Page Turner: How the toffs and the cons wrote a book
Sunday 03 May 2009
There are glamorous and not so glamorous places to be a writer in residence. Ian McMillan has tried most of them, as poet in residence for Humberside Police, Barnsley FC and Northern Spirit Rail Network. Fay Weldon checked into the Savoy in 2002, where the beds were reportedly so comfy that she hardly got any work done. Shoreditch House's literary salonista Damian Barr has the enviable role of reader in residence at the Andaz Hotel. He qualifies owing to his dulcet tones and his stripy pyjamas. But none of these has yet been brave enough to go to jail for their writing.
Unlike John Row, an old-fashioned, silver-bearded storyteller who has added prisons and young offenders institutions to his regular beat of festivals, arts centres and museums. Mr Row is now the writer in residence at HMP Highpoint. His residency at HMP Wayland made him the most famous storyteller there since Jeffrey Archer – though Mr Row's stories prove to be the more successful in reducing reoffending. He can next be seen next weekend at the Cambridge Storytelling Festival, and then at the Strawberry Fair in June, but his latest project was put together in less fairytale-like surroundings.
Outside In, published by Bar None Books (£4.95), is the result of Mr Row's stint as a storyteller in residence at Portland Young Offenders Institution. Inspired by an idea of Billy Bragg's, it was put together by a group of sixth form students from the prestigious Bryanston School and a group of young offenders at Portland, who met for a week of intensive writing. Aside from a general idea that being at school is pretty much the same as prison, the youngsters didn't initially think they had much in common, as a poem by Charlie, "The Person I Never Met", shows: "I know your type/ I've seen you many times before,/ Born with a silver spoon believing your s**t smells sweeter than perfume..."
As Row says, some of the writing in this small volume is "quite inspired", and the editing, which uses only first names and does not distinguish between con and toff, leads to some surprises. None greater than Charlie's when he meets the sixth formers. His next poem, "The People I Did Meet", ends: "I think it's about time I met some people that haven't been corrupted by the ends./ I don't know your type/ I've never met people like you before." Sometimes, poetry can make even public schoolboys seem human.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 2 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 3 Top 10 travel destinations for 2015: From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
- 4 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 5 The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
Madonna Rebel Heart: Pharrell Williams collaboration and 13 more songs leaked
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
Doctor Who Christmas special, review: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever