained my voice, that I've gained a space to recover my freedom here" (Aso)

The serious, private, often very difficult business of processing past trauma by writing about it is usually done in one to ones. Here what is written about, when, and in how much detail, are all under the client's control.

This kind of therapeutic writing is well established in the UK, with a professional body, Lapidus. Sheila's chapter in the anthology 'Writing Roots' can be found here.

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