When the taxi drops us in the square in Negovanovtsi village, the party is just about to begin. An eight piece brass band is playing. Textiles and intricate lace-work are hung outside the chitalishte or village hall. A table groans with local food: banitsa pastries both sweet and savoury, polenta cake, fig tart, stuffed peppers, soup, chocolate layer cake, bread. In the village square, in the shade of pine, horse-chestnut and birch trees, a group starts to dance. There are old people and young people too, all dressed in Bulgarian traditional dress: embroidered smocks, woollen hats, shoes pointed at the end. A bench is set up in the square. A sign above the bench reads, in Bulgarian, ‘Residentsia Baba’: granny residence. Later, there are speeches, and vine-leaf stuffing competitions, and more dancing, and feasting. Later still, we are told, there will be drinking: the local wine, mixed with luminous yellow lemonade that is sold as ‘lemonade for wine’, and large quantities of rakiya.

Negovanovtsi is in one of the poorest areas of Europe, just south of the Danube and close to the town of Vidin. The whole region has suffered over the previous decades from significant depopulation. But we travelled up to the village to explore a project from the wonderful Sofia-based Ideas Factory that seeks to reverse this trend.

The Baba Residence project sends urban young people on short residencies to live and work alongside elderly villagers, and to develop new, creative ways of reviving these communities. The project has worked across Bulgaria, and it has had considerable success when it comes to reviving the villages where it has worked: the release of music CDs (those grannies can sing!); the renewal of libraries and of cultural and community hubs; the recording of countless stories, folk-songs and recipes; public exhibitions of photographs and craftwork; and a strengthened sense of community amongst villagers where the project has worked. As for the young people, they return to the city with extensive knowledge of how to pick herbs and mushrooms, and most of them maintain their connections with the villagers with whom they have worked, going on to develop projects of their own.

Will first stumbled across Ideas Factory and their innovative project when researching his forthcoming Hello Stranger: Stories of Connection in a Divided World. Part of the purpose of the trip was research towards the chapters on how reconnecting with strangers can help to address loneliness and depopulation. But we’re also very excited to be working with Ideas Factory on their EmpathEAST forum for empathy-driven social change, coming up in November. Have a look at the information here.

We’ll post more after the forum in Plovidiv. But to give you a taste of the project in Negovanovtsi, here are a few photographs and videos from the final party.

And we can’t resist sharing these videos of the band and the dancing!

Band performing at the Baba Residence project in Negovanovtsi, Bulgaria from Wind&Bones on Vimeo.

Negovanovtsi-dancers from Wind&Bones on Vimeo.

We’re very excited to announce that Wind&Bones Books — our occasional book-publishing imprint — is about to launch this November with our first book: a revised, updated version of Will Buckingham’s Finding Our Sea-Legs: Ethics, Experience and the Ocean of Stories.

Sea-Legs was originally published in 2009 by Kingston University Press. The book is a philosophy book in multiple stories, one that explores the relationship between storytelling and ethics through tales of philosophers, woodpeckers, talking gods, and sea voyages. Left Lion Magazine said it was ‘An examination of philosophy and stories that will leave you waving, not drowning…’; meanwhile, the MoralObjectivity website called it a ‘rich, lucid feast of a book.’

Wind&Bones are launching a tenth anniversary revised edition with new foreword and afterword, a beautiful new cover, an eBook edition, and some small, but important, revisions to the text.

The book is being launched in November, so we’ll post updates when it’s available.

Recently we met with the fabulous Refugee Trauma Initiative or RTI for short. RTI work to provide vital psycho-social support to asylum seekers and refugees in Greece who are coping with the trauma of conflict and displacement.

RTI believe that, by connecting with refugees and providing them with continuing care, support, and guidance, refugees can overcome adversity and build new and positive lives.

We’re very excited to be able to work with RTI and the people that they support. In October we’ll be running a number of one-day creative writing workshops.

We’ll take the approach of exploring creative writing in a multi-lingual environment, allowing participants to write about the things that matter most to them in the language that they most want to use to do this. This always presents challenges. But it will also lead to greater engagement, and a much richer and more interesting range of writing.

Watch this space!

After nine months of projects in Indonesia and Myanmar, we’re back in Europe. Last month we relocated from Yangon to Thessaloniki, Greece. 

We’re very excited to be here. We’re based in Kalamaria, a suburb of Thessaloniki. It’s the perfect place to write. As we settle in, our priority is to take some time to further develop our book projects. Will is currently working on his book Hello Stranger: Stories of Connection in a Divided World (Granta 2020), and Hannah is working on a novella exploring themes of domestic violence. We are also collaborating on a series of children’s books, so there’s plenty to be getting on with.

