Network News: North West – a writer on a scrawl-crawl

Who would have thought it? Late march in Rainy City (aka Manchester) and warm enough to spend a substantial part of the day outdoors. That’s what happened when the SCBWI North West Network group went on a scrawl-crawl at the end of last month.

Outside in March in Rainy City? 

An intruder? 

I’m not really an artist at all. I tend to shy away from it. My father was a very talented one and my son seems to have inherited those genes. So with so much talent on either side of me I’ve not bothered a lot. I can’t really compete. Okay, so my skater was the only who looked as if he was moving on the frieze in year 3, the man at the Van Gogh museum said I had a talent for colour when I managed to paint a convincing mackerel on a “beginners” (beginners? Even I wasn’t one of them and the rest knew a lot more than I did!) course and at about the same time I became quite adept at sketching portraits. I just don’t put in the hours; I prefer to work with words.

 Body occupied, mind on story 

I did, however, bother to draw that day. I often find some of the best ideas come when the rest of my body is doing something else. I don’t get the ideas for stories and scenes so much when I’m sitting at my computer – the ideas come when I’m doing something physical: ironing, baking, walking, swimming or driving. And of course, in this case, sketching. I remember once, when I was doing my Masters in Writing for Children at Winchester, we were told to go to the cathedral instead of the college and just walk around aimlessly. It felt very peculiar and we thought our lecturers had gone a little crazy. Yet some very powerful writing came out of that for all of us. Now, I actually try to recreate that opportunity. Today offered such a chance.

Sign language and word games 

Playing OULIPO games


This is something I’ve always loved. When I was a language teacher I used to take my students abroad and get them to collect the stuff. Words are actually all around us. I spent part of the afternoon collecting words. I then completed a little exercise I think the OULIPO poets might have approved of: I circled every third word, then wrote these out consecutively. I then tweaked it all so that it made sense. This is what I came up with:

The youth on the Metrolink Seeks Roman grits,
 Catalan too.
As a Mothers’ Day gift.

Authority 2744285 has affected the Network on this street.
The Railway line opened with success in 1831.
The people loved it, though it ended.
This road was a station.

If he says the Word he will get somewhere.

Hit by story 

Close to home but a different world

A little strange and surreal my poem. Yet as I wrote these words and as others sketched, the “What If” kicked in. What if a young man, shopping for his mum’s Mothers’ Day present, takes a wrong turn and ends up in a place like Castlefield, in this world of bridges, barges and canals, and columns bedecked with portraits, and finds himself in a time-slip situation? And he can only get out when he finds the correct Word? Which of course he does and returns in time for Mothers’ Day with gems form Rome and Spain? Yes, a little rough still. But there’s the beginning of a story there.


Yes, the drawing’s a bit shaky at the moment and I had to admire the great talent of some of the other participants. I’d certainly do this again though. It allows creative breathing space.

Gill James is a writer sandwiched between two artists. her latest book, The House on Schellberg Street, came out on 11 April. She is very pleased that her son Ashley James, was one of the three people who worked on the cover art.   


  1. Good to see your writer's take on the sketchcrawl, Gill. I love the way your little exercise developed into something unexpected. I think I'll try it out next time I'm on a bus or train journey and see where it takes me!

  2. Gill, I love your story idea and how you found it - this is such a good idea. And thanks for reminding me about OULIPO and Georges Perec - I wrestled with Life a a User's Manual for my MA. Imposing 'rules' like this is a bit like threading a needle - potentially frustrating but once you've done it you're away!

  3. Love how you developed your idea. Some great ideas for the creative process. x

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