Smells Like Teen Spirit: Creating Text from Song Lyrics and Scents

Rachel Scott joined TiPP in January 2007 and is TiPP's Drama Projects Director.  She is currently managing the Changing Stories project, bringing new and emerging artists together with experienced prison practitioners to make new work across a number of participatory arts disciplines.  In this post, she describes a recent Changing Stories session in HMP Thorn Cross, where she used smells and scents to generate narrative.


Thursday evening in HMP Thorn Cross and I’m armed with an essential oil diffuser and a list of ideas for creative writing, as well as the usual coffee and biscuits.

We welcome our usual group of men and, with the mystery scent wafting through the Visits Hall, get to work with the guest artist, actor Hazel Earle.

Each of us writes down different titles at the top of a piece of lined A4: a street we lived on as a child; a food that evokes a memory; the TV programme you know all the words of the theme tune to; the job we wanted to do as a child; whatever the scent from the diffuser reminds us of; and the song that makes us think of being a teenager.

We then pass on our first title to the person immediately to our left for them to do a warm-up free writing exercise, just writing down whatever train of thought the title provokes.  Some choose to share this writing, but as it’s just a warm-up, it’s fine either way.  This early sharing encourages those to share later when the task becomes more challenging:  we pass another title too people to the left, and this time try to write in the voice of the opposite sex.  There are flights to Dubai, long swishing ponytails, head-turning perfumes and a parent taking a child to school for the first time.

We continue with different titles, evoking beaches, singing into hairbrushes and Findus Crispy pancakes served with vinegar and mushy peas.  We dare ourselves to complete the final challenge of the evening: write in the voice of someone who voted the opposite way to how you did or would have in the referendum to leave the EU.

There is swearing, muttering, silent scribbling, and sharing writing about homegrown tobacco, spikey succulent plants, quickie divorces, and a realisation that “they think like, but the opposite”.

Earworm for the drive home “Underground, overground, Wombling free….” And the scent?  Fresh cut grass, apparently. 

Rachel Scott