But we’re also hard at work making connections here in Greece, and catching up with friends and colleagues over the border in Bulgaria. So we are expecting some new Wind&Bones projects in the works very soon.

The first few weeks have been both productive and inspiring. We have already made connections a lot of people who are involved in creative projects that help to make the world a better place: from literature to philosophy, and from film-making to sport. We are looking forward to seeing how with Wind&Bones we can contribute our own brand of creativity, writing and social justice work to this rich mix.

A couple of weeks back, we spent a fabulous two days running staff training with the talented, committed people at Paung Ku in Yangon. Paung Ku — whose name literally means ‘arch’, ‘to bridge’ or ‘to span’ — are an NGO who bring together people, networks, ideas and resources to transform Myanmar civil society from the ground up.   

Because Paung Ku’s work is all about communication, they brought us in to explore how to make their storytelling more effective, and how to develop stronger, more compelling narratives about their work. In our first session, we looked at storytelling and editorial skills, then in the second we explored the organisation’s needs when it came to communicating with specific audiences. 

Along the way, we covered a lot of ground, including the relationship between oral and written storytelling, the connection between contending with troublesome dragons and working for an NGO, and how to bring together text and image, ideas and data into a compelling tale that is accessible to all.   

It was a delight to work with such a committed and engaged team. Find out more about Paung Ku’s work on their website.

Last night we came to the end of our seven month residency at the Parami Institute in Yangon. Since late last year, we have been running writing workshops with some brilliantly talented writers from Myanmar and across the world. 

We started out in November with a short story course, exploring how to write powerful, well-crafted stories. Earlier this year, on our Writing, Myth and Tradition course, we went on to explore the myths and traditions that shape us individually and collectively. And most recently, we ran a course called Remaking the World on writing and activism.

Given the huge appetite for change in Myanmar, we were particularly pleased to be doing a course that brought together writing and activism, exploring how writing can be a positive force for change in the world. He we all are at the end of last night’s class (under the watchful eye of the Chinese writer Lu Xun).

We’re looking forward to seeing what the writers from our class do next. Individually and collectively, they are a force to be reckoned with. And we’re excited to do more work at the meeting places between writing and activism during our next assignment in Greece.

We’re very much looking forward to doing some consultancy work with the Myanmar-based NGO Paung Ku. We’ve got two workshops coming up this May or June, working intensively with members of the Paung Ku team to develop their skills in writing, storytelling and communication

Paung Ku — the name in Burmese (ပေါင်းကူး) means ‘to bridge’ or ‘to span’ — are a fabulous organisation, working for positive social change by linking together grassroots organisations, people, ideas, networks and resources, thereby helping build and strengthen a pluralistic, multi-ethnic civil society. We’re really excited to be contributing to their ongoing work.

Go to Paung Ku’s website to find out about their brilliant work.

We set up Wind&Bones back in 2017 because we were interested in the power that writing has to transform lives. At the most fundamental level, writing is about human communication. We don’t particularly care about distinctions between high art and low art, literary and non-literary writing, and all those other hierarchies that you stumble across when you read about Literature with a capital “L”. Instead, what we care about is how people can use the written word to communicate better, more deeply and more compellingly.  We believe in the value of making space for multiple voices, in how this can contribute to a richer shared world, offering more diverse possibilities for thinking and acting. 

It was great earlier this week to be talking about our work at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan. Two years in, it is a good time to reflect on the work we have done, and on new directions for Wind&Bones. We were invited to Dong Hwa by the fabulous scholar, associate professor and film-maker, Chun-Chi Wang (王君琦) . Like us, Chun-Chi is interested in the way that art can give voice to many perspectives, throwing new light onto our shared world. 

It was a pleasure to spend the morning with a group of engaged, lively and thoughtful students from Dong Hwa, and to talk about our work — both our writing, and our work with Wind&Bones. After our lecture, we had a free-wheeling question and answer session, which was both stimulating and challenging. We covered a lot of ground: creative writing in multiple languages; collaboration and co-working in writing; the future of relations between Taiwan and the mainland; Brexit (inevitably!); and how to get involved in activism, when there are so many issues of concern in the world.

