When the Durham Cuckoo Group finished in the summer, I was really disappointed, thinking that was the end of my time working with New Writing North. But, September brought a surprise that allowed me to step in as Group Leader at the South Shields Cuckoo group, with the added bonus of it being just down the road!

The attendance of the group is a little larger than I was used to at Durham, but it has been an absolute pleasure getting to know the group of young people that attend on a regular basis. Each week is full of fun, laughter and above all, fantastic writing. It is great to see the bonds that are forming between members of the group and how well the group gels as a whole, despite differences in age and backgrounds. It has been brilliant to see them grow in confidence and develop their skills in such a supportive environment.

This term’s topic was Fan Fiction and we approached it with enthusiasm, as well as a little uncertainty about what to expect. I was excited, hoping to write the sequel to The Hunger Games trilogy or an alternative final book in the Divergent series. That was about all I knew about Fan Fiction, aside from debates over its literary merit and copyright infringement. I thought I should probably do a little research and realised just how big and wide-ranging the genre is. I can see why the topic appeals to young people; it’s easy to be inspired to write when you already have a character or a setting that you’re interested in.

But Carina did much more with the topic than just taking an existing franchise and attempting not to rip it off too much. I already thought that character was at the heart of fan fiction and that is exactly what Carina put at the heart of our sessions. Instead of using characters we already know and love (or hate) we created our own; from projects we were already working on or from scratch.

Week by week we got to know our characters and by the end we knew them inside out. We knew their deepest fears, their greatest dreams, how they would interact with other people and what they would do in a wide range of social situations from the inane to the just plain awkward. Through the young people sharing their excellent writing, we got to know each other’s characters too and the worlds they inhabit; from a soldier in Ancient Rome to a modern day Frankenstein and everything in between. As well as character refinement, we also found time to hone our skills on editing, writing dialogue and writing flash fiction; something new to many members of the group. Somehow, we even squeezed in some Halloween ghost stories and Christmas writing challenges.

It was a tricky decision for the South Shields Cuckoos when it came to suggesting what they wanted to do next term but the general consensus seemed to be something around comedy writing. If so, that will be my Christmas research- I think I’ll avoid using crackers for any inspiration!

Whatever it is that we do, I know it will be great fun and will continue to produce superb writing.

To find out more about New Writing North’s Cuckoo Young Writers’ Groups, visit the website. You can also follow Cuckoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.