Colin Grant – Writing the Everyday Stories of Diverse Britain


Everyday Stories of a Diverse Britain - the project

Journalist, historian and award-winning author Colin Grant is inviting you to learn the techniques to identify a special real-life story, research and record it through interviews and talks, and to tell it through your own creative writing.

In 2017, West Yorkshire Playhouse commissioned Colin to write a play about the UK’s oldest street carnival in Leeds. Interviewing people from the era who had been involved in setting up and attending the carnival in its early days, Colin used techniques from his journalistic background to get to the heart of first-hand experiences of the event.

The result was Queen of Chapeltown, a critically acclaimed play that had real resonance with the audiences who saw it during the sold-out run, because it told real stories, constructed from the memories of the people who have made carnival for decades. Queen of Chapeltown documents the history and lives of the local black community, with amusing characters whose humorous anecdotes serve to highlight the everyday racism they faced in the 1960s.

Although the 70th anniversary of the arrival of SS Empire Windrush from the Caribbean is being celebrated in 2018, inequality and racism is still prevalent in the UK today. It makes it crucial to highlight how multiculturalism strengthens and enriches society. The Windrush scandal that coincided with the anniversary and threatened some of the subjects Colin interviewed highlights how vital it is that their stories are preserved. As one interviewee during the writing of ‘Queen of Chapeltown’ stated:

“Carnival is the only connection we have to our roots … It’s part of our life and if that dies, we die as a people.”

From autumn 2018, Colin will be sharing the knowledge and expertise that he has developed through writing Queen of Chapeltown by running creative life writing workshops in areas of the country with strong links to the Caribbean and with histories of multicultural migration to Britain. Working with Commonword in Manchester, Literature Works in Bristol and Writing West Midlands in Birmingham, Colin and a local author will teach aspiring writers some of the tricks of the trade – interviewing techniques, how to turn a real-life story into a gripping plot, creating memorable characters and more – so they can weave these into a piece of quality creative writing. The workshops will culminate in public readings in each city to celebrate the work produced.


Do you want to write your own history, or that of your family or local community, but don’t know where to start?

Do you want the help of two authors who can help you learn writing and researching techniques
and give constructive feedback?

Do you want to produce a piece of writing which you can read out to others?

Then this is the writing series for you.

Events and Outcomes

Colin has completed two sets of the workshops: with Deanne Heron and CultureWord in Manchester, and Sue Brown and Writing West Midlands in Birmingham, both with brilliant, engaged and committed participants and great results.

An event celebrating the Diverse Histories project takes place at Birmingham Library this Thursday 14 February, as part of the launch of Thru Thick ‘N’ Thin, an exhibition by Black Arts Forum celebrating elders and ancestors of the African Diaspora. There will be readings from Colin, Sue and a selection of elders reading the work they created during the workshops.

Free Entry
6-8pm, Thursday 14 February 2019
Third Floor Gallery, Library of Birmingham
More information here.


Watch this video as Colin and Sue refelct on the experience in Birmingham.

“An amazing catalogue of ‘aha’ moments and insights that have not only fed my mind but inspired my soul.”

Deanne Heron, who led the Manchester workshops with Colin, wrote this piece in response to the experience.

Initially there were seventeen people on the list who wanted to attend the workshop but due to work and other commitments, some people weren’t able to attend all four workshops and some couldn’t manage any. Nine people attended two workshops; eleven attended one and ten another. The attendees ranged from a lady, originally from the island of Carriacou in the Caribbean, who drove all the way from Huddersfield to attend all four sessions. We had a seventeen year old young man originally from The Gambia, who attended two sessions and commented on how interesting and informative he found it. We also had an elder of The Windrush Generation, from the community who shared some stories with us of his child hood in Jamaica and coming to Britain in the early sixties, which had everyone captivated.

Everyone who attended was given a free copy of the book ‘KITCH – A Fictional Biography Of A Calypso Icon’, by Anthony Joseph, courtesy of Cultureword. They were also given a free copy of ‘Breaking Ground: Celebrating British Writers Of Colour’, and numerous notes to take away.

