26er Sarah Farley has been working hard behind the scenes on 26 Miles and 26 Treasures of Childhood. In an interview with Elen Lewis she reveals what she’s learnt from the young storytellers at The Ministry of Stories and her quest to fix the missing apostrophes across London.
What’s your day job?
I’m a freelance brand writer and consultant. On any given day I could be thinking, reading, researching, planning, writing and editing. It’s a cracking good way to earn a living, since there aren’t many jobs where occasionally working in your pyjamas is perfectly acceptable.
What are your private passions?
I have to say writing and reading. I read 50 books in 2012. I also love good food and cooking. My guilty pleasure is fish finger sandwiches, so perhaps that’s a bit of a contradiction.
What do people get wrong about you?
They sometimes think I’m a scuba instructor because I used to own a dive shop. But I have to confess that, in spite of doing hundreds of dives and seeing all the amazing stuff there is down there, I’ve always been a bit afraid of being underwater. Good thing I don’t have a pencil phobia. (Apparently that is a real thing.)
What do you like best about belonging to 26?
The social side of things. I’ve made good friends here.
You’ve been working hard behind the scenes on 26 Miles and 26 Treasures of Childhood. Tell us more.
26 Miles celebrates the London Marathon. Each writer has one mile to write about in any way they wish. I have the very important task of organising a night at the pub, among other things. Like any good project, it’s not been without its hiccups. Andy Hayes and I had to do some quick thinking when some of us got muddled up about where our miles are on the map. (Disclaimer: we’re writers, not Ordnance Survey experts.) But, it’s all back on track (pardon the pun) and I think there’ll be some interesting stories. It’s also the first 26 project I’ve written for and it’s terrifying and exciting in equal measure.
My involvement with 26 Treasures of Childhood came from my work with the Ministry of Stories. I’m a writing mentor there and I absolutely loved helping a group of children write about some of the objects on display at the Museum of Childhood. 26 then suggested I, alongside two other 26ers, Gillian Colhoun and Faye Sharpe, speak to visitors at the museum and get their responses to the exhibition. The result was this short film.
What does your voluntary work at the Ministry of Stories involve? And what lessons do we all need to learn from the ‘new storytelling generation’?
The Ministry’s writing workshops are designed to get young people storytelling. As a mentor, my role is really all about listening. The key is to simply let the kids get on with the writing and offer encouragement when they need it. They’re so enthusiastic that I always come away with a renewed excitement for writing. I joke that I’m getting the better end of the deal. We’re there to inspire them, but invariably the kids inspire us. It’s one of the most rewarding things I do as a writer.
I can think of three things we can learn from young storytellers:
There’s no such thing as a bad idea.
Don’t worry about your spelling – we can fix that later. It’s more important to just get your words onto the paper.
Don’t be afraid of your imagination; it’ll take you to some fascinating places.
You’re a graduate of the University College Falmouth. What was the most important thing your MA taught you?
It doesn’t matter how talented you are; without determination and courage you’ll never succeed as a writer. Work hard, keep learning and never give up.
What’s your best piece of advice for good writing?
Keep pushing yourself to be better. There’s no room for complacency in good writing. You have to keep pushing your personal writing boundaries. When you start to feel uncomfortable and the fear creeps in, that’s a good sign that you’re getting it right.
What are you working on now?
I’m fixing the missing apostrophes in signs across London. I’m also writing my piece for 26 Miles, preparing for the Dark Angels master class in Oxford and writing a short story. All of which are my own ways of pushing my personal writing boundaries.