When our Overhear writers are given the brief for the project, they often turn to historical research on their venue for inspiration. We’ve seen them pick out significant moments, architectural details and tell the stories of people who would have stood in those spaces however many years ago. Today, we’re talking to a writer who has taken things one step further by bringing the past sailing into the present – via the Birmingham Canal Old Line. We sat down with Heddwen Creaney in her venue of Ju Ju’s Café to find out more.
‘I met Tom over a year ago when he came along to an open mic night to plug Overhear – I heard about the app then and thought it was really cool,’ Heddwen tells us. ‘For me especially, because I work for Writing West Midlands and one of our projects is Birmingham Literature Festival. The festival is all about writers: supporting writers in the region but also putting writers on a stage in front of an audience, giving them a platform. Overhear is essentially about putting poetry and prose in people’s pockets. It’s perfect for us.’
Heddwen went on to tell us a little more about the significance of place in her own life and writing: ‘I was born in Wales, grew up in Scotland, with a Northern Irish dad, studied in Wales and now live and work in Birmingham.’ She counts off each place on her fingers as she says them. ‘I feel like I’m heavily influenced by all the places I’ve lived and spent time in. It tends to be quite Celtic, obviously,’ Heddwen laughs, ‘it’s fun to do something that’s specifically Birmingham, more England-focused.’
Even more specifically, we talk about her chosen venue, Ju Ju’s Café. ‘Ju Ju’s is a breakfast and dinner restaurant. I picked it because I knew the location – it’s on the Old Line Canal so I was like food and water,’ she points out of the window, ‘perfect.’
‘It also turns out that Julia – who runs the café – got the nickname Ju Ju from a nephew on the Welsh side of her family, so that’s a cute Celtic coincidence,’ Heddwen adds, ‘It’s a really friendly, family-run business. I love their attitude to the importance of food and home-cooked food; there’s really something special about eating as a group and eating on your own – it’s self-care, it’s nutrition, it’s social, it’s family, it’s a moment to stop… I read their story on their website and I was like, yeah. There’s definitely an aligning ethos.’
The synergy between the venue and Heddwen’s own worldview didn’t necessarily make for a challenge-free creative process, however, as we found out. ‘I wrote it. And then I hated it,’ she tells us, ‘but last night I had an epiphany, so now I’ve got a new idea that I’m really excited by.’ Intrigued, we asked her for more details. ‘The old idea was looking at the menu items and using them as prompts to write about my own experiences. Normally I start with an image in my head and then I write the poem from the image whereas this… I had loads of ideas that I wanted to get in but I didn’t actually have a strong solid image that could be my foundation, which then led to the poem feeling quite bitty and too specific, self-focussed.’
‘Writing about a place so specific was challenging because I couldn’t romanticise it the way I might usually do, because people would be here and, you know, looking at it. So then I was trying to write and things were coming out too literally descriptive. I didn’t want people to be here, listening to the poem and thinking yes, that chalkboard over there does say those words on it, and…?'
‘My new idea has more direction,’ Heddwen continues, ‘I did Medieval English at University and a bit of Medieval Lit at A-Level as well, and the main thing I took away from all those hours of hard work and research is that FOOD. IS. IMPORTANT. A big part of that society – feudalism – relied on this practice of feasting. The halls were used as this place where you could give gifts, bond, tell stories, show off... and women would finally be involved in the narrative, which is always fun.’
‘So,’ she says, grinning, ‘I’m setting a medieval feast in Ju Ju’s. It’s something a bit different to what I’ve done before and, as I said, because of how they’d use those spaces to tell stories, it really fits into the audio nature of the app. It’s tying into the oral tradition of Welsh literature – I hope.’
The idea of past and present co-existing is something she also links to the city about which she’s writing: ‘I think Birmingham’s architecture is crazy; it keeps knocking itself down and rebuilding itself – but leaving bits behind, so there’s these remnants of all these different decades all through the city. I think the Jewellery Quarter is the best example because it’s got these 1930s buildings and 1800s factories next to slick modern buildings. It’s weird and wonderful and, yes – creatively inspiring.’
If you want to hear what Heddwen was inspired to create, her poem Roses and Castles is available to collect from Ju Ju’s Café using the Overhear app from 28th September.
Heddwen can be found on her blog here.