The response to Mothership Writers has been astonishing. Within twenty-four hours of launch, the first forty places had been snapped up; despite stopping all promotion we now have a waiting list that’s one hundred-strong. It feels like our writing workshops – the sense of community that’s built around creative endeavour – have tapped into something that new mothers want and need.
In mid-April, the programme of workshops began at St Werburghs Community Centre and Windmill Hill City Farm, here in Bristol. I’d prepared material for the first session but as I walked across the city to St Werburghs, my backpack stuffed with handouts and box-fresh blankets and cushions, I had no real idea how it would go. Teaching creative writing with a room full of babies? Was it crazy?
We had eighteen mothers and seventeen babies in that first session. There were babies in slings, in arms, on boobs, in buggies, crawling, and meanwhile the Mothership Writers… wrote. They wrote and wrote. The workshop ran to time. We covered all the exercises. We talked meaningfully about building confidence in creativity, the joy of free-writing, the unexpected places our writing could take us. At one point I looked around the room, sunlight streaming in, heads bent in concentration and couldn’t believe how QUIET it was: how was that possible, with so many little ones along for the ride?
Now six sessions have taken place, and it’s clear that the first wasn’t a fluke: creative writing workshops and babies DO mix. Yes, it’s loud sometimes. But not half as loud as you’d think. And anyway, loud is fine. The pervading air is that of calm; we’re a creative space – industrious but informal, a place of encouragement not judgement, no stress. Maybe the babies pick up on the good vibes because every so often when hush falls, and all you can hear is the odd gurgle, the scratch of pens, it feels near enough transcendental.
Over the year-long programme we’ll be focusing on the principles of creative writing, exploring the experience of new motherhood, and working towards pieces to be collected into the first Mothership anthology. Already our crew are up for sharing their work, writing freely and powerfully - many haven’t written creatively since school, others practice journalling or write for therapeutic purposes, we have a poet, a novelist – altogether, I’ve been amazed. I ended one session in tears, moved by a writer’s honesty and eloquence. In another, I taught with a five-week old snuggled in my neck. We’re blessed with an awesome trio of volunteers, writer-mothers Rosie, Meg and Jen, who generously offer their time each fortnight. Our youngest attendee so far is four weeks old. Two mothers have given birth since coming to the first session. We are a group who will grow together, in every sense.
Because of the brilliant response to Mothership in Bristol, we’re running a one-off Inspiration Day exclusively for women on the waiting list, taking place in May. There’ll be taster workshops and inspirational talks from fabulous novelists Lucy Clarke, Rosie Walsh, and Emma Stonex; the idea is that mums who are keen to write can connect with one another, sparking their imagination. Meanwhile a third group has now been added to the programme of workshops, and there are still a few places available for mothers from under-represented communities: spread the word!
Thank you to all who cheered, gave advice, and supported this project, both in its infancy and once launched. Thank you to the amazing Mothership volunteers, Rosie Walsh, Meg Williams and Jen Faulkner. Thank you to our brilliant project partners: Bluebell Care (perinatal mental health support), Bristol 24/7, Windmill Hill City Farm, St Werburghs Community Centre, Storysmith, and Max Minerva’s. Continued epic thanks to Arts Council England and the National Lottery for the project funding. Last thanks belong to the Mothership Writers themselves: fifty-one new mothers (and counting) who so passionately said YES to trying something new, at a time when sleep is scant and demands are plenty; THANK YOU for taking a punt, signing up, and being part of this inspiring, creative, actually pretty magical, journey.