A Wild and Precious Life: A Recovery Anthology

By Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert

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Addiction, physical and mental illness and its aftermath: a collection of stories and poetry from writers in recovery.

Publication date: April 2021
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About the book

Featuring an introduction by Will Self

Want to help writers in recovery get their words into print? Join authors Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert, and their contributors to give exciting new, emerging, and established writers a platform.

What’s this book about?

What is recovery? We’ll all experience it at some point in our lives, whether from addiction, physical illness, mental health issues or loss. Many of us heal, and we may discover ways to live with our changed selves, to reclaim a life. We may find a new voice, or unearth a voice that has been submerged.

All lives are precious; some are wild. For some of us, that wildness becomes a memory, a story to be told. For others, it springs from ordinary things: the change of seasons or reuniting with loved ones. Mary Oliver asks: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ This kind of wildness takes courage and self-preservation.

Vitally, recovery can mean community. We recognise our specialness in our similarity. This anthology represents a community of writers – new, unheard voices alongside emerging and established authors. Stories from the dark back alleys, the deep crevices of the mind, and from the wild, ecstatic heights of life before, during and after recovery. These are voices that urgently need to be heard, in all their funny, painful, powerful variety.

Its beginnings:

This project began in a small classroom on Mare Street, Hackney, with a group of recovering addicts keen to learn creative writing. Their teacher, Lily Dunn, was a writer in her own recovery from grief after her father’s premature death from alcoholism. Three months voluntary teaching became a year of Arts Council-funded sessions. The group grew, wrote, shared, and kept returning to tell their stories. Lily and her teaching partner, Zoe Gilbert, made a national callout, broadening the remit to include tales of recovery from physical and mental illness, as well as addiction: this anthology is the result.

Almost two years later, the creative writing classes at Hackney Recovery Service are still going strong.

Why is this book important?

Many of the students in the Hackney Recovery Service group wrote every day, yet didn’t consider themselves writers. But with the chance to develop their craft, and with the prospect of seeing their work in print, they improved hugely. This anthology started as a literary venture, to mentor writers and help them reach a high standard and feel at ease alongside more established voices.

What they all have in common are extraordinary stories, explored through fiction, poetry and life writing. What also unites them is the recognition that writing is part of their recovery. This book celebrates that. But it also celebrates their right to see their work in print, and our passionate belief that these stories are important.

These are tales from the underground, by mostly underrepresented voices, that deserve recognition in our community.

Recovery can be a humbling experience. Most of us have been touched by addiction or mental or physical illness. What better medium to explore this concept than an anthology, where all stand together.

The stories:

A Scottish family who laughs its way through destitution and debauchery
A song to an addict, now passed
The power of words to destroy and to heal
Beaten but not yet dead
A girl waking up in her hospital bed ready to face her anorexia
The devil in a Safeway car park
And many more.

The poetry and prose in this anthology have been selected by authors and poets, not only for the importance of their subjects, but for their literary value. With such a huge range of submissions, the editors were able to choose pieces that tackled recovery from an oblique angle. This creates a space between the story told and its teller, through exploration of language, surprising humour, or psychological enquiry.

Why you should support this book

Because many of our contributors have either stood at the brink of death, and made it back again; or witnessed someone they love do the same. To read their work is affirming of the preciousness of life. Writing for them has been a huge part of that recovery, and your support of that is validating.


Alexander Ali, Francesca Baker, Julia Bell, Astra Bloom, Kate Brown, Gary Bryan, Eileen Carnell, Tory Creyton, Ford Dagenham, Claire Dean, Emily Devane, Jamie Guiney, J L Hall, Polly Hall, Lois L Hambleton, Ellen Hardy, Nada Holland, Kerry Hudson, Stephanie Hutton, Anthony James, Angela Jameson, Nicola Jones, Peter Jordon, Adam Kelly Morton, Angie Kenny, Michele Kirsch, Michael Loveday, Scott Manley Hadley, Deborah Martin, Alan McCormick, John Mercer, Andy Moore, Joe Moriss, Robin Mukherjee, Sadie Nott, John O’Donoghue, James O’Leary, John Pearson, Laura Pearson, Helen Rye, TK Saeed, Maggie Sawkins, Lane Shipsey, Victoria Shropshire, Rob True, Garry Vass, Susannah Vernon-Hunt, Annie Vincent, Katie Watson.

By pledging your support to this project, you’ll help make this anthology come into being, and your support will also earn you exclusive rewards detailed on this page.

You'll also be supporting St Mungo’s and Hackney Recovery Service. Once the initial subscription has been raised, the editors will be donating 50% of their profits to them.

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