In 1996, I was 25 and had already lived life to the full. I had stories, I had theories, and I wanted to be a writer.    

As I was a bit bolshy and oblivious to the rules, one day I walked into the office of a university admissions tutor. I had a poem to show him. By a great act of kindness, and because you could do things that way in those days, I was offered a place there and then. Thanks Larry, you changed my life.  

“Make sure you keep up with the others,” he said, and I have been doing that ever since. I’ve written true to myself and true to life. In doing so, I’ve carried a trawler net of others like me that I’ve found along the way who, for one reason or another, find it hard to navigate the creative industry.   

There is a consistent lament for genuine northern voices and for writers who have different life experiences and tales to tell. Here, in the first edition of First Rung: The Killing of Demons and Darlings, we offer a good selection of both.   

Over the past 12 months, I’ve been working with Joseph Morris at Rope Ladder Fiction to create a storybook with exercise prompts and a noting section. Being asked to support new writing with Rope Ladder Fiction, a Manchester-based drama production company, has been an amalgamation of the work I’ve endeavoured to do for the past 15 years. To have the time and opportunity to source and support unseen talent is a privilege and takes time and care. I found a great comrade in Morris, Rope Ladder’s outreach/development coordinator. He is kind, neuro, silly, and compassionate towards other writers. Never afraid of difference – we were the right team. And in Cameron Roach, founder and executive producer of Rope Ladder Fiction, I discovered a visionary who wanted to do whatever it took to give a platform to new writing.   

And so we all made a plan to support 12 writers through their journey to their very first published story.     

Telling stories

When we set out on this path, Morris and I wanted to care for our writers. We wanted to make sure we were considerate to the many ways that people tell a story. We sought storytellers who were navigating the industry but found it difficult to break through. We felt this would be inspiring to people, and we also we wanted to include exercises from workshops with the writers, with a notebook section for people to write their own stories.   

I designed weekly workshops over a two-month period to promote self-reflection and self-belief. The workshops each contained exercises to inspire the writers to trust their own intuition as storytellers and to try new forms of narrative they wouldn’t necessarily gravitate towards. We have also been mindful of the shift of narrative trends and shapes.  

As we move further into an era where storytelling breaks free from restrictive avenues, the creative industry is shifting. New forms of story are emerging, and we are keen to offer the first rung on the ladder. But that ladder has to be accessible and inclusive.  

Our writers in this collection may have had access riders, worked long shifts, and confronted life-changing moments throughout the process. They may have grieved, they may have triumphed, they may have struggled. But we made a promise that we would work on their terms and get there at their pace. Paul Neads from Flapjack Press partnered with Rope Ladder and carried them through an editing process, gently and with compassion at every turn.   

Neads understands writers and he loves words. He has been leading on the independent publishing scene for a long time, representing predominantly the printed verses from performance poets including Henry Normal and Jackie Hagan.   

 From page to screen 

Rope Ladder Fiction’s first TV Production was the three new series of Waterloo Road. Roach is keen to forge a close connection for Rope Ladder and its writers. As a wonderful, hopeful message for future generations, we have also joined forces with Waterloo Road writer and actor Kat Rose-Martin. She has mentored three new writers from the school she attended (Buttershaw Business Enterprise & College Academy in Bradford), keen to showcase fresh narratives that hold their own no matter how young. There is often talk of what you would say to your younger self, but what you can learn from a younger voice is much more interesting to us.   

Not everyone writes with a laptop or a notepad. Not everyone places words together in a traditional way. Give everyone an outlet to tell their story and they don’t just keep up with the others, they forge their own path.  

By Cathy Crabb

Main image by Joseph Morris


The launch of First Rung: The Killing of Demons and Darlings is on June 29, 2024 at 53two in Manchester. To book free tickets, follow this link: 

First Rung: The Killing of Demons and Darlings will be published on July 1, 2024. To pre-order a copy, click here.