'Feel It' by Madalena

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[With grateful thanks to First Story for permission to reproduce this article]

At the end of July, a select number of First Story students attended a week-long residential at one of Arvon’s sites at Lumb Bank, Totleigh Barton and the Hurst. Soon, we’ll be releasing an anthology of writing which the students wrote on this retreat. Ahead of publication, in this week’s Friday Story, we’re sharing a poem which was written at the Hurst by student Madalena Magalhães.

Madalena is a Year 10 student at St-Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls, who participated in the First Story programme in 2017-18. Madalena was selected to participate in the programme after entering an internal creative writing competition organised by the school. Though Madalena has been at St Martin-in-the-Fields since Year 7, she only came to the UK from Portugal 4 years ago, aged 11, and spoke no English before this point.

Madalena says that through participating in the First Story programme, she has learnt more about the other people in her year group as they became more open through the personal writing in the sessions. Hearing her classmates share their writing, she said she felt respect for them and enjoyed thinking about their motivation as authors. Madalena commented that editing her writing in the workshops felt “like a real-life scenario” – as something that “real” writers do, it made her feel that her work was important. Madalena also volunteered that she felt participating in the workshops had helped her gain confidence for the creative writing section of her GCSE exam. Through practise in the First Story sessions every Friday, she felt she could respond more quickly to a stimulus.

Madalena and her classmate Rachel were nominated and selected to attend the week-long Arvon residential at The Hurst with 14 other First Story students from different London schools. They participated in 4 half-day writer-led workshops, attended two evening presentations by writers and participated in group games and readings as well as reading their own writing, crafted during the residential with support in the one to one tutorials by the writers, Mark Illis and Malika Booker. We were particularly pleased that Madalena was able to read her work in front of the others on the last night. She had been too nervous to do so at the school anthology launch, although one of her friends read for her, which she felt had been special.

The tutors and First Story staff were so moved by the way she overcame her nerves and read her work aloud at the residential and she reported that she was so happy to have done so. The quality of work from both Madalena and Rachel on the residential was impressive. One member of First Story staff, who attended the residential said, “She was desperately nervous about reading but has contributed amazing ideas to the workshops and when she read on the last night, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. She says she feel so grateful for the experience and yet we feel so lucky to have spent time with such a thoughtful, talented young writer… she has grown and developed so much this week. She’s also an amazingly creative cook and I’ll never make Spaghetti Bolognaise without a little ginger in it again!”

Madalena also came up with the winning title for the 2018 residential anthology which is A Week-Long Family.

In answer to the question, “How has First Story changed you?”, Madalena said:

“I have a perspective on my writing and understand that I need to like and feel my writing – not other people. I am thinking about it in a different way.”

“What have you learned from being part of First Story?”

Madalena: “You learn at First Story that everything is writing material!”

“What have you most enjoyed about the residential?”

Madelenda: “I felt really nervous – same feeling as moving to England. You don’t know how to conduct yourself. But, I’ve liked the lounge sessions and I’ve liked cooking – I’ve bonded with people whilst doing that.”

If you’d like to read more of Madalena’s work, you can read her poem ‘How Places are Shaped’ in the residential anthology, available online soon, or purchase St Martin-in-the-Fields’ 2017-18 anthology, The Ground Hardens After the Rain, for more writing by Madalena and the rest of her group, which was led by writers-in-residence Miriam Nash and Rachel Seiffert.