New Life Writing

Our Real Life Stories project continues apace, following a barnstorming appearance at Wolverhampton Literature Festival.

The Arts Foundry has been working with writers’ groups across the region and the Living Memory Project, gathering true life tales for performance and publication. We are looking to publish your work, so send it in!

We thought we’d kick off the latest series of stories with a piece created at one of our sessions. Heather Barrett sent us her reflection on meeting Ann Widdecombe – it’s a great read, so check it out below. It captures perfectly the brilliant day we had at what is fast becoming one of the UK’s most popular literary festivals.

You can catch us again at the end of May at a life writing workshop to be held as part of the University of Wolverhampton’s ArtFest. We’ll be posting more details of this event soon.

The Dancing Queen and I

H.M. Barrett




I have just shaken hands with Ann Widdecombe; they strike me as small, dainty and rather cold, as if she has just had them in icy water.

We are at the Wolverhampton Literature Festival, and she is signing books. I am there to support friends from the Oldbury Writing Group as they deliver their life writing oratories.

Ann is smaller than I imagined, immaculately presented in a Tory blue suit. As a teen, back when Kylie and Jason were still in Neighbours, and I was watching her on TV in her ministerial role, she seemed bigger, imposing. She filled the screen in my mind’s eye. She was, for me, anyway, one of the screen villains of national news. I was not a fan of the Tories and that has not really changed over time.

Ann of today looks much slimmer than that Tory minister of old. I feel I am about the same size and height she was back then, and she seems not much bigger than Kylie. Time coupled with irony gets up to all sorts of skulduggery, I suppose. All that dancing on Strictly must have paid off. I might pop my mate Roks in his best tux and whizz him around the dance hall, under the disco lights.

Ann chats with me for a moment. It’s a strange, awkward conversation instigated by a person presently being assessed for autism who happens to have bumped into a national legend. I have not met many people of interest in my life and find myself startled, excited and a bit nervous. We discuss writing. Ann explains how she has always written, as well as being an MP, a minister, dancer, pantomime villain for some and heroine for others, depending where they fall on the political spectrum.

Whatever I have been, school kid, student, carer, activist, volunteer, worker, I have been a writer as well. That is the beauty of the arts. It can draw diverse individuals to the village green of common ground.

I find the leader of our writing group, Angela, and say, ‘Ann Widdecombe is over there, I just spoke with her.’ There is some excitement – we are giggling like Japanese schoolgirls who have just spotted a human Pokémon – as we scuttle back over to her after a moment of thinking what else to say.

Angela explains about the Oldbury Writing Group. It makes me think of something Roko told me, that at such events you never know who you may meet and how you might explain what you do. He was right, and Angela as always does a great job on our behalf.

Not shy of a photo opportunity, we ask Ann to join us in one of our group selfies. She gracefully accepts. I imagine she is well-seasoned for such moments. You can see us here, from left to right: Ann, Angela, myself, Tania and Nicole. Credit goes to Tania for arranging the shot. It was one of the highlights of the day and something I will remember for a while.

Ann was not the only famous political face at the festival. Former Labour minister, Alan Johnson delivered a talk as part of his book tour. I did not get to speak to him, although I was inches away from him. I am a bit ashamed to say I could not put my finger on who he was and he had left by the time I completed a quick Google. Ann, like Margaret Thatcher, Mo Mowlam, and Claire Short, was one of the more colourful characters of British politics. We had some powerful women on the benches. I wonder where Theresa May will stand among them?