Hayley Green on Being Creative With Your Opportunities
Hayley Green is an example of what can be achieved if a young writer is determined, hardworking and fearlessly prepared to try their hand at something that will involve a very steep learning curve. The type of apprenticeship scheme that Hayley is on is so important, because it provides a very practical way for a young person to become involved in an industry that they are passionate about. As Hayley explains in the interview, the apprenticeship has provided her with many of the different types of experience that jobs in the arts industry appear to require. This can only be done however, if the apprentice takes every opportunity that comes their way; something Hayley has done with great enthusiasm.
How did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, certainly since I was at school. I’d been working in retail and had written for a long time. I decided to write my book after a back injury at work and had to take about six months time off. The day after I’d finished the first draft of my book, I got a phone call saying I’d got a job, so went back into retail and didn’t write anything for a long time. I always wanted to do something creative, so I spent a lot of time looking for creative jobs. The problem was they always needed experience and I didn’t have any experience at all.
Then I found the apprenticeship with Writing East Midlands. I’d never heard of Writing East Midlands and I didn’t know I could do any of the things I’m doing at the moment. I saw the advert and thought it looked perfect and exactly what I wanted to do, so I got the job.
I started writing again, because being involved in the literary scene kind of spurs you on. Then I met the ‘Mouthy Poets’ because I saw them perform and thought that was what I wanted to do. I think that’s when I kind of decided that I wanted to pursue a career in writing but I think it’s always been a part of me. I don’t think I grew up and then suddenly decided to be a writer. It’s just who I am.
Tell me about your job with writing East Midlands.
I’m on a Community Arts Apprenticeship in Administration. When I first went there it was only going to be administration, but none of us really knew what to expect. It’s funded by The Mighty Creatives and it’s the first year they’ve done this kind of apprenticeship, so it’s a trial run. But everything about Writing East Midlands interests me, so I’m getting into everything that we do. I’ve recently helped out with the critical read scheme which helps to get writers critical reads of their work. I also help out with the events and anything that I can get access to. I’ve been learning about funding for the arts, how to help other writers, as well as doing my own writing, because I’m learning as I go along.
I don’t really feel like it’s an apprenticeship, because although I’m learning, I just feel like I’m part of the company. Obviously I’ve got to get the qualification in Community Arts Administration, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about becoming involved in a world I never knew existed.
How do you get the qualification in Community Arts Administration?
It’s not an exam. I get it through writing reports about everything I do, which is put in a portfolio. This is then assessed and becomes my qualification. So occasionally I have to go to college, but I don’t have to go very often because I’m learning so much in the work environment. But I do need to know the more technical side of the industry, which is where the college comes in. Really it’s a case of trying to get as much as you can out of your time in the apprenticeship.
Would you go through, in a little more detail, exactly what you are doing in your apprenticeship?
I try and take on as much responsibility as I can when events are being run. I gave myself a huge project with ‘The Festival of Words’ when I said I wanted to lead the audiovisual side of it. This was about co-ordinating with White Collar Zoo and students from Central College to gather footage towards a documentary for the Festival. I was responsible for bringing the crews together and making sure they were doing everything they were supposed to.
I also do the Administration for Writing East Midlands, so if we have an artist coming up, I’ll book them a hotel and make sure they’ve got transport and also I’ll be there at an event with the team to represent Writing East Midlands.
The Critical Reading Scheme is a scheme run by the Literary Consultancy. We get a grant which allows us, to choose manuscripts, which could be novels, poetry, short stories or scripts that are then sent off to the Literary Consultancy so that they can have a critical read from an agent, or a published writer. It helps writers get their work to a publishable standard. I started reading the submissions for our Critical Reads to see what kind of level we’re looking for. It’s really interesting because I’m learning what level my work needs to be at for myself.
We’ve just had a new grant from The Mighty Creatives to do a young people’s project. So we’re working with schools in Leicester, mainly with Roma children. We get a Roma storyteller in and at the end of the project they produce a play. This is so that the local community can learn more about the Roma people. So I’m co-managing that project. It’ll be my first big project that I’m managing, so I’m having help from more experienced people. It’s something new and really interesting, because it’s reaching out to group of people who were thought to be unreachable. It’s not that Roma people don’t write, but it’s more that they tell their stories orally and have a very strong oral tradition. This is why we don’t know their stories, because we haven’t heard them. This is why we’re having a storyteller in. The project just opens a platform for Roma people.
