"We all have ancient strengths inside of us that we may not know about until we are truly challenged."  MARTIN SELIGMAN




 See as if for the first time.  Sunlight everywhere! 

An Aide-Mémoire :

  • Writing for Health Tips and Exercises :
  • Handbook for Personal Development and Professional Use (2012) : 
  • Tess Hudson and Bridget Shea, Directors of Pen & Tonic CIC :

14 February 2012 

Dear Friends 


Valentine's Day 2012 saw the delivery to my door of a carefully wrapped parcel, its contents being the long-anticipated book written and compiled by my good friends at Pen and Tonic.  Here are the details,

PEN & TONIC, (2011), Writing Exercises That Work: a handbook of tips and exercises for using writing for health with groups and for personal development, pub., United Kingdom, Pen & Tonic.  Website:

Without further ado, I hand you over to Tess and Bridget of Pen & Tonic to let them tell their own story in their own words and with all the passion of two women who have founded another worthy NE organisation that exists for reasons other than profit.

  • Kind Regards 
  • Marian @ Krysan


"The brightest spot of all is that at least I can write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise I'd absolutely suffocate," wrote Anne Frank. The entries, penned in a secret annex in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, became The Diary of Anne Frank.

Free writing, to write expressively or continuously are some of the ways of describing putting pen to paper. Writing in this way is easy to do, inexpensive, and requires no research other than exploring self and has been shown to improve numerous health conditions.  Simply writing down what springs to mind can be therapeutic and have a positive effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. It has helped many people who are recovering from traumatic events such as bereavement, and for those of us living with long term conditions.

Pen and Tonic, a Community Interest Company (CIC), provides writing and storytelling sessions and projects. We demonstrate how expressive writing can help create the voice to articulate a need, whatever that may be. We show how writing can be used to explore problems, improve communication and get a better understanding of what is going on in our lives. We also run projects where writing can be used to create Life Story or Memory Albums which can be shared with others. 

The two founders, Tess Hudson and Bridget Shea, have themselves directly benefitted from writing expressively. Tess externalised her feelings of living through a long illness and for Bridget as the result of the suicide of a loved one. Their experience of turning to writing during difficult times planted the seed for Pen and Tonic. 

Discovering the power of the pen. 

They started working together in 1996 when Bridget was an advocacy worker for women with learning difficulties.  I was listening to their stories but they weren’t being written down or recorded for them. Then it came to me, let’s make these stories personal to the storyteller and support the women to create a permanent record of their histories. The books were simple, visual and 8 came with a tape so the author could listen to her story while looking at her book.   

It was a wonderful way to get their thoughts and ideas written down.  These were women whose lives were dictated by the next visit from the social worker, hospital appointments and multi disciplinary care plan meeting. They were organized from the moment they got up until they went to bed. This offered them the opportunity to talk to each other and start to get to know each other. They went to the same day centre, were in class together at college and some had been to the same school but they never really knew each other.

It became known as the “Women Talking” project where women started to write about, draw and paint their lives and experiences. For women who didn’t write there were sessions organized where volunteers transcribed their stories. They filled the gaps for each other - what one had forgotten about another woman had a vivid memory of. They were building a picture of their lives; the mood was brighter, there were more conversations, and there was less boredom.

We didn’t know we had stumbled on writing for health or Life Stories but we did know that this was a fun thing to do and lifted everyone’s mood.  Writing is therapeutic and we’d been enjoying its benefits early on without even realizing it.  This was when Tess came on board. As a writer and drama teacher interested in the therapeutic value of writing, she developed the work of the group and initiated the ‘It’s My Life’  Project. Tess has written for radio and television including Sketch Writer for Channel 4’s SMACK THE PONY (including the first sketch of the series!) So who better to approach to develop the project? 

Building on the work from “Women Talking”, Tess facilitated and directed the women in a production which explored issues around their life stories. This gave the women the opportunity to share their stories to a wider audience including staff, family and friends.

It would be another ten years before Bridget and Tess would start Pen and Tonic and it was time well spent developing the work they had started. We were discovering how writing is a means of problem solving. How free writing throws up repeating themes, concerns and even solutions, for many it leads to poetry and prose writing and a developing interest in creative writing. 

Pen and Tonic shares exercises where you can pour your heart out and write down what you weren’t able to say when given the opportunity or things you would like to say but were never given the chance to express. Even if you never go on to share your feelings with another person, Pen and Tonic’s facilitators will demonstrate how writing it down will help you feel better emotionally. Feelings of oppression and pain will be greatly reduced and you will feel much better after expressing your feelings on paper or computer.

So why don’t you start your own therapeutic writing practice today. Write for just 10-15 minutes about whatever is bothering you or about any emotionally charged event in your life. It would be great to do this every day, but if you don’t then try and write a minimum of three times a week for at least six weeks. At the end of six weeks, take stock of your progress. Just keep your pen moving, if you get stuck then re-write the last sentence, you’ll soon find that you’ll get into the flow. 

Please don’t worry about proper grammar and spelling when conveying your feelings. No one is going to check for mistakes and no one cares if it isn’t a literary masterpiece. Expressive writing is entirely for your benefit were you can begin your own personal journey in healing. You decide if you want to share it, keep it private or throw it away. You might even decide to turn it into a piece of poetry or fiction; it’s entirely up to you.

And if you want to learn more about writing for health and wellbeing then why don’t you sign up for a Pen and Tonic Taster Day.  Learn about writing exercises and techniques that can help to improve your mental wellbeing. Help us to endorse special days like World Mental Health Day by passing on what you’ve learned to friends, family, colleagues and people you may support in your work.

  • Pen & Tonic CIC
  • Article written for Reality
  • Summer edition 2011


2 March 2012

Dear Friends 


There's obviously more to Writing for Health than meets the eye and I can do no more than whet your appetite. To this end, I make mention of one of my favourite Writing for Health exercises. Described below is the simple and satisfying way of expressing intense emotions called Haiku poetry.
1.  Begin by asking participants to free flow write about a theme.   2.  Explain the formation of a haiku, thus: 

A haiku contains three lines with a total of 17 syllables -

First line, 5 syllables
Second line, 7 syllables
Third line, 5 syllables

3.  Write a haiku from the ideas that came from your free flow writing. In the haiku examples below, the theme for the first one was 'The future'.  

Five years further on
Sun shining warmly on me
Floating with the world - Malcolm Stone 
The theme for the second is, 'What's on your mind?'
Unfinished business;
A cloud hangs in the valley,
Storm in a teacup? - Kirsten Luckins 
To my way of thinking, that first Taster Course I attended at MEA House in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2010 was worth its weight in gold. It remains only to say that Pen & Tonic aim to reach into the hearts of communities and show that writing and storytelling can be for everyone.   
  • I am, sincerely yours,
  • Marian @ Krysan



PEN & TONIC, (2011), Writing exercises that Work: a handbook of tips and exercises for using writing for health with groups and for personal development, pub., United Kingdom, Pen & Tonic. 

To obtain the handbook, click on link to Pen & Tonic website:


  • Guidelines for Facilitators
  1. Getting Started
  2. Simple Poetry Forms
  3. Buttons
  4. Writing from Objects
  5. Out of the Box
  6. Writing from other People's Poems
  7. Writing from Pictures and Photographs
  8. Transcribing
  9. Knowing Me, Knowing You
  10. Sample Session Plans
  • About Pen and Tonic
  • Contributors
  • Get in touch






Kindness in words creates confidence.  Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.  Kindness in giving creates love. ―  LAO TZU


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