The student experience at Brookes is far more than just studying for a degree. Speaking to Observe, Alex Baker ’13 told the story of how his time as a student led to a lifelong interest in creative writing and set him up with the skills he needed to help out his local community.
“Starting university was a big change for me,” Alex reflects. “I knew I wanted to study English, having been mad about reading ever since I was a kid, but I’d always been shy and introverted. Experiencing halls life and getting used to living away from my parents was a little overwhelming. In those first few weeks after leaving home it was important to find something to ground me and make me feel at home.”
Luckily for Alex he found exactly what he’d been looking for when he stumbled across the Oxford Brookes Creative Writing Society at Freshers’ Fair. “I’d been writing in my spare time since I was 16 – mostly terrible fan-fiction, which I probably still have saved somewhere on my laptop! – but it had always been a solitary thing. None of my friends at the time were interested in writing stories and it would have been beyond embarrassing to share with my family. The Society opened my eyes to the possibility of writing in a group and sharing stories with others.”
After joining the Society, Alex quickly found their writing meet-ups to be the highlight of his week. “Writing together really helps when trying new styles and finding your ‘writing voice’ and the group atmosphere is so fun and supportive, since nobody takes themselves too seriously. Attending the sessions and reading my work aloud also boosted my confidence, which definitely helped with seminar discussions and group presentations for my English degree.”
At the end of his first year Alex stepped up to join the Society Committee, becoming Treasurer in his second year and co-President in his third, and was part of some ambitious projects within the Society, most notably the publishing of three creative writing anthologies that captured the work of its members.
By the time he graduated, Alex had the bug. “Even though I was leaving Brookes, at the same time I still wanted to keep that creative writing group spirit alive. When I went back to my home town I looked into joining a local group and whilst there were plenty of writing groups for adults, they all seemed to be doing it much more seriously than me – I’d hoped to find something that would capture the spirit of the inner 16 year old me, who didn’t have anyone to share his fan-fiction with and was doing it purely for fun. And the more I searched, the more I saw that there was nothing locally for teens. Even nationally there are very few clubs for teen writers, compared to the masses for adults.”
And so, in the summer of 2014, Alex decided to create his own group for teens. “I had found a niche, something that nobody else was doing, and I thought that I should have a go. It was tough to know where to start, so to begin with I contacted every existing teen creative writing club I could find to ask for their input. I wasn’t expecting to hear back from many, but to my amazement I got replies from over a dozen, some from as far away as the USA and Canada, all offering their guidance and wishing me luck. That helped me crystallise my ideas and once I’d prepared some ideas for sessions, marketing material and so on I approached my local library. Much to my delight they agreed to host the club and with that Igniting Writing was born.”
Igniting Writing held its first session at Wokingham Library on 11th October 2014, targeted at any 11-18 year-olds in the local area interested in writing or storytelling. Sessions are held weekly and each one focuses on a different aspect of writing, from creating characters and settings to exploring genres like sci-fi, fantasy and beyond.
Roughly once a month, Igniting Writing also hosts ‘guest speaker’ sessions, where local authors, poets, journalists and more come and share their writing knowledge and advice with the teens. Since it was formed, Igniting Writing has attracted over 100 teens and been invited into over a dozen schools across Berkshire to lead creative writing taster sessions to pupils.
What advice would Alex give current Brookes students? “Find something that you love doing beyond just your course and throw yourself into it. You’ll surprise yourself with how much fun you’ll have and what you can achieve!”
Words and photography by Alex Baker