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Preta Eshana: International project explores life-changing capacity of small stories

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Art by Luke Durkie

For the past three years, I have been working on an international project with 30 writers, artists and musicians. The main focus has centred around one question: can a short story hold the capacity to change lives?

Many of the stories that pervade our lives are based on fear. Just turn on the radio or go online and before long we can find ourselves being pulled into a mire of anxiety, mistrust and resentment. With a mind left unguarded, it is easy for these stories to become our frame of reference, our identity.

One of the simplest ways to transform our mindset from hopelessness to hope is to alter the narratives we tell ourselves. With this in mind I drafted a short story, 'The Ten Human Years of Preta Eshana'. It follows the journey of a female hungry spirit, granted passage to the human realm to examine how human beings cope with suffering, conflict and loss.

our lives are based on fear

The story attempts to bring to light the struggle of people who society disregards. It also asks whether a hostile response to those in powerful positions who perpetuate this inequality is the most effective way to bring about lasting change. Finally, it asks what role, if any, more creative insight could play in building a future less fixated on the self and more appreciative of the interconnectedness of all.

Looking at the ability of a single narrative to transmute into a multitude of possibilities, all contributing artists were asked to use the story of Preta Eshana as a baton or platform for ideas. From this, they were encouraged to produce a piece of music, writing or artwork that reflects on the above themes.

All the collaborators involved in this project possess that magical ability to take a person's thinking from the head to the heart. We all know that when we inhabit the heart, even for a short time, we can imagine wondrous new possibilities.

Within the book, writers like Lemn Sissay, David Edwards (Media Lens) and bestselling author Sharon Guskin pepper their poetry, stories and essays with imaginative, positive disruptions. Local poet Tim Holmes (Festival 23) gently but firmly helps to challenge our collective self-limiting beliefs. Musicians like Yorkshire's very own folk laureate Ray Hearne and Illustrious company collaborator Asa Bennet help cultivate insightful inlets that allow us to voyage beyond self-obsession into the larger, more wholesome rivers of commonality. Sheffield artists Max Charles, Luke Durkie, Fran Green and Juliet Ellis, using a variety of different mediums - oils, pencil, photography and mixed media - invite us to contemplate work that inspires empathy, wisdom and compassion.

This project is a manifestation of people's kindness. All the collaborators involved have gifted their time, work and skill sets for free. All the profits from the vinyl album and accompanying book will be donated to Ben's Centre, a small Sheffield charity that provides a daily place of refuge for vulnerable alcohol and substance users.

Imagine if we woke up every morning and compassion was our natural default position. Imagine moving through a world where we ventured beyond what appears to us and spent the whole day relating instead to potentials and possibilities. Imagine if we were to genuinely believe in the prospect of creating, as the author Charles Eisenstein said, a "more beautiful world our hearts know is possible".

Stephen Givnan is the founder of freeclarity.org, a collective of artists and educators promoting creativity, clarity and mental wellbeing. The limited edition vinyl and book will be launched at Theatre Deli on Friday 15 November, 7-10pm.

Buy tickets or preorder the album.

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Photo by Julie Stewart

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