Here in Sofia, we’re getting ready for our New Year’s celebrations tomorrow. So we thought we’d post a new year blog a bit in advance.
It’s been an incredibly busy year here at Wind&Bones. We have worked in four countries—Myanmar, Taiwan, Greece and Bulgaria—and along the way met some wonderful people. We’re now in Sofia for the foreseeable future, but continuing to work elsewhere in Europe and perhaps beyond. We’ll see what 2020 brings.
It is hard to sum up the highlights of 2019. But here are a few.
For the first six months of the year, we were writers in residence at the Parami Institute in Yangon, and we worked with a huge number of brilliantly creative students. `Amongst the students with whom we worked were journalists, NGO workers, teachers, former political prisoners and academics. And our students came from pretty much everywhere in the world, including Myanmar, Sweden, America, Thailand, France, South Africa and Australia.
We were also privileged to work with a number of wonderful Myanmar-based NGOs. We were consultants for the lovely people at Mote Oo, who provide materials for grassroots education. In the first few months of the year, we wrote a cool 40,000 words for Mote Oo about ethical leadership. Our manual on ethical leadership for grassroots and community groups is currently being field-tested, and it should be published in book form in 2020.
We also worked at the brilliant team at Paung Ku, an NGO who do vital work building a stronger civil society in Myanmar. “Paung Ku” literally means “bridge” or “span”, and we worked with the team at Paung Ku to help them upgrade their skills in storytelling and communication, so they can get the message out about their fabulous work.
Also in Myanmar, Will developed a deep knowledge of the precise nuances of ordering local tea, and Hannah developed a taste for the breakfast noodle sensation, nanbya thouk.
Before the rainy season started in earnest in Myanmar, we relocated to Greece, and set up our base in Thessaloniki. Will was working on research towards his book on the role of hospitality in human life, Hello Stranger: Stories of Connection in a Divided World. Will’s book has now gone off to his editor at Granta, and is due out some time in 2020 or 2021. Meanwhile, Hannah was working on revising her short story collection about missing people, In Their Absence, which is to be published by Roman Books tantalisingly soon (we’ve already seen the cover, and are very excited by it).
Also in Greece, we worked with Refugee Trauma Initiative, picking up on the work we have done in the past with refugee communities, and running a creative writing project in Volvi refugee camp.
… and Bulgaria.
At the end of October, we said a sad farewell to Greece, and headed by bus to Bulgaria. Our arrival in Bulgaria coincided with the EmpathEAST forum on empathy-driven social change in Plovdiv. We hit the ground running at EmpathEAST with a lecture, a workshop on manifesto writing, and three days of hugely stimulating discussion with new friends from Bulgaria and beyond.
EmpathEAST is run by the Bulgarian Ideas Factory, a brilliant nonprofit that work on building bridges, making connections, and bringing about social change. And it was the best possible introduction to the vibrant activist scene here in Sofia.
Also in Bulgaria, we’ve been making connections with the people at the LGBTQI+ organisation Rainbow Hub, and we’ve been working in partnership with AFEAS (the Academic Foundation for English and American Studies) at Sofia University to run creative writing courses. We’ve already run our first two intensive courses on creative nonfiction and life-writing. We’re now planning a bunch of courses for the new year.
In addition to all of this, 2019 saw the launch of Wind&Bones books, our publishing wing (or arm: we’re not sure what the right anatomical metaphor is here).
Our first book is a reissue of Will’s Finding Our Sea-Legs: Ethics, Experience and the Ocean of Stories. The book was first published 10 years ago by Kingston University Press. It is a book about stories, about ethics, about why both of these things matters, and about the sometimes unexpected places that both lead us. The book had gone out of print, but there has been a consistent demand for it, and so we thought we should reissue it in a handsome new edition.
The new edition is freshly typeset, has a beautiful new cover, and has a new preface and afterword. It is available in ebook edition as well from all the usual places.
We have some new publishing projects on the horizon, so we’re hoping that 2020 will bring more Wind&Bones books into the world.
And into 2020…
Finally, we’ve recently set ourselves up as a Community Interest Company (CIC), which means that in the coming year, we will be able work with a far wider range of people and organisations. We’re excited by the possibilities that this opens up for our work. We have new courses to be launched (more news soon), we’re in discussion with new organisations to partner with, and we also have lots of writing projects of our own to attend to as well.
But above all, we’re ending this year with a greater conviction than ever that words matter, and that they can be a force for positive change. Sometimes it is hard to feel optimistic when squinting into the future. But the last year has reminded us yet again that there are many ways of making a difference, and that there are many people, and many organisations, who are committed to making sure that the future is better than the past.
We are pleased to be a part of this. So let us end the year with the final words from the talk we were invited to give at EmpathEAST.
Through telling stories, we shape and reshape ourselves and our relationships, and find ourselves on unexpected trajectories.
We have told you the story of our work so far… At the end of this story, we believe more strongly than ever that the world is made of stories. And that if we care about the future, as we all do, then not only do we need to tell better stories, we need to tell them better.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year!