We also talked a lot about the ethics of writing; and how to deal as a writer with sensitive and socially contentious issues. We’ve been concerned with this for a while, and we run workshops looking specifically at the ethics of writing (for example, our ethics workshop at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in 2018). In academic creative writing contexts, ethics is often sidelined. Distressingly, the claim that “you shouldn’t worry about all that messy ethics stuff, the artist’s duty is just to write” (itself an ethical claim) is all too common. We take a different view. Our own concern with ethics arises out of our basic position that writing is about human communication. It is about how we relate to each other. Writing impacts upon our relationships. It impacts upon the kind of world we perceive, upon the kinds of future we can imagine, and on the kind of world that we can build together. In all of this, ethics is inescapable. 

It was a privilege to be talking about all of this with the students from Dong Hwa, to be learning from their perspectives, and to be forging new connections.

In April, we’ll be heading to Taiwan where we’re giving a lecture at National Dong Hwa University (國立東華大學) in Hualien. We’ll be with students from the department of humanities discussing “Remaking the World: Creativity, Writing and Social Justice.” 

For both of us, it will be our first time in Taiwan, and we’re excited to be there. As well as spending some time in Hualien, we’ll also be catching up with old friends, taking some time to do a bit of writing and doing some research on our various ongoing projects.

Image: National Dong Hwa University. Wikimedia Commons

 We’ve just come to the end of our six week course on Writing, Myth and Tradition. It’s been incredibly stimulating. We were lucky enough to work with a highly talented group of writers from Myanmar and from all around the world. On the course we looked at the myths of writing and the writing of myths, from the small scale to the large.

Over the six weeks we covered a lot of ground. We looked at the stories that make us who we are. We plunged into the murky darkness of family and community secrets. We looked at the tangle of truth-telling, fabrication, memory and forgetting in the stories we tell about ourselves, each other and the world. We asked some difficult ethical questions about what it means to tell these stories. We explored face-to-face storytelling, and how this can be translated into well-crafted prose. And, in the final week, we looked at the art of self-mythologising for writers, and at the publishing world.

The course has certainly deepened our own reflections on what it means to write. And working with so many writers who are engaged in so many different projects has enlarged our sense of the world. So we’re already looking forward to starting our next course, called Remaking the World: Creativity, Writing and Activism. The six week course starts on the April 22nd, and is on Monday nights at the Parami Institute in Yangon from 7pm to 9pm.  Get in touch if you are interested in joining us. 

Image: Puppet Show in Myanmar, c.1897. Bodleian Ms. Burm. a. 5 fol 140.jpg 

Next April, we’re starting a new course as a part of our Parami Institute writing residency. We’ve been enormously inspired by our brilliant students on the Writing, Myth and Tradition course. Many of the writers we have been working with are involved in a range of social activist projects. And so we decided to follow up this course with another six week intensive course called Remaking the World: Creativity, Writing and Activism.

Whether fiction, non-fiction or poetry, writing has the power to remake the world. It can shake us up, change how we see things, transform the way we think and feel, and open up new possibilities for action. In this six-week intensive course, we will be exploring the transformative potential of creative writing.

 Participants will work on developing their ideas to produce their own unique body of work. We will be moving between genres — whether fiction, non-fiction, reportage, memoir or poetry — and honing our skills in drafting and editing to produce writing that makes a real difference. 

The course is suitable everyone from beginners to experienced writers. It will be taught in English and held on Monday evenings, 7-9pm, starting on April 22. Tuition is 200,000 MMK per person.

Call the Parami Institute on 0979 303 0555 | 0977 883 9092 to register. Or email info@parami.edu.mm. 

In his famous painting, Paul Gauguin (1897) asks “Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going” 
(D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous). Here in Yangon, we’ve just started our new Writing, Myth and Tradition creative writing class at the Parami Institute, using storytelling – with a little help from Gauguin himself – to explore where we all come from, what we are and where we might be going.

It is a big class, with just under twenty students. They are a hugely diverse bunch. About half of the students in the group are from Myanmar, and the other half from all across the globe. The room is positively overflowing with fascinating stories and potentially enriching conversations, and we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.

Our first couple of sessions have taken as a starting point the poet Muriel Rukeyser‘s claim that “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” It is, of course, not strictly true; but what we’re interested in is the universe of human experience. And here, stories are the way that we can get a handle on things.

What we’re particularly interested in exploring is this human impulse to tell and share stories. So we’re starting with one of the most ancient human traditions of all, that of oral storytelling, and moving from there to the written word. So far, it is been enormously stimulating, leaving us buzzing with new ideas, new stories, and new possibilities. Stories have a way of doing that: because if the universe is made of stories, making and remaking stories is a way of remaking the world.