Online Creative Writing Workshop

Autumn 2022 will see the publication of an exciting new anthology of short stories which explore the theme of dementia in a variety of different ways. Edited by Belfast based novelist, Jan Carson and Dr Jane Lugea (Senior Lecturer in English Language at QUB), the anthology will feature new work by 12 of the most exciting prose fiction writers in the UK and Ireland alongside newly commissioned work from two emerging writers. The anthology will be published by New Island and is a creative response to an ongoing AHRC-funded research project based at QUB, (Dementia in the Minds of Characters and Readers), which explores how dementia is represented in the minds of fictional characters, and how readers respond to those characters.  

On Monday 1st November Jan Carson and Jane Lugea will be hosting a free interactive online creative writing workshop open to fiction writers based in the UK or Ireland. The workshop will explore how to write well and ethically about dementia and will be open to 12 students who’d like to be considered for inclusion in the forthcoming anthology. Following on from this workshop participants will have until the end of November 2021 to submit an idea for a short story of 4-6000 words. A single student will be selected from this process. They will receive mentorship and advice from Jan Carson over the next few months with a view to submitting a final story to the anthology by the end of February 2022. This is an absolutely invaluable opportunity to see your work included in a print anthology alongside established writers. The anthology is likely to garner significant media attention, including event and interview opportunities. You will also receive a payment of €250 for your story and attentive advice and mentorship from EU Prize-winning novelist Jan Carson. 

If you’d like to be considered for one of the twelve places on the workshop and a chance to have your story included in the New Island anthology please submit 500 words of prose fiction (any subject) to no later than 5pm on Friday 15th October 2021.

More information about the dementia fiction research project can be found on this blog. You can also watch all the panels, readings and discussions about dementia and fiction from our recent festival at the Dementia Fiction Festival channel on YouTube.


Dementia Fiction Festival – Programme

The festival takes place from 15th -16th September 2021. All events are free and accessible online. Book your place by clicking here.

Dementia Fiction Festival 2021

Dementia is one of the most significant illnesses of our time, with 50 million people living with the condition and many more whose lives are affected. In the absence of a cure, the onus is on us as a society to better understand and respond to the challenge. Writers are playing their part by creating characters who have dementia, giving readers insight into the condition. 

The Dementia Fiction Festival celebrates the wealth of new fiction depicting dementia, exploring the issues raised around ethics, diversity, empathy and care. As well as performances of new writing, the festival features a series of workshops, panel discussions and keynote talks from researchers, creative writers, and people living and working with dementia. 

The Dementia Fiction Festival is the culmination of an AHRC-funded research project being carried out by a team of researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, who are investigating the potential for fiction to promote awareness and understanding around the lived experience of dementia.

All are welcome.


DAY ONE: Wednesday 15th September 2021

9:45 – Online welcome and orientation with Jan Carson

10:00-11:00 – Keynote 1 – Dementia in the minds of characters and readers

Dr Jane Lugea (QUB)

This talk reports on the research behind the festival, a project carried out by a team of researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and led by Dr Jane Lugea. Inspired by the recent boom in fiction depicting characters with dementia, Dr Lugea explores how these texts represent their subjective experience and the tricks of language that enable readers to simulate that experience. Through a series of reading groups using extracts from the fiction, the team are investigating the possibility for fiction to facilitate awareness of and empathy towards those living with the condition. The talk will share preliminary findings of the reading group research and explore the power of fiction to contribute to our understanding of dementia.

11:30 – 12:30 – Panel One – Research findings

Dr Jane Lugea (QUB) will lead this interactive conversation as writers and academics discuss and respond to the findings of the ‘dementia in the minds of characters and readers’ research project as outlined in the previous keynote. The session will feature contributions from Prof Tess Maginess (QUB), Dr Chloe Harrison(Aston) and Dr Naomi Krüger (Universiyt of Central Lancashire) who will read from her recent novel May(2018, Seren Books). 

1:30- 2:30 – Panel Two – The ethics of writing dementia.

Dr Gemma Carney (QUB) will moderate this interactive discussion on the ethics of how we write about dementia. Exploring issues such as dignity, research and appropriation the panel will ask some important questions in regards to how writers can ethically write and record another’s experience. The panel will feature a presentation from Dr Sarah Falcus (Huddersfield), alongside input from writer and academic Caleb Klaces(St John York University), Peter Middleton who is living with Alzheimer’s and Dublin-based novelist Henrietta McKervey who will read from her 2016 novel The Heart of Everything (Hachette, 2016). 

3:00- 4:00 – Panel Three – Diversity in dementia narratives.

Writer, Jan Carson will chair this lively panel on issues around diversity in dementia narratives. Raising important questions around a seeming lack of diverse representations in the portrayal of dementia, this conversation will also explores ways in which we can foster more diversity in writing and thinking about dementia. The panel will begin with a short talk from Dr Bas Groes (University of Wolverhampton), on diversity within literary and on screen representation of dementia, a reading from Irish poet Rachael Hegartywhose most recent work explores her mother’s experience of dementia and contributions from Bindi Dhesi(Alzheimer’s Society). 

4:15- 5:15 – Cocktail Hour- A series of facilitated conversations.

Grab a drink and join the members of the dementia fiction research team for a series of online chats about various topics related to the project and festival. Pick which break out room best suits your area of interest and get to know other people in the same field. Feel free to ask questions, swap information and make new contacts. You don’t have to be an expert to join the conversation. Everyone is very welcome. We can’t invite you to an in-person drink at the bar, but we hope this will be the next best thing.

7:00- 8:30 – Performance and discussion – Dementia and theatre.

Over the last number of years Northern Irish theatre company, Prime Cut have consistently delivered cutting edge, high quality plays and theatre projects which explore some of the most pressing societal issues of our time. In this performance and discussion, Vittoria Caffola (Paradosso Theatre), will introduce and chat to executive producer Una NicEoin and playwright Caoileann Curry-Thompson about Prime Cut’s history of engaging with dementia. The panel will include recordings of previous productions and an excerpt from Curry-Thompson’s new play which explores her father’s dementia experience. The panel will conclude with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and contribute to the discussion.

DAY TWO: Thursday 16th September 2021

9:45 – Online welcome and orientation with Jan Carson

10:00-11:00 – Keynote 2 – From taboo to topical: the power of portrayals of dementia.

Prof Jan Oyebode (University of Bradford)

Dementia has emerged from being taboo to being topical. The way it is portrayed has real-life implications for how people with dementia feel about being diagnosed and living with the condition; it influences the attitudes and actions of those of us without dementia towards people with dementia; it impacts on the value society places on the lives of those with a diagnosis. In this talk, I will highlight some common portrayals of people with dementia, drawing on fictional as well as personal accounts. I shall try to show how different perspectives produce different ripples, that can undermine or support, educate or misinform, and connect or divide us.

11:30-12:30 – Panel Four – Writing non-fiction, memoir and biography.

Anna Wharton, novelist and recent ghostwriter of Wendy Mitchell’s bestselling memoir, Somebody I Used to Know, chairs this fantastic conversation about writing non-fiction accounts of dementia. The panel will also feature a short presentation by Dr Lucy Burke (Manchester Metropolitan University), Irish writer, Ian Maleneywhose essay collection Minor Monuments (Tramp Press, 2019), explored how his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis impacted his extended family and Sue Leonard who has recently co-written If Memory Serves Me Well (New Island, 2021) with former actor and Riverdance manager, Ronan Smyth. Ronan hopes to contribute a pre-recorded message to this discussion. 

1:15 -2:15 – Panel Five – Dementia narratives in children’s and YA literature.

We’re delighted to include a conversation about how dementia can and should be explored in books aimed at children and young adults. Elaina Ryan of Children’s Books Ireland will chair this important and engaging conversation with celebrated Irish novelist, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, who will read from her debut novel Back to Blackbrick (Simon and Schuster, 2013). Non Pratt, YA novelist and member of the team at Walker Books will represent the publishing world, while Dr Amanda Piesse will also bring years of experience as a former academic specialising in the representation of aging in children’s literature, alongside personal experience working in the voluntary and community arts sector. 

2:30 – 3:30 – Panel Six – Reading and writing in the community.

Our final panel, chaired by English poet and community arts facilitator Dr Sarah Hesketh, will take a brief look at some of the best and most innovative arts projects which engage people living with dementia, their friends, family and carers in reading, writing and theatre. Prof Kate de Medeiros (Miami University) will begin this session with a short talk on the opportunities and benefits afforded by community arts projects. Susanna Howard of Living Words and Sinead Devine of DEEDS will share from their own extensive experience in this area. Exploring both the importance of arts engagement and practical ways to get involved in such projects, this panel promises to be a really inspiring one. 

4:00- 4:30 – One to One Chat.

Grab a cuppa and join writer, Jan Carson and Dementia NI member, Davie McElhinney for an informal and engaging conversation about what it’s like to live with dementia. Davie will give us an insight into his diagnosis, his everyday life and the community he’s found at Dementia NI. Jan will raise some important questions about how writers should approach writing about dementia. This chat will be honest, useful and an absolutely essential watch for any writer thinking about exploring dementia in their work.

7:00 – 8:30 – Gala reading and discussion.

Writers have been at the heart of our research project and we want to conclude our dementia fiction festival with a celebration of some of the best dementia narratives we’ve come across in the last few years. Marjorie Lotfi (Open Book), will be our host for the evening as she introduces two poets, Sarah Hesketh and Lynda Tavakoli, and two prose writers, Anna Wharton and Niamh Mac Cabe whose writing approaches the subject of dementia in innovative, imaginative and informative ways. The session will include both a reading by the four writers and a brief chat about their process, the development of their work and their ongoing interest in dementia. 

You can follow updates on Twitter @fictiondementia and Tweet along with the festival using #DementiaFictionFest21

Most sessions will be available to view afterwards on our YouTube site Dementia Fiction


Dementia Fiction Festival -Registration Now Open

Please join us for two days of incredible performances, insightful presentations and important conversations as we explore questions raised by a recent research project at Queen’s University Belfast. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project investigates how the language of contemporary fiction represents the minds of characters with dementia. This festival/conference hybrid will bring together a unique mix of academics, writers, organisations, carers and people living with dementia to discuss how we write about dementia with honesty, imagination and integrity. All sessions will be available online, with plenty of opportunity for everyone to get involved with the conversation.

A full list of speakers, panels and readings will be available very soon. The event is free and open to everyone.

Festival Info

Online Only

Link & password will be sent closer to event date. Please check junk/spam folders.

Date(s): Wednesday 15th & Thursday 16th September 2021

Starts: 9:45am to 8:30pm each day

Run Time: Two Days

Booking Info

Reserve your free place at the festival here

Once you book a ticket you will get a standard confirmation email for your booking, plus an additional email with further introductory details for the festival.

The main session & attendance details will be sent out the week of the Festival in September.


Save the Date – Dementia Fiction Festival

We want to flag diary dates for our upcoming two-day festival/conference exploring dementia and fiction. It will take place at Accidental Theatre, Shaftesbury Square, Belfast on Wednesday 15th and Thursday 16th September 2021.

The festival will be hosted by the project team and will include keynotes, panels, workshops and readings. Writers, academics, people living with dementia and umbrella organisations will all be coming together for this important conversation, and the organisers hope many of you will join them too, either in person or online. Unfortunately due to Covid restrictions, there’ll be limited availability for in person places at the festival but all the sessions will be accessible online.

Further information and booking details to come. For now, please save the date. You can find out more about the Dementia Fiction project by following on Twitter @FictionDementia or visiting the project website  If you have any questions at this stage, please contact Jan Carson (


Reading Groups

Our sixth and final sessions of online reading groups took place this week. Over the last few months four different groups of incredibly enthusiastic and much-appreciated volunteer participants have been meeting weekly to discuss excerpts from some of our chosen dementia fiction texts. There have been some wonderful conversations, a fair few laughs, some new friendship formed and a lot of tea and coffee consumed. It’s been an absolute treat to spend time with those of you who volunteered for these groups and we hope you’ve enjoyed the experience as much as we have.

In the days before Covid we’d planned to host these groups in person with lots of tea and cake. When Lockdown hit we had to change our plans and move everything online. We were worried the atmosphere might be lost in the move and that communication might be more difficult in a Zoom setting. However, we’ve been blown away by just how well the sessions went, everyone joined in and shared their thoughts in such a generous and open way. We want to say a massive heartfelt thank you to all our participants. Your feedback and responses will provide us with so much material to analyse and really really help with the research. We couldn’t have run this project without your generous contributions. A big thank you from the whole Dementia Fiction team. Here’s hoping we get to meet in real life soon.


Dementia: Feel it Through Fiction at Imagine Festival

If you missed Dr Jane Lugea’s recent talk at Imagine Festival Belfast you can catch up here.

Dementia: feel it through fiction Has reading fiction ever made you laugh, cry, or feel something? How can words on a page create characters and represent fictional experiences to such an extent that we not only believe, but are moved by them? A recent ‘boom’ in fiction representing dementia has inspired QUB researchers to investigate how the language is used gives an insight into the experience of people living with dementia. This interactive talk explores how dementia is represented in fictional language, how readers respond to it, and why. The speaker is Dr Jane Lugea (Senior Lecturer of English Language at Queen’s University Belfast), who specialises in Stylistics, the language of literature. Dr Lugea is Principal Investigator on an ongoing AHRC-funded project, ‘Dementia in the minds of characters and readers’, which investigates how dementia is represented in literary language and how it offers a window into understanding the condition. The project benefits from the expertise of Co-Investigators Dr Gemma Carney (Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at QUB) and Dr Paula Devine (Co-Director of ARK Ageing Programme), as well as Dr Carolina Fernández Quintanilla. Writer and older people arts facilitator, Jan Carson, is curating a great range of outreach activities around the project’s themes: dementia, creative writing and reading, and understanding each other better through the power of narrative. Find out more: dementia fiction blog • @fictiondementia


Dementia: Feel It Through Fiction at Imagine Belfast

Free online talk as part of the Imagine Festival

27th march: 1.00pm

jump to tickets

Has reading fiction ever made you laugh, cry, or feel something? How can words on a page create characters and represent fictional experiences to such an extent that we not only believe, but are moved by them?

A recent ‘boom’ in fiction representing dementia has inspired QUB researchers to investigate how the language is used gives an insight into the experience of people living with dementia. This interactive talk explores how dementia is represented in fictional language, how readers respond to it, and why. 

The speaker is Dr Jane Lugea (Senior Lecturer of English Language at Queen’s University Belfast), who specialises in Stylistics, the language of literature. Dr Lugea is Principal Investigator on an ongoing AHRC-funded project, ‘Dementia in the minds of characters and readers’, which investigates how dementia is represented in literary language and how it offers a window into understanding the condition. The project benefits from the expertise of Co-Investigators Dr Gemma Carney (Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at QUB) and Dr Paula Devine (Co-Director of ARK Ageing Programme), as well as Dr Carolina Fernández Quintanilla. Writer and older people arts facilitator, Jan Carson, is curating a great range of outreach activities around the project’s themes: dementia, creative writing and reading, and understanding each other better through the power of narrative.


Reading Group Call Out

Do you enjoy reading and talking about books? Would you like to take part in a fun, interactive reading group looking at how dementia is represented in fiction? We’re looking for enthusiastic individuals with little or no personal experience of dementia to take part in an important research project based at Queen’s University Belfast. All contributions from the group will play a valuable part in exploring how dementia is depicted in contemporary novels. 

The online reading group will meet on Zoom one evening a week for 6 weeks during April and May. They’ll take place on Thursday evenings at 7pm and will last a maximum of 90 minutes. At each meeting, the researchers will read two short excerpts from two different novels while you follow along with the print copies provided. You’ll be asked to complete a short questionnaire and get involved in a group discussion. We’re interested in your opinion and value your ideas and contributions. There’s no such thing as a wrong answer. The sessions will be audio-recorded so that they can be transcribed for our research. 

If you’re interested, you can find out a little more about the project on our website. If you’ve got any questions or would like to sign up please get in contact with Carolina at

We’d hoped to be conducting these readings groups in person and getting to know you in real life. As we can’t provide the usual tea and cakes, we’ll be posting out welcome packs including sachets of hot drinks and biscuits to be enjoyed while we chat. We’d also like to offer you a £20 book token as a thank-you for completing the reading group sessions. 

Spaces are limited so we’d encourage you to sign up asap. This is a fantastic opportunity to help out with an important research project whilst getting to know some new people. We’d love to have you on board. 


Dementia Fiction Writers’ Chat

In September we’ll be hosting a fantastic two day Dementia Fiction Festival. We’re still hopeful about having events in person at the Accidental Theatre building in Shaftesbury Square, Belfast but we may well end up holding a hybrid event both simultaneously online and in person for those who live close to the theatre. Watch this space for more details later in the year. As we get closer to the Festival we’ll be thinking and planning a range of great workshops and panels exploring the themes and issues pertinent to writing about dementia. Our outreach officer Jan will be consulting with writers, academics, representatives from umbrella organisation both within the dementia and literary sector and, most importantly, people living with dementia to ensure the programme is as useful and comprehensive as possible.

On Wednesday past we had our first online Zoom session, consulting with a group of writers who have explored or are exploring dementia in their work. We were keen to hear about their projects and to find out what topics and themes they’d like to see covered at the festival. We were absolutely delighted to have fourteen enthusiastic, engaged writers from all across the UK, Ireland and even South Africa, join us for the chat. The group included novelists, short story writers, non-fiction writers, poets, play writes and screenplay writers. It was quite an eclectic bunch.

After each writer had presented an overview of their own project and the particular themes they’re engaging with we enjoyed a great discussion covering issues like maintaining a balance between negativity and positivity in writing about dementia, the importance of research, diversity and lack of diverse representation, language and form and a host of other really interesting issues. We concluded the evening with an opportunity to share useful books and resources. We hope to host another session in early May. If you’d like to join the chat drop Jan an email at


Online Creative Writing with the Alzheimer’s Society

Over the course of the next few months we’ll be collecting contributions for our forthcoming “In Our Own Words” pamphlet which will provide a vehicle for people living with dementia to share their own thoughts and experiences. This pamphlet will be circulated amongst healthcare professionals and other people working in areas where they have regular contact with those living with dementia. It’s hoped the pamphlet will increase awareness and begin conversations about what it’s like to live with dementia every day. (More of this later. Watch this space).

In the run up to the pamphlet’s publication, our Outreach Officer, Jan Carson has been facilitating some online writing workshops with people living with dementia. For the last two sessions we’ve been graciously hosted by Julie McCaughey and James Erskine of the Alzheimer’s Association who introduced us to some of the people who regularly participate in their online conversation groups. They proved to be an extremely chatty and very imaginative group of individuals. It’s fair to say we did more laughing together than actual writing but we still managed to come up with some remarkable work.

Over two 90 minute Zoom sessions, 16 participants worked with Jan to share their stories, write and chat through ideas. We listened to some readings together: two postcard stories and a Billy Collins poem. The workshop’s theme was objects. Each participant brought a special object and developed a piece of writing, explaining what it was and it’s significance. We found out about travel experiences, family dynamics, favourite pets and memories of work amongst other things. We were even treated to an impromptu performance on the Banjo-lele (which we were reliably informed is a cross between a banjo and ukulele. Whatever it was, it sounded great).

Both sessions were an absolute treat and we’re very grateful to Julie and James who worked hard to make them possible. It’s not easy to find means of connection and community during these strange Lockdown times but our hours together felt almost as warm and companionable as an in person workshop might have done. We’ve been in a good mood ever since. We’re looking forward to sharing more information about the pamphlet soon and some details on how you can get involved.