On Wednesday night twenty three people, very predominantly women gathered in a suite of The Rep Theatre to hear a great writer, director and activist speak. She was Stella Duffy, not to be confused with Carol-Anne Duffy the poet.
Why it was such a small number, I don’t know. I suspect that with a variety of other Birmingham Literature Festival events on offer people opted for one of the other events on offer. That was a shame they missed a really useful session.
The evening sponsored by the RLF, a worthy organisation I think from the event introduction, was billed as a lecture but was more akin to a seminar.
To gain a response from the audience and to introduce us to one of the things she wanted to talk about she introduced us to the five principles of open space. One of the effects of this was that any embarrassment amongst us about the small number of people present was removed.
This technique which also aligns with her Buddhist believes also serves to inspire and empower the audience by making believe them that their being there is not an accident.
As with the other times I had heard Duffy speak at Greenbelt she taught as she spoke and shared something of her own background. It was explicitly made clear last night that part of her role is to show that people from working class people can engage with the arts and to show there are people like them in there working.
Some reoccurring themes came out throughout the talk such as the need to be generous. This is a woman who is tremendously generous giving her time for things she believes in whilst working very, very hard.
It became clear through the talk though that one can only succeed with such generosity if you allocate time to tasks and are willing to collaborate. This came through most clearly when she was talking about the Fun Palaces, which seek to provide temporary places where arts and sciences come together the local community.
She is a woman who has large following on social media and during her talk recommended a range of Apps which can help you with time management.
Time was clearly something important to her that she believed should not be wasted and also was something which should not be used as an excuse.
Listening to talk she discussed spirituality and religious heritage in a way which made me smile. She was brutally honest whilst being affectionate about so much that she spoke of. This reality laced optimism was something which shone through when she spoke of her own experience which has included serious cancer and reconstructive surgery as a result. She described the relationship between the darker sides of life and what she has done to help others, sometimes as a result, as the relationship between destiny and mission.
As one of the founders of the Women’s Equality Party she talked about the hard work behind the scenes which has underpinned this movement.
She also, as a thread through the hour long event, kept returning to giving tips to writers. She detailed the classic western story structure and talked of the need not to plan slavishly according to this but to bear it in mind when drafting and redrafting your work.
I found this whole session really inspiring. From hearing her speak and reading her work previously I had admired her, last night I learnt so much from her that I was even more grateful.
I need to make clear that I think hero worship is unhelpful, but role models are not. I am under no illusion this woman is as human as the rest of us and will have her faults yet she also has an incredible gift of inspiring you to move forward with your dreams. That is what she generously does and continued to do last night.