The women of the Bluebell Arts Creative Writing Lab are enjoying a quick tea break when I arrive.
They hastily finish their tea, they leave the cafe in the Gasyard and make their way upstairs to the Arts Factory room.
The women are accompanied by Abby Oliveira (facilitator) and Fiona McGonagle (Bluebell Arts Development Officer).
The Creative Writing Lab is in its fifth week of a 12 week programme and on June 29 all of this involved will take part in an open mic night at Cafe Soul.
“I first took up creative writing five years ago,” says Frances McKinney from Springvale.
“Up until that time I’d never tried anything like that before but since then I have written a few poems and short stories.
“My favourite poem would be the one I wrote about granny - it’s called ‘A Woman of Grace’.”
The theme of the Creative Writing Lab is to encourage those participating to be aware of their mental health and to try and express their feelings and experiences through poetry and prose.
Abby Oliveira is a well-known Derry based writer and poet. Abby says that although her position within the group is as facilitator she gets a lot of satisfaction out of watching those involved progressing.
“There’s no other way to dress it up than to say that I absolutely love what I do.
“This group are a pleasure to work with and I think that everyone is looking forward to the open mic night at the end of June. The women have already penned some amazing pieces of work so I dare say that the quality on show on the night will be top class.”
Margaret Cassidy is from Creggan She ‘officially’ took up creative writing with her friend Marie White five years ago in the Old Library Trust.
“I never got the chance to try anything like this at school,” says Marie.
“If I am honest, I would love to have a few of the teachers I had back then in the room now to show them what it is I can do.
“I write about everything and anything but I like to keep my writing as comical as possible.”
Margaret says that she has been writing “on and off” for years and explained that she still finds it difficult to read her work aloud to others.
“I see my work as very private and I sometimes find it hard to talk about but there’s a real sense of trust and comfort here amongst us all.
“I write about everything. If I am honest it has really taken me by surprise because I feel great when I have put something down on paper.
“There’s nearly a sense of a great weight has been lifted when you write about something serious. I love coming to writing lab and we would be lost if it wasn’t for the help and guidance of Abby.”
As part of the project, the women are required to keep a weekly journal. They were all asked to design the front cover of their journals so that it reflects who they are.
Clare Cregan said that she has enjoyed keeping her journal and said that each time she reads back over it it always surprises her.
“I never knew I had this in me. I’ve totally surprised myself in a good way.
“But I think I speak for everyone when I say just how much of a privilege it is to work with Abby Oliveira. She is so talented and she has taught us so much. I’ll never forget the day we all met for the first time - it’s been great fun ever since.”
Bluebell Arts Development Officer Fiona McGonagle says that anyone interested in getting involved with creative writing should contact her straight away.
“The writing lab is not exclusively for women. We would like to see more men get involved.
“I’d also encourage anyone interested to get in contact because I want to hear from the community what it is they want.
“We are even thinking about starting up a book club so if anyone’s interested in then they should contact me at the Gasyard.
“But for the moment we are all looking forward to the open mic night at Cafe Soul. Everyone is welcome and I can guarantee that all of the performances on the night will be brilliant.”
The Bluebell Arts Creative Writing Lab is funded by the Arts Council NI and the Big Lottery Fund.
For further information, contact Fiona at the Gasyard on 028 7126 2812.