Mai Black is the founder of the Suffolk Writers Group. Here she talks about setting up a writing group at her local library 10 years ago, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 24 – and what inspired her new poetry book, Thirty Angry Ghosts
What led you to set up the Suffolk Writers Group ten years ago? What is your background?
I used to attend a lot of writing groups when I lived in Norwich and when I moved to Suffolk 10 years ago, I found it difficult to connect with other writers and creative people. I felt quite lost for about half a year but then found the confidence to set up a writing group at my local library (Gainsborough Community Library in Ipswich).
As a former teacher, I had lots of ideas for creative sessions and the group grew in membership until I was able to start a second group in Arlington’s Brasserie in town, and then another at my home in Ipswich.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 24 and it can be quite a struggle to maintain balance in my life. I’ve always found great comfort in the creative community, and I love that I’ve now become an active part in it.
Lockdown hit me hard as I wasn’t able to run my usual groups but, thanks to Zoom, I was able to start running 10-week poetry courses, as well as supporting other writers one to one.
My Facebook group ‘Suffolk Writers Group’ became a real focus for myself and other writers. With a small team of volunteers, I posted daily writing challenges and it’s great to see contributions from other local groups and individuals sharing creative activities from across the county and beyond.
How can people get involved?
There are two main ways. If people would like to join a weekly writing group in Ipswich, they can email me at email@example.com. Since lockdown I just run one on Wednesday evenings. Each session costs £10 and refreshments are provided for free.
I’d recommend that everyone who is creatively minded joins a writing group. I think it’s the most fun you can have with a group of people: writing together, discussing ideas and sharing work in a fun, supportive environment.
If you don’t live in Ipswich and/or are not free on Wednesday evenings, there are a number of other groups and courses across the county, many of which I’m proud to have personal connections with. To find out about groups and courses, I’d recommend joining ‘Suffolk Writers Group’ on Facebook and asking for information about activities running in your area. Alternatively, you can ask at your local library.
What can you tell us about your new poetry book, Thirty Angry Ghosts?
I was running a succession of 10-week poetry courses on Zoom, starting with 18th Century Poetry and culminating with two courses on 21st Century Poetry. We also had themed courses on Nature and Love poetry.
Spending so much time reading, writing and discussing poetry really helped get it into my blood and it seems inevitable that it was going to come out somewhere.
I’ve always been interested in famous historical figures, fuelled partly by a love of the ‘Horrible Histories’ series by Terry Deary. I see my book as an extension of that, in that it really tries to get under the skin of people from history and see the world from their point of view.
The book features the voices of famous historical figures such as Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Mansa Musa, Queen Victoria. Genghis Khan, and Abraham Lincoln. I’ve also included historically accurate biographies at the back.
The book lends itself very well to public performance and I’ve been lucky enough to have found a number of talented performers to dress up as the historical figures to play the parts of the ghosts. So far, we’ve performed at The King’s Head in Woodbridge, Gainsborough Library, Felixstowe Library, Capel St Mary’s Women’s Institute and on local BBC Radio.
We’re also working on a series of You Tube videos which people can find by visiting my You Tube Channel. Just search for ‘Mai Black’.
The book is available at all bookshops, either on the shelf or by ordering a copy. It’s also available at Amazon in both paperback for £8.99 and as a kindle version for £3.99. It’s also currently free on Kindle Unlimited.
What are you planning to write next?
I’m currently writing a historical novel set in 18th century London. There’s a lot of research to do but I’m loving it. Quite a few people in the Wednesday evening group and in the Facebook group are also writing novels so it’s great to share motivational tips, ideas and different approaches to plot and characterisation.
What are your plans for the group? Another 10 years?
I’m hoping to keep the Wednesday evening sessions going strong. We have got a couple of spaces at the moment, so please get in touch if you’re interested.
Also, I’d like to help build an even stronger writing community in Suffolk. Last year I joined Suffolk Poetry Society and have been encouraging people from my online courses to sign up too. I’d love to continue to play a more active part in local festivals. I’ve already been involved with Felixstowe Book Festival and Woodbridge Festival so that’s something I’d like to continue to do.
I think there’s so much talent and enthusiasm for writing in Suffolk, so I’d love to see that grow in terms of more writing groups, activities in schools and community settings as well as an increasing variety of local get togethers.
If anyone wants to get in touch with me to discuss any of this, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Twitter at maiblack42; and Facebook and Instagram at maiblackwriter.
Featured image: Mai Black (far left), and the suffolkwritersgroup