White Water Writers effectively ‘spun out’ from a science experiment called TooManyCooks – this page gives the history from inception to the current day.
2009: The prototypes
In 2009, Doug Cowie and Joe Reddington started a science experiment called ToomanyCooks they wanted to see if you could borrow teamwork principles from software engineering to create narrative. Start with nothing, work for one week, nine-to-five and finish with a novel.
Ten writers volunteered and Doug and Joe hired a lab for a seven days. One day was devoted to structure, and rest for drafting, redrafting, and proofing.
They produced The Shadow Hours, a thick, rich, tightly plotted novel. There are imperfections, but fewer than you think. Shortly afterwords they gathered a new team, improved the techniques, refined the process so that it more closely matched the creative process and produced The Delivery in five and a half days.
That week, the students grew as fast as the narrative. They got their hands dirty with the full workflow of novel writing. Inception to planning to writing to proofing to choosing a cover illustration. I watched them get better at teamwork, exchanging ideas, giving feedback, taking feedback. And the thing that locked it together was that when the manuscript came back from the printers, they could hold in their hands the book that they had written. The could give copies to grandparents, teachers and friends. They blossomed so much in the week. And I should say – these are third year creative writing undergraduates, they were pretty good to start with.Dr Joe Reddintgon
2011: First Steps in Schools
In 2011, with the aid of a grant from Unltd Joe visited two schools to work with groups of students – one group a mixed set of high achieving year 7 to year 9s and the other group of mixed ability year 9s. Both groups produced outputs far in excess of what teachers and parents expected of them and it became clear that this was an intervention that could have tremendous educational advantages.
Doug and Joe were given a teaching prize by Royal Holloway for their work in schools and in the process met Yvonne and Patrick who were getting their own teaching prize for innovations at the undergraduate level. Yvonne and Patrick were fascinated by the process and, as psychology academics, devised a way of measuring some of the changes in confidence and ambition that our writers displayed. The next camps that Joe conducted in his rapidly diminishing holiday days all included before and after questionnaires for the students comparing a range of attitudes. Although it would be months before we had enough data to be sure, we started to see serious statistically significant differences in attributes like confidence and locus of control.
We returned to one of the secondary schools to refine the process with Playing with Controversy and we also worked with a local 6th Form to produce Web of Lies and, in 2013, Experimortal.
Their research data convinced Patrick and Yvonne that this was something worth investigating further, particularly in terms of delivering it to a wider array of schools. Patrick set up a project where volunteer undergraduates from the psychology department were given the opportunity to shepherd some books into life (after some terrifying training from Joe). The result of this pilot were Loading and Behind the Lies.
2014: White Water Writers Rises
This was a convincing enough success that we decided that the time had come to create an ‘imprint’ of the TooManyCooks process: we would set up an entirely separate project devoted to training student volunteers to run inspirational literary camps in schools. This project became White Water Writers, and in its first year produced The Possessed, The Mystery of the Locket, and Perfect Nightmare.
Occasional TooManyCooks camps outside of White Water Writers still happen – typically without using student volunteers, such as Behind the Screen at Croydon College.
2015: Going into production
In 2015, we started to grow properly…