What specifically will have will you have to do while you’re managing this project?
Liaising with the schools and Roma writers and making sure that the writers that we get in meet the school’s needs. I’ll also be learning how to manage the budget for the project and how much we pay for everything that we need. It’s a matter of making sure that communication runs smoothly between everyone and that everyone gets what they should out of it. I’m sure they’ll be many other things, but it’s my first major project, so I’m not sure what to expect. If there’s one thing I’ve learned going through this apprenticeship is that nothing is what you expected to be. But that’s what makes it so exciting. It’s what makes you want to get out of bed and do it.
You talked about coordinating the audiovisual part of the Nottingham Festival of Words. Will you be bringing some of that experience that you had co-ordinating everything to this project?
It’s a longer project than the Festival of Words, and a different type of coordination is required. I had to gather a team together for the audiovisual project. It worked very well because the students came along very excited about the project, to talk to the people who were there, to the audience and the writers. So I think our needs were met more easily. It’s a very different thing when you’re bringing a writer into a school, because you must get the right match. If you don’t get this right, it can be very difficult. So this project will be far more challenging, because of the two mediums involved which is storytelling and learning. Filming the Festival of Words was more about making sure that the word got out about the literary community and the event. There are similarities however, because I will be coordinating the communication, but on two different levels.
It seems to me that what you’re doing in this apprenticeship is learning a lot of transferable skills.
Yes, particularly as I don’t know what I’m going to be doing from day to day until I get into work. New things are always coming up. But it’s about building a toolkit of all the skills that I can then take on and use in other places. I actually brought it in to Mouthy Poets. At the moment I’m talking with the other Mouthy Poets about putting videos together of their performances as well as constantly looking for new projects. Again it’s the type of confidence that working with Writing East Midlands has given me. So yes, it is all about transferable skills.
What you think you’re going to be able to do once you’ve got the certificate and finished the apprenticeship?
It’s a scary prospect actually. The administration side of the apprenticeship means that I could get a job anywhere that sort of skill is needed. For example, I could go into a finance company, because I have all the admin skills needed for that sort of thing.
What I’d really like to do is stay with Writing East Midlands, but I don’t know whether that will be possible. Now I’m learning more about the education and writer development side of it, I’d like to go into that sort of environment. But certainly I’d like to work in education. I’m hoping that I’ll have the skills and experience to stay in the literary scene wherever it may be, whether it’s doing administration, education or event management. I’m hoping it’ll be more than the things I’ve just got in my portfolio, which is my certificate. There are so many more things that I’ve done, but don’t officially have qualifications for as part of my portfolio, but I have the experience of doing them. Hopefully that should work in my favour.
It seems that the apprenticeship is what you make of it.
Yes. I think all the other apprentices that are on this apprenticeship in different companies will probably make something different out of each experience they have. For me, rather than looking at it as a qualification, I’ve seen it as an opportunity to get my toe in the door of the literary scene as well as learning all these other skills and getting involved in everything else. I’ve been getting my name known, because it’s an area I want to continue to be involved in. Others who’ve have gone through the apprenticeship may go on to Uni or something else to gain their qualifications. But I’m more practically orientated. I didn’t go to Uni and I’m not academic, although I could be if I had to, but I don’t want to be. I just want to be in a literary environment. I don’t think of it as an apprenticeship, but a job, although I do realise that in a few months I will have to look for work.
Your interest in the literary scene is obvious because you’ve written your book. How did you get this published?
I self-published through a print-on-demand company funded by the Arts Council called Feed a Read. No one had actually heard of it before, but I found it because it’s Arts Council/lottery funded.