Presenter, author Colin Grant, had a friendly, approachable and relaxed manner from the start which provided the ideal setting for people to get to know each other. He was entertaining and engaging while sharing eye opening information of how to go about writing our stories.

We began with Colin asking us to introduce ourselves and say a little about the meanings and origin of our names, a very significant point of African and Caribbean culture which everyone really liked. Colin then went on to put people at ease by speaking about our uniqueness and the unique stories which we all have to share; memories, experiences, life, relationships, history etc.

Colin used his book about his father and his own childhood experiences, ‘Bageye At The Wheel’ to illustrate what he had to share. Sharing his own story was a good way of connecting with the students and encouraging empathy as well as sharing ideas. Colin also shared his experience of writing his book about the life of Jamaican national hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, entitled ‘Man In A Hat’. He also spoke about a writer’s workshop which he did at Folsom State Prison. This is the prison in California where country western singer, Johnny Cash gave a free concert to prisoners in 1968. This visit resulted in Colin writing about a prisoner making a phone call to his girlfriend. Colin used this to further show us the various techniques of good writing.

During each workshop we were given numerous examples of writing such as ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal’ by Jeannette Winterson and ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ by William Maxwell, to help us to understand different writing styles. ‘A Hanging’ by George Orwell, allowed us to look at and discuss the structure and framework of a story, allowing readers to experience a start, middle and end.

Students did a number of five minute writing exercises and shared what they had written with the group, on the difference between memory writing and an autobiography, the effective use of dialogue and writing an inverse story.

During Sessions Three and Four we had a number of new people who filled the places of those who were unable to attend. The new students were welcomed and quickly settled as Martin De Mello from Cultureword took our photographs.

For the final session, students were asked to bring a meaningful photograph and share their memories. Photos were passed around and discussed before we all looked at a photograph of reggae singer, Bob Marley with former Jamaican Prime Ministers, Edward Seaga and Norman Manley and shared our thoughts on what was going on. Students did a writing exercise on what their photographs meant to them, shared with the group and gave and received feedback. For me and many others, hearing these stories was a very emotive walk down Memory Lane as we heard about each other’s cultures.

We had some very positive, heart warming feedback at the end of the course such as:

“Excellent, enjoyable, informative, supportive, safe space to share.”

“Great Facilitators. Inspiring, excellent tips for writing. Great interaction between writers.”

“I found a safe space that was open, welcoming, authentic, accepting, non-judgemental, reflective, encouraging, creative. I am very grateful to be given an opportunity to join such a positive group.”

“An amazing catalogue of ‘aha’ moments and insights that have not only fed my mind but inspired my soul.”

© Deanne Heron

Be part of the project in Bristol

In Bristol, Colin is partnering with Literature Works to help local writers share their Everyday Stories of Diverse Britain. He will work with local writer Dr Edson Burton.

To find out how you can be part of the project in Bristol, visit the Literature Works website:

Flyer for the workshops in Bristol with text from Literature Works website project pageWriting the stories of the Windrush legacy: A course of four writing workshops with experienced tutors for you to put your story into words. Free of charge to those on low incomes.

Do you want to write your own history, or that of your family or local community, but don’t know where to start?

Do you want the help of two authors who can help you learn writing and researching techniques
and give constructive feedback?

Do you want to produce a piece of writing which you can read out to others?

Then this is the writing series for you!

Where: Junction 3 Library, Bristol

When: 13:30-16:30, Friday 16, Saturday 17, Friday 23, Saturday 24 November

Who: Open to all. We particularly welcome older participants and those from the UK’s black, Asian and minority ethnic communities

Cost: Subsisdised course £20 (£5 per workshop); free for over 60’s, full time students and those on low income

Book: in any Bristol Library, or on Eventbrite (via Literature Works website)


Literature Works are the regional literature development agency for south west England, supporting creative writing and the development of writers and readers of all ages, from all walks of life in the region.

Dr Edson Burton is a writer, working across poetry, radio and theatre. Poetry is at the heart of all his work, reflecting the cross generational plural experience of growing up in Britain as a second generation person of African Caribbean descent.

