Dr Alison Habens is the Academic Lead (Communication) for the School of Film, Media & Communication within the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries. She is also the Course Leader for the BA (Hons) and MA Creative Writing courses, where her area of teaching and research overlap. Students can explore everything that has ever been written, fairy tales to philosophy, advertising slogans to epic poems, short stories and ancient myths to postmodern fiction.
Alison has been a lecturer and published writer at the University of Portsmouth since 1994 and has been able to develop creative writing from a single unit to a combined honours to a suite of courses that also include postgraduate and PhD opportunities. The courses cover areas such as comedy, science fiction, erotic literature, tragedy, romance and inspiration to punctuation. Her own PhD explored where writers get their ideas from, researching the complete history of writers back to the routes of Greek mythology and the nine muses. Students learn that the muse who inspires them today, could be their mother, friend or lover, and the challenge is to help them take their hero or heroine on a life-altering journey. The student author has a quest to embark on, as they are challenged to tap into ancient myth and power, but transpose it into something unique and modern with their own voice.
After delivering lectures, Alison enjoys observing the students whilst they write, in a calm and quiet classroom, which gives her enormous pleasure; not knowing what they are writing yet, but looking at their faces, seeing a tapping foot, she can see they’re in another world and they will leave knowing something new to take forward.
“The job has grown with me, I am very lucky to be in my dream job and I love the feeling at the end of each lecture. Being interested in drama and the performance of teaching, I can use my body to move around the room, using expression to illustrate important points. I love the magic that happens in the classroom when a student’s face lights up as they discuss their ideas, or how the atmosphere in the room shifts depending on whether they’re writing a screenplay or poetry. Also, the University offers a supportive and happy working environment where I meet so many interesting people.”
Alison believes that ideas cannot actually belong to anybody so she isn’t afraid of sharing her work publicly on her website, which includes examples of her novels, articles, short stories and lectures. In her view, the beauty of creative writing is about who is listening, who is the reader, and what personal links they can make to your piece. Writing is transferrable because everyone has a story to tell that can connect with others. Another benefit Alison sees in creative writing is the ability to build one’s own world and inhabit it for as long as one may desire. In this way, a writer can transform their difficult real-life experiences and show the solution, sending a message of hope to those who are going through the same hardships.
Her passion for literature and connecting with others in a public-facing role has led Alison to collaborate with local writers, colleagues, alumni, and environmental activists; Friends of the Earth, Plastic-Free Portsmouth and Extinction Rebellion for Pens of the Earth, a project that aims to change people’s behaviour relating to the environment. An example is the Streets for People initiative, rethinking the way our streets are used. With the support of partners, a Portsmouth street will close for the day allowing neighbours to connect in new ways and for children to play safely whilst air quality improves.
She believes that poetry and prose can have a powerful impact on civic wellbeing. Her research angle, in this case, is ‘if you make it into an epic poem, does that make it more memorable, does it have more impact?’ Through her research, Alison has looked at how people who suffer dementia can remember lyrics, giving the writer an opportunity to use beats and rhythm creating ways to connect.
The rhythm of poems can stick in one’s mind and this creative form can also be used to translate vital messages to improve public health. Alison knows from outreach work with schools and colleges that the same imaginative tasks she gives her undergraduates in class can bring mental focus and calming structure for younger children, too. Communities can learn via negative memories too, through the process of telling stories and ‘narrative therapy’ allowing a person to reflect on their experience and revealing how they survived.
“I like the idea that writers can use pens as swords to transform people’s lives, based on their experiences.”
Alison is proud to lead the Portsmouth Writers Hub, a new community interest company (CIC) that brings many University writers and writing groups together such as, Vincent Adams, William Sutton, Tom Sykes with Star & Crescent, Amanda Garrie with T’Articulation, Tongues and Grooves, Havant Writers Circle and the Lovedean Writers, to name a few. As an umbrella organisation, Portsmouth Writers Hub is seeking Arts Council funding for the role of a Literary Officer in the City of Portsmouth, with the aim to create a mentoring and events programme which will include professional authors, agents and editors for emerging and established writers.
Sadly a recent event was cancelled due to the Coronavirus lockdown, however, the charitable directors of the Portsmouth Writers Hub, with the support of partners including the University, will support a public launch in the future.
“The Hub will offer many creative writing students and alumni in the City to pitch their work and network with specialists. The Hub will also act as a platform for writers to stay in touch about publication possibilities and personal development.
Their work aligns with the democratic citizenship research theme, with members working on homeless, bereavement, addiction and environmental projects. They also have links with Bookfest and Darkfest plus local theatres and libraries too. Alison’s students are always invited to participate in community events and have already contributed articles for Star & Crescent, Portsmouth’s independent news website.
Alison shares the role of Communications Academic Lead with Ian Tapster, head of the Journalism courses. They have developed a new course; BA (Hons) Journalism and Creative Writing and together with BA (Hons) Film Production colleagues, they are developing an exciting new BA (Hons) Screen Writing degree that will have vocational industry focus, bringing together different strands of storytelling units across the whole of the School.
If you have ever wanted to try your hand at creative writing, Alison is developing an online short course that will include all the best experiences of a writing workshop but delivered remotely. She has also been working on a new novel, called “The True Picture”, which will be published later this year.
To learn more about Alison’s work, visit alisonhabens.com.
To learn more about Portsmouth Writers Hub, visit their Facebook group
Follow Alison on Twitter @AlisonHabens