Ghosts at the Old Library is our annual Christmas ghost stories project.
Each year we commission a number of writers to create brand new ghost stories which are then performed in full in the Old Library building. Writers we’ve commissioned have included Nicholas Royle, Adam Farrer and Gaynor Jones, among others.
This first started in the winter of 2022 when Levenshulme Old Library commissioned a series of brand new ghost stories from four writers, each of which took its inspiration from our building.
Ghost stories at Christmas have long been an oral storytelling tradition, from tales told around the winter fire through to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This moved into the TV era with A Ghost Story for Christmas, a series of late night television films broadcast on the BBC which continue to this day.
As a community arts and culture organisation, Levenshulme Old Library has three key aims which this project meets: engaging local residents with our historic former library building; creating high quality engaging artistic activities in the local area; and creating meaningful professional opportunities for creatives in Levenshulme and beyond.
Ghosts at the Old Library is used each year to support emerging writers in the local area. Each year we recruit for an Emerging Writer position, offering an early-stage author from the local area a one-on-one eight-week mentoring programme which focuses on their ghost story but also provides broader insight and guidance into a career in the arts. They also receive a fully paid commission – including publication, performance and professional recording of their work – as well as networking opportunities and the experience of their work sharing a platform as an equal with some more established peers.
We have worked with the following writers. There’s a link to a recording of them reading each of their stories.
Marie Crook is a writer based in Levenshulme. Her work has been published in The Real Story and The Caterpillar among others and she has performed at venues including Manchester Central Library. Marie applied for the Emerging Writer opportunity and was selected from over 130 applicants.
Jo Howard is a writer of children’s and young adult fiction and a poet, singer and scriptwriter. A regular on the Northern spoken word scene, Jo runs Book Jive Live, a Zoom open mic for kidlit and YA. Her work has been published in Confingo, The Writer’s Cafe and Funny Pearls magazines and in the 100 Voices anthology to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage.
Dyani Sheppard is a writer based in Manchester.
The stories are each individually published as Christmas card chapbooks. You still can buy a complete set of 2023’s stories here.
Ghosts at the Old Library: Six Ghost Stories for Christmas
- A Holy Trinity by Marie Crook
- The Only by Adam Farrer
- Plum Porter by Richard V. Hirst
- Ghost Story by Melissa Wan
- The Gift by Marie Crook
- Magic Eye by Jo Howard
- Advent by Gaynor Jones
- Gratitude by Lauren O’Donoghue
- The Continuum by Nicholas Royle
- The Loop by Dyani Sheppard
A key aspect of Ghosts at the Old Library project is performance, with us staging a number of immersive reading events each Christmas. All of the performances we’ve staged as part of this project been sell-out events.
On three evenings each December, the building is dimly lit by lantern light and four separate spaces in the building are each allocated to one of the writers. The audience arrives, is split into four groups and led by our volunteers from one room to the next, hearing each story read in full before moving on to the next room. This means each of the stories being performed simultaneously four times by each author.
We offer discounted tickets for local residents on low incomes.
We work with our resident community radio station ALL FM to create recordings of each of the stories. The authors were invited into the studios to record their stories, which were then professionally produced. Each year we have commissioned a score and sound design from musician and sound artist Oscilloscope. In 2022 the soundtrack on all the tracks was comprised of audio recorded in the Old Library building which was then manipulated and then transformed into music and effects. In 2023 each author had a bespoke piece of music composed to accompany their performance, with elements from their stories being incorporated into the composition.
These are broadcast on ALL FM during the Christmas period and also made available as podcasts on our Spotify channel.
Outcomes – 2022
132 applicants to the Emerging Writer programme
9 mentoring sessions with the Emerging Writer
3 Creative Writing workshops booked in for 2023 to be run by the Emerging Writer
4 writers commissioned to produce and perform new stories
3 live events
28 volunteers recruited to support the events.
54% of attendees reported that they lived either in Levenshulme or had some pre-existing connection with the area. 46% reported that they were new to Levenshulme.
38% of those who attended stated that they rarely or never attend literary events and the informal feedback from the writers and volunteers involved was that those in attendance appeared to be made up of a cross section of the community, including elderly residents and people from backgrounds they traditionally tend not to see at literary events.
100% of those who attended rated the event as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’
84% stated they would ‘definitely’ attend any similar events we staged in future
14,000-25,000 – estimated listenership of broadcast recordings of the stories on ALLFM.
84 podcast downloads.
1 composer commissioned to compose and record a soundtrack and effects for the podcasts.
1 artist commissioned to design and produce the Christmas card chapbooks
184 copies sold.
Some further feedback from audience members:
- “Excellent, well organised event and great stories.”
- “I really enjoyed the experience and would be happy to attend another.”
- “It was a fantastic event, really unique and atmospheric, like nothing I’d been to before really.”
- “Fantastic experience, hope it is running again this year!”
The writers and artists involved all rated their experience as ‘very valuable’ artistically and professionally.
Some additional feedback from the artists involved:
- “All aspects of the project were spot-on, in my opinion.”
- “[What worked well was] the variety of stories generated. The fact it sold out, and brought an audience to the library who might otherwise not have been. The different ways the stories were presented, ie, live reads, book, radio broadcasts.”
- “a) attracting a different audience from the usual literary crowd, b) offering an opportunity to ‘perform’ a story alongside having it published, which brought different things to the writing, c) encouraging an emerging writer to be published and to present their work on the same platform as other more established writers”
- “Very engaging – with the artists, the community and the building/organisation itself”
- One of the authors was unwell for one of the events so we got in touch with Levy Little Theatre and used the other portion of the contingency funding to pay an actor to come and ‘perform’ one of the stories. This was well received and engaged the local theatrical community with the project, with a number of people from Levy Players volunteering to support the events. We’re exploring future opportunities for collaboration with Levy Little Theatre if a project like this takes place in future.
Marie Crook, Emerging Writer on Ghosts at the Old Library
For our Ghosts at the Old Library project, we devised an Emerging Writer position, which would offer the same paid commission, publication and performance and recording opportunities as the other writers involved in the project, but also provide an eight-week mentoring programme. This was open for public applications, with the prospective writers required to submit a sample of their work and a brief description of their background and thoughts as to how the project would help them. We were particularly interested in hearing from applicants from the local area and those from backgrounds which are underrepresented in the arts. In 2022 we received over 130 applicants from which we selected Marie Crook, a local resident from a working class background who is at the early stages of her creative practice but whose submission for the project showed exceptional promise. We asked her to reflect on how she had found her experiences:
In December 2022, I was one of four writers commissioned to write and perform a ghost story for Levy Old Library’s Ghosts at the Old Library event. After years of writing bits and pieces and performing my work at open mic events around Manchester, I’d started to get some publications and invitations to read my work at events and, in 2022, I decided it was time to really commit to a writing practice and seek out more opportunities to share my writing with a wider audience. I went temporarily part-time from my day job with the aim of devoting a gloriously luxurious two days a week to writing.
As well as writing new work and submitting some of my older pieces to publications, I looked out for commissions, calls and competitions – whatever opportunities were out there. This is how I came across the Ghosts at the Old Library opportunity on Instagram. It was for an emerging writer to write a fictional ghost story and perform it at a series of live, immersive events. I knew I loved performing my work in front of an audience, so that was appealing. Having gone part-time, the fact that this was a paid opportunity was a huge bonus – and it was a really good fee, which is unusual for writing gigs. I live in Levenshulme, so it was close to home too. What I didn’t know was whether I qualified as an ‘emerging’ writer. Did I have enough experience? And I had never before written a ghost story, or indeed read very many of them. I usually write poetry and creative non-fiction, so this was out of my comfort-zone. I applied anyway because I noticed the gig also came with a series of free mentoring sessions run by Richard V. Hirst, who really does know about writing ghost stories, and also because, really, what was there to lose?
It turned out there was nothing to lose and everything to gain. I pulled together a quick application in September and by the end of the year, I’d written a ghost story, performed it 12 times before a live audience, seen it published in a chapbook (beautifully-designed by Laura Deane), and recorded it for radio. Not bad!
In the run-up to all this, I visited the library once a week for mentoring sessions with Richard. Not having had much experience of this kind of writing, I was more than happy to be guided by him. I had a vision for the story from day one, but getting there was another matter. Whose perspective should I tell the story from? First person or third? Past or present tense? Should I write the whole thing as a monologue? A series of letters? Richard listened well and understood what I was trying to achieve. He helped guide me in the right direction for my vision, not anyone else’s, which I think is the sign of a great mentor. I felt free to try out different things and Richard helped me keep the faith when I turned in the inevitable embarrassingly rubbish drafts along the way. We had a laugh and, eventually, a final draft to send to press.
I loved working alongside the other writers – Richard, Adam Farrer and Melissa Wan – as we performed our stories over the three atmospheric, immersive events at Levy Old Library in December. Together with a crew of friendly local volunteers, we made a great team, supporting each other in doing something that hadn’t been done in that space before and pulling it off! Phew!
The live events were followed by a recording session in ALL FM’s studio in the library – which, quite frankly, I could do every day, I enjoyed it so much! – then broadcast on ALL FM over Christmas. The stories were also made available to stream indefinitely on Spotify. Along with the chapbook, this means I now have a couple of professionally-produced artefacts I can share with potential publishers and other event organisers.
Throughout the project, Richard always had an eye on legacy and he put a lot of thought and effort into ensuring the experience provided meaningful development opportunities for me. Again, he listened really attentively and responded accordingly. I told him I admired the work of the writer Jenn Ashworth and before I knew it, I was receiving a wealth of tremendously valuable advice during an hour-long one-to-one meeting with her. In response to my questions about publishing opportunities, he set up a meeting with the editor of the local indie publisher Confingo, for whom I’m now assisting in an editorial capacity with their submissions and feeling confident about submitting my own work to them in the near future. Richard knew I was interested in running some creative writing sessions in the library and, later this month I’m going to start doing just that, thanks to his support.
The whole experience has helped me to feel more confident, connected and clear about my next steps as a writer. I’m so glad I put my early doubts aside and went for it and I’d encourage anyone in a similar position to do the same.