Creative writing at Maggie’s cancer care centres

Aug 2012
Larry Butler, Valerie Gillies, Margot Henderson, Jayne Wilding

I’ve been trying to write poetry since I first began to read at the age of 18 – up till then I drifted through school cheating to get by. After learning to read, my first writing was slogans and protests songs for the civil rights and peace movement.Years later in London while working as a dramatherapist in a learning disability centre, I discovered that I am dyslexic.
Larry Butler
I began to lead expressive writing workshops in the 1990s to enhance patients’ lives. Everything I observed at that time became more immediate during my own experiences as a cancer patient in 1998. I began to use writing to transform these experiences into life-giving new work, and set out on journeys in search of healing locations, folklore and traditions, leading me to healing wells and springs. Becoming a guide to these lets me use outreach workshops to encourage other people to focus on image and metaphor: a real ‘healing fountain’ of words.
Valerie Gillies
I am a poet and storyteller of Scots Irish origins. I have been working as a community artist for the last 20 years, devising and delivering community arts projects in diverse settings, woodlands and quarries, galleries and museums, hospitals and homeless shelters. I have been Storytelling Fellow for Aberdeen and Writer in Residence for Cromarty Arts Trust.
Margot Henderson
The week that I was about to sit final exams for a degree in psychology, my younger brother was found dead. One of the strategies I used to cope with this loss was to write a journal. I am especially interested in the impact that expressive writing and journal work can have on people’s health and wellbeing. I have recently been involved in interdisciplinary discussions at St Andrews University about the use of writing as a way of coping with bereavement.
Jayne Wilding


A writing prescription that began ‘‘Whatever you write is right, you can’t write the wrong thing…’ was used in a feasibility study suggesting that ‘therapeutic writing could reduce (healthcare) costs’.1 This ‘prescription’ has been adapted for expressive writing guidelines at the Maggie’s cancer care centres. Here four facilitators give a taste of what they do and how they do it.

First Paragraph

Maggie’s provides a comprehensive cancer support programme for people and their families affected by cancer. Maggie’s is about empowering people to live with, through and beyond cancer by bringing together professional help, communities of support and building design to create exceptional centres for cancer care. Maggie’s centres are for anyone affected by cancer. They are places where
people are welcome whenever they need us – from just being diagnosed, or undergoing treatment, to post- treatment, recurrence, end of life or in bereavement. We also welcome family and friends, as they are often deeply affected by cancer too. We know that those who love and look after someone with cancer can feel just as frightened, vulnerable and uncertain.