Edson combines work at the Trinity art centre with working across Bristol’s cultural sector on a range of projects. He is an active member of the programming and curatorial collective Come the Revolution supported by Watershed Cinema, and is a regular commentator on local and national radio and television. And he is a board member for public art producer Situations Ltd and Afrikaeye Film Festival, and founder member of LGBTQ+ for people of colour Kiki Bristol.

His academic specialisms include: Bristol and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Black History in the USA, Cultural continuities between Africa & the New World, and Race and Representation. He has been a consultant and coordinator for a range of history projects in Bristol.

Be part of the project in Manchester

In Manchester, Colin is partnering with Commonword to help local writers share their Everyday Stories of Diverse Britain. He will work with local author Deanne Heron.

To find out how you can become part of the project, contact visit Commonword’s website:

Common Word logo  Deanne Heron. Photograph by Kerry

Commonword ¦ Deanne Heron. Photograph by Kerry

Commonword is a writing development organisation based in Manchester, providing opportunities for new and aspiring writers to develop their talent and potential.

Deanne Heron was born in Jamaica but came to live in England in 1967. She is a qualified counsellor/trainer and foster carer. She has published two volumes of short humorous stories, written in standard English with Jamaican patois dialogue, called Pardner Money Stories. Deanne’s fictional stories take a whimsical look at the interactions of four generations of the extended Jamaican family in Britain. Deanne also had two volumes of poetry called Contemplation, published. She is currently working on her third volume of Pardner Money Stories as well as editing her science fiction novel for publication.

Deanne reads her poetry and stories at local events and on local radio as well as presenting news and Black History Month programmes.

Deanne also has a personal interest in Black History and as such has delivered presentations to schools and heads of education establishments on the need for black history to be taught to young people.

Be part of the project in Birmingham

In Birmignham, Colin is partnering with Writing West Midlands to help local writers share their Everyday Stories of Diverse Britain. He will work with local author Sue Brown.

To find out how you can be part of the project in Birmingham, visit the Writing West Midlands website:

Writing West Midlands logo Image of poet Sue Brown

Writing West Midlands support creative writers and creative writing in the West Midlands region through workshops, conferences and summer schools, and celebrate words through festivals and events.

Sue Brown is a creative writer, workshop facilitator and performance poet.

My poetry, my writings I guess is to know, to share, to perpetuate my notions my feelings, birthed from the creative consciousness into breath – into matter!  

Over the years, she has made various cross-art creative projects in collaboration with musicians, theatre and radio, as well as educational work, mainly within primary schools. She is a long-time collaborator with Writing West Midlands as a workshop facilitator and performance poet. Most recently she finished a three-year workshop: ‘Sparks Young Writing Group’ based at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon, promoting the long-term benefit of writing and inspiring young wordsmiths.

Since 2001 she has been a member of one of Birmingham’s largest writers group Writers Without Borders. Started in 200, there are 35 members with a growing waiting list; Sue has led the group since 2008. Working and developing coherently together has enabled WWB to grow individually as writers and performers, but also as a collective. Sue also runs weekly event ‘Wednesday Mic Fever’ at the Mango Lounge in Birmingham where she occasionally performs with jazz guitarist Anthony Williams as the duo Rhythm Chant.


Colin Grant. Photograph by Anthony Robling

Colin Grant. Photograph by Anthony Robling

About Colin Grant

Colin Grant is a historian, author and BBC producer. His books include Negro with a Hat, a biography of Marcus Garvey; I and I The Natural Mystics Marley, Tosh and Wailer; and his latest, A Smell of Burning: the Story of Epilepsy. Grant’s memoir of growing up in a Caribbean family in 1970s suburbia, Bageye at the Wheel, was shortlisted for the PEN/Ackerley Prize. He has written numerous BBC radio documentaries including A Fountain of Tears, focusing on the last days of Federico Garcia Lorca. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian and Granta Magazine and is a tutor of Creative Writing at Arvon and City University.

Find out more at

Find reviews for ‘Queen of Chapeltown’ here:

Entertainment Focus:

Yorkshire Times:

And listen to a BBC programme made by Colin about Leeds Carnival here: