An East African writer has been soaking up Lancashire life as part of a pioneering international writing project.
Ugandan prose writer Jackee Batanda has been working with local writers and is taking workshops in places from schools to prisons as part of the British Council-funded Crossing Borders African writing project, which is designed and managed by the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
Jackee, who lives in Uganda’s capital Kampala, said after the heat and bustle of her home city Lancaster was quite a culture shock.
“ The first thing I noticed was it is very cold and quiet compared to warmth and noise at home. For example when you are on the bus here in Lancashire it is silent apart from when people get off and thank the driver.
“But the thing I will remember the most is the people. They have been really warm and open and this has come as a shock to me. It has broken down the stereotype I had of British coldness. It has been very enriching meeting such a cross section of society.”
Crossing Borders was originally devised by Lancaster University’s Dr Graham Mort who devised the pilot distance-learning project in Kampala, Uganda, in 2001 after he became aware of the need for young African writers to develop their writing skills
Jackee’s 12 week placement is a partnership between the University and Lancaster literature festival ‘Litfest’
Besides taking workshops, working with other writers and contributing to seminars at the University, the 12-week Crossing Borders placement was also intended to give the prize-winning author an opportunity to develop her first novel which is set in Uganda.
She said: “The residency has also given me ‘a room of my own’ - the time and space to work on my book - it is a fictional account based on a true story of an isolated Ugandan cult.”
Jackee only began writing professionally five years ago in September 2000 when she joined a women writers’ association in Uganda.
“The association gave me the opportunity to meet other women writers and provided us with a space to write. In Uganda when you say you are a writer many people presume you mean you are a journalist. It was important for me to meet other like minded writers.”
She then joined Crossing Borders, which links young writers in Africa with experienced mentors in the UK.
Her stories have been published both online and in print magazines and also in anthologies. In 2004 she was short listed for Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa as well as highly commended for the Prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing. She was also Regional Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, 2003.
Over the last two years she has been able to develop her work through contacts both in the UK and in Uganda.
She said: “Crossing borders gives you the opportunity to think bigger – to reach a wider audience.”
Jackee will return from Uganda to Lancaster to perform at Litfest in November 2005.