I started doing that before I got my apprenticeship. Sometimes I think I wish I could’ve waited, but it is what it is and I’m now learning how to get the book out and market it myself. I never really wanted to go through publishers with this book. I thought about it beforehand, when I was writing it. Now it’s finished, it’s so close to me I didn’t feel that going to a publisher will be right for it. Now self-publishing is becoming more acceptable I just felt that I’d leave it where it was. However the next book I’ll be working on I’ll look at in a completely different way.
So what you’re saying is that doing the apprenticeship has shifted your viewpoint and it became more of a case of just getting the book out there?
Having my name on something is a real buzz. The book started out with a really bad cover, which really didn’t help its sales. Because I was in the apprenticeship I met people who could design the cover professionally and they’ve really helped me to network with people who could bring the whole thing along. So I have now produced a second edition of the book. The book is very autobiographical in the story telling. It’s really close to the life that I’ve been through and who I was.
The new novel I’m working on is completely fiction and has nothing to do with my life. So now I see myself as two different writers, because my poetry is completely personal to me, whereas the new book I’m writing is something else entirely. Now I know about the Critical Read Scheme and other schemes that are out there, I can see the avenues into being published much more clearly. This is great because it’s something I didn’t see before I started the apprenticeship. Having said this, I don’t regret being self published, because I feel that’s what it needed to be.
Do you see yourself using the subject matter (which includes self-harm) in your first book as a discussion point with young people?
It’s very difficult subject matter, but it’s close to my heart. When I was at school, mental illness wasn’t spoken about. It was hidden away. So I would certainly like to be able to talk to people about what’s in the book. My poetry, especially at the moment, is about mental illness, self harm and abuse. Writing’s helped me so much, to deal with that. So it’s something I really would like to focus on and do workshops in schools to make it acceptable to talk about it. It would be nice to know there’s someone who was on their own like I was and have someone like the person who helped me. I had a teacher without whose support I don’t know where I would be today. I know a lot of people get pushed aside and I would just like to make it more acceptable to talk about these issues in school.
I wouldn’t get the kids to read my book, because it’s a bit too graphic and is really for much older people. But the subject matter and why I wrote it and what I was going through, is definitely something I would like to focus on.
What about your work with the Mouthy Poets?
I never knew about Mouthy Poets before I started the apprenticeship and learned about Spoken Word. I never knew there were all these different channels I could get my emotions out through. The confidence it gives you is huge. When I first started performance poetry I had a crippling anxiety in most aspects of my life. But when I started performing in this world, it opened up all sorts of things.
When I was at school I was very shy and anyone who liked poetry was called a ‘geek’. I certainly wasn’t a ‘cool’ kid. But Spoken Word is different to the poetry you learn about in school. When you go to an event like the Lyric Lounge run by Writing East Midlands, you see so many young people saying, ‘I want to do that.’ Nobody knew anything about this sort of performance at school, so I really want to get out to the hard to reach places and show them what Spoken Word is all about. I want them to be able to see that it doesn’t have to be Shakespearean poetry. It can be just simple and it can be just what you want to say. It means you’ve got a voice and you can use it. I think it’s really important to give young people that voice and to let them know they can do this, that they can get up there and tell their story. They don’t have to be secretly scribbling it in a notebook. I haven’t been doing Spoken Word very long, but it’s made such a difference to me and to my life that I think people need to do it earlier. I think they need to know at an earlier stage, so that things can be talked about.
It does seem to be about gaining confidence through this sort of event. I remember seeing a tweet by the poet and playwright Nick Makoha, who had recently visited a local school. Someone who usually sat at the back of the class suddenly found they had a talent for performance poetry.
Yes I’m increasingly finding this. There are loads of Spoken Word artists, poets and writers who have dyslexia. I never knew this before I got involved in the scene. The diversity in Mouthy Poets is incredible. For example we have someone who is severely disabled, but her poetry is brilliant. It’s just really opened my eyes to letting people know that you don’t have to be a straight A student who reads poetry at night. Spoken Word’s not about that. It’s about telling your story or getting your voice heard. It doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s just getting up there and it’s important. It is helpful for those who struggle and those who don’t think they can do it. When they do get up and do their poetry there’s an amazing change that you can see in those people. It’s just really inspiring and something that I want to see more of.