The Blog

From Grief To Anxiety - Writing Is Boss

When I was 22 I lost my brother. He developed cancer of the spinal fluid which eventually spread to his brain and succumbed to his illness in late 2006 - from the first headaches to his last breath, the illness took ten months to take him away.

When I was 22 I lost my brother. He developed cancer of the spinal fluid which eventually spread to his brain and succumbed to his illness in late 2006 - from the first headaches to his last breath, the illness took ten months to take him away.

The proceeding years were filled with confusion - senses unwilling or unable to take in the gravity of the situation. Amongst it all, life carried on as normal amid an infinity of questions. Emotions torn to shreds by shock, disbelief and grief. Life wasn't supposed to be this way - it wasn't in the script. What I was later to learn was PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), had begun.

The following year I'd decided to join my parents on holiday. They'd chosen to revisit a place in France where we'd gone as a family a few years before - in hindsight a huge mistake. Even so, sat in the early evening one night, thinking back over the past couple of years and everything that it had brought with it, I decided to write.

I found I couldn't stop. I'd finally found a way of putting things in order - of ordering perspective amongst the madness. Uncontrollable questions segmented into sentences; pages filled with lists, thoughts, ambitions, plans. I'd written things before but this was different - this was a way to deal with whatever I was yet to deal with.

By writing I was able to pinpoint things I wasn't capable of expressing. Grief - and all of the emotional wrangling I would come to experience over the following years - hadn't yet started to feel its grip. But I finally had a release, a cathartic process to aid a slow process of acceptance and readjustment.

It is easy to see why writing could unlock some of those doors; the creative concentration needed demotes regular thought to the background - a distant hum of questions heard but not listened to. Easier said than done.

I hate quoting famous lines in blogs - it all gets a bit pretentious sometimes. However, Graham Greene, in the captivating second part of his autobiography, wrote something I can never forget: "...sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write...can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation".

From grief to loneliness, curiosity to creativity, writing brings about the best in people. It means synapses charged and energised and imagination stirred - something missing in many walks of life.

A recent National Literacy Trust research report underlines this. The report looked at writing for enjoyment and its link to wider writing in young people, and used data from 39,411 pupils aged 8 to 18.

The results were striking. The report found that writing enjoyment was also connected to writing behaviour, confidence, motivation and attainment. Children also rated themselves higher, on average, as writers and were more motivated by achievement than by approval.

Simply put, writing from an early age is not only important academically - providing young people with higher literacy levels and increasing attainment levels - but also socially, helping to change perceptions of success from seeking the approval of others to craving personal achievement.

This is a hugely important distinction.

In a world where myriad YouTube clips, Facebook videos and Snapchat posts provide instant gratification, a child's imagination can, at times, become stunted. Writing is the perfect antidote to this. It's the creation of worlds; Adrian Mole's East Midlands suburbia to Harry Potter's Hogwarts - entire literary universes created at the tap of a keyboard of a flick of a pen.

Writing isn't just the hobby of those in more favourable postcodes either. I hear my wife sometimes, a primary school teacher, reading excerpts from some of her pupils' stories. She works in an inner-city school known for its social deprivation, but the creative expression can be, at times, astonishing.

At the very base level, before the gritty realities of life start chipping away at expression, every child should have the opportunity to release the imagination within.

Which is why competitions and schemes that aim to underline the importance of writing are so important. The Wicked Young Writer Awards established by the long-running musical Wicked in partnership with the National Literacy Trust hopes to inspire young people to use creative writing to look at life a little differently.

Since its launch in 2010, the Award has received over 20,000 entries and aims to recognise excellence in writing. It also encourages creativity, helping to develop writing talent in young people between 5-25 years old from all backgrounds and areas of the UK.

A couple of weeks ago I browsed through the entries and stumbled across the winner of the 5-7 years old category. It was a poem written by 7 year-old Adam Rafael Holmes and was called Auntie Helen has gone to Heaven. I could ramble on for a few paragraphs about why it was so powerful and full of meaning but in the end that would take away the simple hope of it, which is its beauty. Here's a verse:

When you come back again,

Maybe a cat you will be

To live as my pet and fetch mice for me.

You could talk like Puss in Boots.

Or become a tree with long roots.

Perhaps a bow-head whale,

You would flip and flap your tail.

Beware people on ships looking over the rail.

For two hundred years you could sail.

Or be a crocodile and talk with me on the land

Because if you are a whale, you might get stuck in the sand.

There is a pressing need, in a world where social media and 24 hour news almost underpins the very basis of our modern existence, to provide young people with the means to nurture their creativity - to cultivate imagination, expression and passion. In my mind there is no greater creative licence than translating thoughts into words.