Contributed by John Cooper (Creative Writing, 2013)
The death of Shirley Waite has deprived us of an author whose idiosyncratic choice of subject matter delighted audiences of the “Fringe” Festivals attached to the former County Libraries sponsored Literary Festival , as well as the public performances of her brainchild, “Writers on the Loose” (WotL). Her work also enjoyed successful exposure in several Outreach drama festivals organised by Stephen Joseph Theatre. A single lady with a lovable sunny disposition, she moved to the coast from Bradford on her retirement. Her limitless energy saw her not only producing and publicly performing entertaining prose and poetry, but also delivering tap dancing performances of high quality, and became well known in the community as a supporter of the widest range of events in Scarborough’s literary activity.
The birth of WotL followed the launch of “Turning Points” the anthology of new work by Hull and Scarborough students on the Creative Writing degree course, sponsored by Dr Peter Robinson, Head of Part-Time provision in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, in 2015. When North Yorkshire Libraries decided to inaugurate an “official” fringe movement alongside the annual Scarborough Literary festival, Shirley was the first applicant to request a spot in the programme. Asked to complete an application form demanding the name of her “group”, she conjured “Writers on the Loose” on the spur of the moment, meaning writers released from the confines of university tutorials! She then rounded up from her contemporaries on the degree course, John Cooper and Julie Fairweather, two published authors nearer graduation than she was herself.
The success of WotL, which continued up to her death in November 2018, saw the group repeatedly being asked to perform at libraries, Scarborough Museum, Woodend Creative Centre, various W.I. meetings and community centres. Although a fine actress, having belonged for many years to an amateur dramatic society in Bradford, Shirley was often reluctant to read from the manuscripts of plays written by others at university. She read from her own work most successfully and will be particularly remembered for her humorous poems. Her tutor for her Finals at University, Kate Evans, was saddened by Shirley’s lack of confidence in her abilities and talent and she (Kate) was often surprised with the grittiness of her work and wicked sense of humour. Ultimately, Shirley became the first and only student of the BA degree in Creative Writing at Scarborough to be awarded First Class Honours by the University of Hull.
A Memorial event is being staged at in the Sitwell Rooms at Wood End, commencing 7pm on Friday 26th April when six of the town’s authors and actors will read a selection of Shirley’s short stories and poems. The admission price of £10 will include a copy of a new book of Shirley’s writing, produced by Julie Fairweather, and the evening will conclude with a buffet donated by “Eat Me” cafe.