Wyl Menmuir on his Isles of Scilly Residency
We caught up with author and one of our very own lecturers, Wyl Menmuir, to talk about his Walking Stories residency in the Isles of Scilly. He described the experience, gave us advice on writing pieces for audio and told us about the inspiration he gathered from the isles.
Tell us about your writing residency in the Isles of Scilly.
I was invited over to Scilly initially to write an article for the Guardian about family holidays and I was utterly blown away by these beautiful islands just a few miles off the Cornish coast. It was the first time I’d visited and when I was offered the chance to come back to write a story based on St Martin’s as part of a series called Walking Stories, and again to run a series of writing workshops and to launch the stories, I jumped at it.
My residency took place over a week in May. I had a lot of flexibility about how I ran the workshops and the team on Scilly was up for pretty much anything. In one, we combined wild swimming, beach yoga and mindfulness with creative writing and another took the form of a three hour walk on St Martin’s, interspersed with writing exercises. In terms of a setting for getting inspiration to write, there can’t be many that match Scilly.
In between workshops, I saw a lot of the other activities – music, theatre, art – and I managed to get out into wild Scilly to recharge my creative batteries and get some of my own writing done.
Sounds wonderful! You got a chance then to write about St Martin’s. Tell us a little bit about the island…
St Martin’s is one of five inhabited islands of Scilly. It’s the most northerly of the islands and one coast is pretty much deserted. I was invited to undertake a residency on St Martin’s at the end of November last year, and I travelled out to the islands when there were no other tourists and spent a very happy week tramping around the island, absorbing the place and its stories, poring over old maps and archeological reports, and talking to some of the older residents, especially people who had been born on the island. The more I dug, the more fascinating stories I came across and the more the idea for the story began to shape itself in my mind.
The story I came up with – Images I Did Not Capture With My Camera – was based on the experience of a man who was born on the island in the 1920s. It takes the form of five snapshots from his life on the island and what I hope is that it gives a sense of what makes this particular place different to any other.
Five writers, five stories. This was a great group to be part of.
It was the dream brief. The other four writers involved were Michael Morpurgo, whose story is set on Bryher, Piers Lewin, who lives on St Agnes and chose to write about his island home, Sam Llewellyn, who wrote about Tresco, and Marion Molteno, whose story is set on St Mary’s.
We were given an open brief for the stories, so each one of us came up with something quite different, but they are all linked by their engagement with the islands themselves. Piers Lewin then put music to each of the tracks, and they were performed by some marvellous readers. Mine was read by comedian and actor, Ed Rowe.
All of the five different stories are available as audio pieces. Why do you think audio is an important format for us to listen to stories?
There’s something about being read a story that takes me back to being a child and my parents reading books to me. I get a similar sensation when I listen to stories being read live. It’s a privilege to have someone read a story to you – it can lift the words from the page and the act of performance lends the piece a new dynamic, a new reading. The best audiobooks give the whole story a new meaning. Much like a translated piece of fiction is always a dance between the reader, the writer and the translator, the audiobook is a dance between the writer, the reader and the performer.
The idea behind the Walking Stories was that you could listen to the stories while walking on the island, though I think they work as well for anyone who wants to listen to a story that is going to take them away from the place they are now and whisk them off to Scilly, or at least a fictional Scilly.
Can you share any tips about writing for an audio format?
My biggest tip would be to read your work out loud if it’s going to be made into an audiobook (actually, read it aloud in any case – you'll pick up so many more mistakes that way). A story for audio has to have a rhythm to it that lends itself to being spoken and you only get that by reading it aloud. Have friends read it back to you, have your computer read it to you – listen to it as though someone was telling you a story. It has to keep your attention. Someone once explained it to me that when you’re writing for audio, especially for radio, you’re competing with whatever else the listener is doing at the time. You want to grab their attention and keep it for as long as possible, so that then becomes something to aim for when you’re writing an audiobook.
Wyl, thanks for sharing this with us.
Wyl’s story and more about the residency
You can listen to Wyl’s story below. If you would like to learn more about this project and listen to the pieces from the other writers, visit this link.