A Wild and Precious Life: A Recovery Anthology

By Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert

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

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

A Wild and Precious Evening

Last Monday Zoe and I hosted our first event for A Wild and Precious Life, our ACE-funded anthology of recovery stories, which sprung from our teaching creative writing to a group of people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction at Hackney Recovery Service (affiliated with St Mungo’s). The event took place at http://www.housmans.com/, a radical bookshop on Caledonian Road, London. In among the bookshelves of Marxist and anarchist theory, we had readings by John O’Donoghue, Vicky Creyton, Astra Bloom and Rob True, each showing a very different shade of what our anthology has to offer.

Our audience was spellbound by the quality of work read – John’s sonnets written from within an asylum by a fictional John Clare and Robert Lowell; Vicky’s prose piece about the cunning puppeteer that is alcohol; Astra’s lyrical and moving story about a neglected child called Blue; and Rob’s powerful hard-hitting prose about delusion and suicide. All read with passion and humanity.

A panel discussion followed, on the powerful role writing can have in recovery, touching on the authentic voice and finding one’s truth in a heart that has been pained and damaged by what life has thrown its way. We talked about writing from within one’s psychosis compared to stepping back and having clarity, and how we felt about having painful work out there for all to read and to judge. Some of us struggled with it, some of us found it cathartic. Was it simply about bravery? Not so much having a thick skin, but being prepared to take whatever comes at you? We discussed what makes us safe when we write – is it a prop or a place, or a person? Two of our panel members (the two men as it happens) came up with ‘my wife’. Their wives as everything.

We tried to get to the bottom of what ‘raw’ means in literature and what was ‘good raw’ as opposed to ‘bad raw’. We surmised that a writer can be too close to their material, and sometimes it’s good to put a piece away in a bottom drawer before sending it out into the world, just to be sure that we are happy with having that part of ourselves thrown to the wolves.  Distance and time creates strength, we agreed. We move further away from the event. We’re also able to look at the words with fresh eyes.

There was so much to talk about that we could have gone on much longer than time allowed. But we’ll pick it up next time. Thank you to our wonderful contributors and thank you Housmans for being such great hosts. It was such a buzz.

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