Louisa Adjoa Parker, QuayWords writer-in-residence

Photo by Robert Golden
This week we welcome Louisa Adjoa Parker to the blog. Louisa is the first QuayWords writer-in-residence based at the Customs House on the Quay this summer, and we've asked her to tell us a bit about herself and what she has planned for her residency.

Have you been a writer-in-residence before?

I've been a writer-in-residence a few other times. There were a couple of week long residencies at primary schools, and a residency at HMP YOI Portland, where I worked with black and minority ethnic prisoners and produced an anthology of their work. More recently I was the Lit Up! and Poole Libraries writer-in-residence. This is the first residency I've had in Exeter which is fantastic for me as I love the city, and county of Devon.

What made you apply for the residency here?

I applied for the position because it looked like an exciting opportunity to deliver some place based writing, drawing on two things I'm passionate about - literature and history (especially the untold stories). The Quay Words themes, which include nature, history, accessibility and well being, are important to me and I often draw on them in my own writing and writing workshops.

Although I've been coming to Exeter for years - I've lived in different parts of the south west and it's often been my nearest city; I and my daughter went to Exeter University; my eldest daughter, granddaughter and friends live there - I didn't know the quayside very well. I thought the area was beautiful, and I was keen to spend time in the Custom House and on the site and learn about its history. As well as this, I was familiar with the fantastic range of work Literature Works delivers, and thought this would be a great opportunity to create new work and meet new people.

What do you have planned for your residency?

During the residency I'll be doing some historical research, and choosing some stories to write about. This might take the form of poetry or short fiction, and will be published online in the autumn. I'll be delivering two place based creative writing workshops - one with a local school and another for adults - and supporting participants to write using the site as inspiration. There'll be an opportunity for some of the pieces produced to be published on the blog. Each Thursday between 1 and 3 pm there's the opportunity for members of the public to drop in and chat to me, and this week I was honoured to meet the last man to work at Custom House as a customs and excise officer.

Are there any local stories or subjects that you are keen to find out about?

I'm interested in finding out about the untold stories, stories of ordinary people who lived, worked or passed through the Custom House and quayside. I'm more interested in social history than learning about kings and queens. So far I've learned that it was a centre for processing woollen cloth, and the methods involved were rather alarming! (The wool was washed in a fluid containing ammonia, which came from humans). The area used to be very poor, and must have been very different to how it is today with all the shops and bars and restaurants, and people sitting around chatting outside in the sun. I want to find out about people from marginalized groups, whose stories haven't traditionally been told, such as women, working class people, and migrants. I'm interested in any global connections or links with the African slave trade. The residency is short so I don't have long! A few things have already jumped out at me, and I'm sure there'll be plenty of material to choose from!

What do you normally write about?

I write about a range of things, often around identity and place, and favourite themes include home, nature, and landscape; gender; race; parenting; domestic violence; love; and loss. I began writing originally to talk about the racism and domestic violence I grew up with, and this gave me a voice. I'm keen to tell stories of marginalised people from the south west, as the idyllic image many people have of the region can hide rural deprivation and discrimination; the countryside isn't all roses around the cottage door for everyone. It can be tough living here as a minority. I'm inspired by my own experience and memories, stories I read in the news, someone I catch sight of who interests me, place and history. I write poetry, fiction, articles and history which has focused so far on black and minority ethnic people in the south west.

You can see examples of Louisa's work and buy her poetry collections on her website: www.louisaadjoaparker.com

If you're interested in the stories of black and brown people in the south west, check out her blog: www.whereareyoureallyfrom.co.uk

If you have any stories you'd like to share about the ordinary people who lived and worked at the quayside, you can contact Louisa via her blog or drop in on her at the Customs House on a Thursday afternoon.

 <- Click here to find out more or to book for Louisa's workshop on Sunday 21st July