Making Monsters with Cuckoo Young Writers

In the last few months, I have been lead writer for two brand new Cuckoo Young Writers groups in Durham and South Shields. It’s a strange feeling, being at the forefront of a new endeavour. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it before, or maybe I have; yet it hasn’t mattered as much as this.

Putting together the programme for Cuckoo should be the easy part – the genre we’ve been working in, dark fiction, is what I write; it’s what I’ve always written. To spearhead a new Cuckoo Young Writers group – a group for which I would have killed for in my formative years – is pressure like no job interview, no exam. This weight of expectation crawls onto my back as I sit before the computer; it digs in its claws. It tells me that the passion of young people’s creativity is in my hands. I know this is irrational, disproportionate, that it should be fun.

But fun requires work. Hard work. Fun requires effort. (Well…it does if you’re me.) Yet, despite this, the experience is deeply rewarding and humbling.

Sourcing body parts

To come up with a programme for Cuckoo takes a while. It begins in a similar vein to writing a book or story: with an ember, a faint phosphorescence, a glimmer of an idea. For me, the end product has to be the young people being proud of their work. Like the legendary doctor was proud of his gangrel creation, sewn sinew to sinew with the putrid limbs of criminals, the brain of a genius and conjured to life with galvanic furore. However dark, however twisted, I want our final, hideous creations to invoke the same excitement of a nefarious experiment given life.

What I feel my sessions should culminate in is that everyone reads more, everyone writes more and everyone enjoys themselves.

I have never and will never believe that creative writing can be taught. It is more like channelling; if we’re keeping with the Frankenstein metaphor, it is like Victor using the wily unpredictability of lightning, harnessing this formidable and unwieldy power and channelling it into…. well… something.

Making the creature

The next part is the most fun. I go to my bookshelf and pull out all my old favourites – flick nostalgically through King, Poe, Lovecraft – the books that made me passionate about fiction and its darkest corners. It usually takes reading a few passages to inspire something… a fragment of an idea, an ember. But that’s what the point of these sessions is – not to teach, not to spoon-feed, but to stimulate the imagination.

And funnily enough, creating these sessions is a little bit like writing fiction for me, starting with a spark, a single thread and allowing it to unspool. The first few sessions are more-or-less rigid, the rest are invertebrates, brought to life by the energy of the group itself, allowing a term of Cuckoo to become almost bespoke.

… It’s alive!

I began both the Durham and South Shields Cuckoo groups with the same scheme and it’s amazing how different the veins are in which they have split. This is down to the writers themselves and also reflects the effect of the group leader. The group leaders’ involvement is key to how the programme evolves; all leaders I’ve worked with have a myriad of different strengths and skills, and I love to utilise their expertise, ensuring the writers get the best possible experience from our sessions.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not self-aggrandising about being some inspirational horror-fiction guru, that’s not me at all. I feel more like a pusher, a fiction-pusher, tantalising and intriguing the next generation of writers– assisting the energy and passion for fiction that I remember feeling when I was that age, that I am able to control now, but wasn’t then.

It seems simple when the session is finally trotted out – a warm-up activity, an extract from a book and a starting point, an idea to start the writers on their way. I don’t like to give too much in the way of scaffolding; a couple of parameters are healthy but that’s it. It seems simple, it is simple, but the only way the simple can be effective is if I’ve thrown the weight of my creative force behind it. All of it.

. . .

Maybe the Frankenstein metaphor is apt. Working for Cuckoo Young Writers is not about creating monsters; it’s more like alchemy, comparable with the moment Victor sees the potential for something otherworldly. It’s about channelling the energy that emanates from a room of raw talent that shocks me with its veracity at every single meeting.

New Writing North runs writing groups for 12-19 year olds in Newcastle, Sunderland, Amble/Warkworth, Cramlington, South Shields and Durham. The groups are small and friendly and are led by professional writers. They meet every Saturday in term-time and are free to attend. Click here to find out how to join a Cuckoo Young Writers group.