‘We wanted the stories to feel authentic to the people who were taking part’ 

 

Writer Bridget Hamilton discusses what it was like to work on Changing Relations’ Sometimes It Hurts book project, which has given voices to children who have been affected by issues such as domestic violence and neglect via powerful story telling.

‘Sometimes It Hurts features six stories which were written with the help of a group of young writers, some of whom had experienced domestic abuse. We wanted the stories to feel authentic to the people who were taking part in the project rather than an adult working for them. We held writing workshops with the group in Bensham and they brought words or poems about different aspects of unhealthy relationships, from violence to coercive control. From there, we started to get an inkling of the characters we would create for our book and that was very much shaped by the young people. Changing Relations had done some verbatim work before using testimonies but the nice thing about this project was that by creating fictional characters, they weren’t always expressing their own lives and you could ask questions such as what would this character do now? What happens if they behave like this?  

Once I’d written the stories, we shared them with another group in Horden so we could get some really good constructive feedback, such as how realistic they thought the characters’ experiences were and the sorts of language used. We started to take the book into schools and Bishop Auckland College where we piloted the kind of workshops and activities people wanted from the book. It was a great opportunity for them to give feedback to us and also start to have those conversations about healthy relationships. We would say, does the content go far enough? Is this stuff you already know? They had some really strong emotional responses and became quite political about what’s been done to tackle issues such as domestic violence. We worked hard to make sure that the process was always informed by young people, so we never second guessed them, we always asked and listened. Even people who found the content quite difficult because they had experienced it still reiterated how important it was. You could tell they were going to go off and have conversations with themselves and with their tutors. 

One of my goals with Sometimes It Hurts was to always bring some literature in with me because I never knew how much they were getting the opportunity to read or be read to and that was lovely. The experience had some nice learning moments as a writer too in co-producing this work. It was really rewarding. All of my work with young people is rewarding. To be able to give these young people a book and say ‘you’ve directly influenced this’, and you show how important their opinions and suggestions were, is really nice. Everyone loves getting a book or a piece of art – it’s something concrete they can take away with them, a lasting legacy, which is lovely. 

As told to Lindsay Parker