Five by 5 writers
An interview with Anjali Chugani, Claire Basarich and Laura Nogués from The Barcelona Women Writers Project about their new publication, 5 by five writers, which they published alongside Catharina Curtis and Harriet Sandilands.
How did you get together? You mention Collage?
Anjali: We met at a writing workshop organised by Collage, which is an art centre for children. Over the course of the workshop we worked together for a span of eight weeks and we kept in touch after it had finished.
What made you decide to publish together?
Claire: Anjali came to me with the idea that she would love to do a book and we thought it would be really fun to do a collaborative project. We contacted a group of women who had been in the workshop with us and in the end there were the five of us who wanted to take part in the project. I am also lucky enough to have a room-mate who is a graphic designer specialising in book design and typography and she did all of the creative layout. You can see on the inside cover of the book that she has used a flower design to represent each other, a different flower for each writer to symbolise our distinct styles. She designed the flowers so that they would connect to show the influence we have on each other. So really it is five plus one.
The book is mostly composed of poems but there is also some prose. Did you have any guidelines for the content of the book?
C: We wanted the book to be really open and free, so we left the choice of the content open with the idea of using it to showcase each writer's best work, and we made a page limit per writer.
Laura: For me, I am a primary school teacher, so I write in two different ways. I write some poems for the classroom and others that are aimed at a more adult audience. In this way, I needed to compromise a little in my choice as I wanted to be sure that the book would be suitable for use in my classroom.
You are all from different countries but you are living here in Barcelona. While there are some pieces in Castilian and French, the book is primarily in English. How come you made the decision to publish in English?
C: Well for at least four of us, English is our mother tongue. In the writing workshop in Collage, you can write in other languages but most of our work revolves around English. And that is the language we felt the most comfortable in. I think it is really brave of Laura to write in English. As a teacher she can really get her students to connect with the language.
L: I always write in English, never in Catalan or Spanish. A Catalan person once asked me why I don’t write in Catalan but I assume a different identity when I write. To write in Spanish would be really strange for me. I have even written a poem in English for my daughter-to-be!
C: Barcelona is a special city as life here is not focused on just the local language. It’s a really multicultural city, and there is definitely a place and market for other languages. I try to write in Castilian and French as well and I have managed to include one poem in each which was a new experience for me. I feel you should be experimental, because it is the kind of a city where you can be.
L: I think I have one poem in Castilian and another one that mixes both English and Castilian.
What has been your experience of juggling your writing and your careers?
A: I am not really working full-time right now because I have two young kids. It is definitely a little difficult to find the time and space for yourself to be able to think and to get your creative stuff out. But I think if you really want to do it and it’s there within you, you will find time, it will just come out. If something comes to me at six in the morning when I’m waking up, I have a pen and paper next to my bed so I can jot it down as I know that if I don’t get it down in that moment, the whole day is going to go by and I won’t remember it later. We’ve even talked about a future project so now we're really writing for that.
C: I know the other two authors are not here to speak for themselves but Harriet Sandilands is also a teacher and Catharina Curtis is using her writing in a philanthropic way to try and help lower-income children. She does a lot with art in Collage as well.
A: And Claire has her thesis.
C: Yeah, I’m doing a Masters in linguistics right now so I feel like in many ways I haven’t been able to make time for writing but I also believe that writing is something that you make time for, because you really need it.
L: As for me, I am not working right now because I am pregnant, but I wrote nearly all of my poems, about 50, straight after the workshop, during a period when I was also working full-time. Sometimes it is quite strange how it happens.
A: We have all been English teachers at some stage of our lives and I feel that this helps to connects us. It also means that we each know how to get across to people using language.
You all speak very highly of the workshop at Collage. Is that something you would recommend to other people who are interested in writing?
C: Yes definitely. I think that for writers, having a context such as a workshop is so important. Just having contact with each other and having meetings was very helpful in the process of writing.
A: I would recommend it in a heartbeat. It’s very inspiring and helpful. I think everyone has to have some sort of initiative.
L: Just meeting so many people from different countries was in itself very inspiring. The workshop was very international and at the book launch, which took place at Collage in April, I counted 50 different nationalities.
C: The workshop is run by Edward Smallfield and he is an amazing writer.
A: He is such an inspiring man, he is so positive and has been extremely encouraging from day one. I remember mentioning to him that I was nervous as it had been 10 years since I had written anything. He told me not to worry, that if it was in me it would come out. It was very good advice. When we first thought about our project, one of the first things we did was to approach Edward. He has always been involved and he always knows what is happening with us. We make sure that he is always in the loop.
C: Ed also has a lot of practical knowledge about the writing industry and the publishing world in Barcelona. He put us in touch with Ryan Chandler, the editor of Barcelona INK which is a quarterly magazine that I and another of our writers, Harriet, were previously published in. He really helped us to take care of the practical, logistic details. The whole project has been such a community experience.
A: It’s amazingly nice to know that people are so supportive and so warm. In this day and age, for someone to give you their time is so great. For example Despina Kannaourou, who did all the art work for us has given us so much of her time.
C: As the book was coming along, she and I talked about trying to set up a non-profit association to help individuals or small groups to do their own projects or publish small-scale projects. It is something that we would like to develop in the future. We are thinking of calling it the 'The Pipeline Press Association' but we haven’t registered it yet and we are still in the process of figuring it all out. We have had such a positive experience that we feel that we should pass it on. I think once people get over the fear or the intimidation of sharing something personal that they have written, they can be brave and just go for it. We've also done some public readings for the book, and for me especially, I found it to be something really valuable
L: It is an amazing feeling of overcoming yourself.
A: The reaction from people when you do a reading is the most inspiring thing for me. The reaction we felt after our launch at Collage was like nothing we had ever experienced.
L: You never know how many people are going to show up for a launch but in the end we had about 50 people or so, it was full!
You mentioned your next project. Can you tell me a little about it?
C: Well we have thought of a title 'Glass' and the idea is to write about whatever that word evokes to each of us. For instance the word can suggest mirrors, something fragile, something you long to see, or even something you hold. Our first book was very free in terms of content so next we would like to sharpen the focus a bit more in our next one.
A: It’s more challenging for us to have something to focus on. It’s also fun and inspiring. We weren’t really writing as a group when we first came together so having a common subject will help the fact that we are a group and that will show in our writing.
C: The idea is to somewhat emulate the process that we went through in the workshop where our instructors gave us ideas and lines to work with, so here we all have the idea to start with the word 'glass' and just see what ideas we come up with.
L: In the future, I would really like to bring our writers on a tour of the schools to talk to children about creative writing. It something that I know from personal experience can be really inspiring for children. I would like to take one poem form each of us and to bring them into the classroom in order to develop some practical teaching materials.
Do you feel that Barcelona has had an important influence on your writing?
A: I think that Barcelona has been a very good catalyst for all of us. Even though it is a big city, it still gives way to artistic creation. The fact is that we are all here and all together now.
C: Barcelona is like the new European melting pot. There is so much immigration, so many languages and also such a desire to learn English that it makes for a very open and creative atmosphere.
For more information: