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The Team

Steve Dearden

Steve ensures everything runs smoothly while providing some one-to-one support and producing the Squad’s creative adventures. He is a published prose writer and a producer of his own projects and for others. He works with a range of cultural clients on project, business and organisational development.

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Emma Adams
Core Team

Emma is a playwright, screenwriter and dramaturge from Bradford. Her writing ranges between dark political satire for adults and adventure comedy for children. She’s written plays to be performed in houses, swimming pools and graveyards (as well as on stages). Emma has worked with Red Ladder, Slung Low, Chris Goode, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Theatre 503, Freedom Studios, Ovalhouse and Paines Plough. Three of her plays have toured nationally and two (Ugly and Animals) are published by Oberon books. (Photo credit: Lizzie Coombes)

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Katie Hale
Core Team

Katie is a novelist and poet. She is the author of a novel, My Name is Monster, and two poetry pamphlets, and has written for theatre and immersive digital installation. Her awards include a MacDowell Fellowship, the SLF Gulliver Travel Grant, and a Northern Writers’ Award for Fiction. Her short fiction has been longlisted for the Galley Beggar Press Prize, the Manchester Fiction Prize, and the BBC National Short Story Award. She is currently working on her second novel, set in Antarctica in 2095. 

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Malika Booker
Core Team

Malika’s writing spans poetry, theatre, monologue, installation, and education. She has worked with Arts Council England, the BBC, British Council, Wellcome Trust, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Arvon, and Hampton Court Palace. She also ran ‘Malika’s Kitchen’, a writers’ collective based in London and Chicago.  Her latest poetry collection Pepper Seed is published by Peepal Tree Press and she is featured in Penguin Modern Poets 3 with Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire.

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Stevie Ronnie
Core Team

Stevie is a writer, artist and digital consultant based in the North East. His collection Manifestations is published by Red Squirrel Press and Self Portrait as Someone Else by the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. Awards include: a Northern Promise Award, a MacDowell Fellowship, and a Jerwood/Arvon menteeship.

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Libby Williamson

Libby is our part time Co-ordinator, supporting the Board and Core Team by providing the logistical support for all our workshops and meetings. She oversees our comms, keeps tabs on our finance and data, and is charged with always looking for new ways we can improve our performance as an organic, fluid, mostly virtual organisation. A writer, creative facilitator and producer her sci-fi comedy play Far Out will tour in 2023, starting at VAULT Festival London in February. Her other work includes acting as Assistant Producer for Manchester City of Literature’s Festival of Libraries 2022, and Manchester Coordinator for the LGBTQ+ children’s book writing project The Rainbow Library.


In 2023 an uplift  from Arts Council England enabled us to create two new teams from Squad grads. CORE2 offers experienced Squad grads the opportunity to work with and as part of, the Core Team for 40 days over 18 months.

It’s a way of increasing our capacity while giving longer term opportunities to gain writer development skills. It also helps us make real our post-covid ethos of being an organisation which is as much about sharing the knowledge within our community, as it is about top down training.

In addition to this, the COREx team will co-curate a strand to encourage experimental work and support Squad writers exploring cross-genre and inter-disciplinary practice.

Georgia Affonso

Georgia is a writer and theatre-maker based in Manchester who loves dark-comedy drama in theatre, radio and TV. Previously, Georgia was selected for BBC Drama Room 2021/2022, the Waterloo Road Shadow Scheme and BBC Northern Voices. Georgia’s work has been performed on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb and she toured her play Runway with her own theatre company No Door Theatre in 2018/19. Georgia regularly facilitates with DIY Theatre, a theatre company led by people with learning disabilities and autism. In the past, Georgia has also facilitated for Manchester Camerata, The Lowry, Stage Directions, Omnimusic and Northern Broadsides. Georgia joined the Squad in 2016.

Helen Bowell

Helen is poet and producer. Her debut pamphlet The Barman (Bad Betty Press, 2022) was a Poetry Book Society Choice. She co-directs Dead [Women] Poets Society and runs Bi+ Lines, which will publish the first anthology of bi+ poets in autumn 2023. She produces events for the Poetry Translation Centre and ran The Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network between 2017 and 2023. Helen joined the Squad in 2014.

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Kym Deyn

Kym is a writer and facilitator. They run The Braag CIC, which publishes poetry and speculative fiction. They were featured in Nine Arches Primer’s Vol.6, and their pamphlet Dionysia has been published by Verve Poetry Press, their speculative work has appeared in Hexagon SFF Magazine and Strange Horizons.They have a collaborative fiction chapbook, Unfurl, written alongside Nathaniel Spain and Finlay Worrallo. Kym joined the Squad in 2016.

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Jess Wood

Jess is a short story writer, novelist, blog runner, and professional project manager. Her writing tends towards the fantastical and her organising tends towards the spreadsheet. She co-runs the Squad 11 Mini Goals. She holds an APM Project Management Qualification and will be joining Steve and Libby in coordinating and directing the Squad, which she joined in 2020.

Jamal Gerald

Jamal is an artist and writer based in Leeds. His work is conversational, unapologetic and provocative with a social message. Jamal’s practice is currently exploring African diaspora religions through a queer and pop culture viewpoint. Jamal has undertaken research in Montserrat and Trinidad and Tobago through support from Arts Council England. In 2023, he did an artist residency with RISCO festival in São Paulo, Brazil. His work has also been shown at Kampnagel, SPILL Festival of Performance, Royal Court, Battersea Arts Centre and the Barbican. Jamal is a Recipient of a Jerwood Arts’ Live Work Fund Award (2021), Another Route Fellowship (2022) and was shortlisted for the Adopt A Playwright Award (2023). Jamal joined the Squad in 2014.  

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Lydia Hounat

Lydia is a writer, photographer and workshop facilitator based between Manchester and Cornwall. She has previously been published in COPY: An Anthology of Recycled Materials, TOLKA Journal, and Hobart. Her debut work Notes of a Mongrel’s DNA is forthcoming December 2023 with Hesterglock Press. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Intergenerational Healing and Kabyle Women Trauma studies. Lydia joined the Squad in 2014.  

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Our Board

Sophie O'Neill

Sophie is Managing Director of Inpress Books, based in Newcastle upon Tyne, and was previously Head of Sales at Canongate and Key Account Manager at Headline Books.

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Angelique Tran Van Sang

Angelique is a literary agent at Felicity Bryan Associates, an independent literary agency in Oxford – the largest and most successful outside London. She moved to the agency after seven years at Bloomsbury Publishing, where she was a Commissioning Editor acquiring across fiction and non-fiction.

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A photo of Beth Westbrook, a white woman with long brown hair wearing a grey t-shirt. She is smiling at the camera.

Beth Westbrook

Beth is a scriptwriter based on The Wirral. She’s passionate about improving the representation of Neurodivergence and Disability, and was featured in The Stage with the Neurodivergent Creatives Network, an online support network she co-founded. Her play ‘Sunny Girl’ is Arts Council funded, and is being developed with HER Productions. Her second play ‘Awareness’ was part of Unity Theatre’s Open Call, and was part of Traverse Theatre’s Breakthrough Writers in association with Lung Ha Theatre Company, alongside being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Playwriting, and the Bruntwood Prize. She joined the Squad in 2020.

Chloe Elliott

Chloe is an artist and writer based in York. She is a Winner of the 2022 New Poets Prize and the 2020 Creative Future Writer’s Award. Her debut pamphlet, ‘Encyclopaedia’ was published by Smith|Doorstop in 2023. Her writing can be found in bath magg, Poetry Birmingham, The North, Magma and Strix, amongst others. She currently works for Aesthetica and Modern Poetry in Translation. Chloe joined the Squad in 2020.

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Gregory Kearns

Gregory is a poet based in Liverpool. He won the Northern Debut Award for Poetry in 2022 and has been published in Introduction X, Bath Magg, and Ink Sweat and Tears. He has worked on projects with organisations like English Heritage, Tmesis Theatre and No Dice Collective. Gregory now runs Neurodiversity in the Workplace training on behalf of The Brain Charity and has trained staff across a range of organisations like the NHS, Wildlife Trust and ASA. Before that he worked in numerous roles in the charity sector including in events management.  Gregory joined the Squad in 2016 and the board in 2020.

Hannah Robertshaw

Hannah is Creative Director of Yorkshire Dance and formerly Artistic Producer at Ludus Dance, Lancaster.

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James Varney

James is a Manchester-based writer and theatre maker, making work about cities with and for the people who live in them. James is Lead Artist of We Live Here, who make space for creative conversations with communities about their relationship to place.  He has delivered on several Squad projects over the years. As a freelancer he has delivered projects for the BFI, HOME, Manchester Literature Festival, Manchester International Festival, Ignite Yorkshire and Transform Festival, using multi-arts practice to imagine and create the world we want to live in. James joined the Writing Squad in 2014.

A photo of Ruth Awolola, a black woman with long blue, purple and grey braids and wearing a light blue shirt. She smiles at the camera.

Ruth Awolola

Ruth is an author, poet and workshop facilitator. A member of our current Squad,  she is Learning Officer at the Manchester Poetry Library. A winner of the National Youth Slam, Slambassadors UK and Say Owt Slam Champion, Ruth is an Obsidian Foundation Alumna. She writes for a variety of audiences including poetry for children and young people. In 2018 she was one of five contributors to Rising Stars: New Young Voices in Poetry and features in several anthologies including Ana Sampson’s She is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women and She will Soar: Bright, brave poems of freedom by women, She has forthcoming contributions in children and young people’s poetry collections in both the UK and the United States. Ruth joined the Squad in 2020.

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Tayiba Sulaiman

Tayiba is a writer and translator from Manchester. She is the 2021 winner of the Eugene Lee-Hamilton Poetry Competition and has read her work at the 23rd Poesiefestival in Berlin. She’s currently working at a literary agency while completing an Emerging Translators Mentorship with the National Centre for Writing. Tayiba joined the Squad in 2020.

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