The Paperchains author’s containment project for the Hay Festival

A PROJECT that gave voice to what is rarely heard, created by a Black Country writer during Covid lockdowns, is now a book, a traveling show and off to the prestigious Hay Festival.

Author AG Smith, from Wordsley, founded the Paperchains project with reading consultant David Kendall to ensure that when stories about Covid-19 lockdowns are told, experiences that might otherwise go unnoticed are documented.

The project, which was praised by the Duchess of Cornwall, resulted in the publication of an anthology of 30 stories of confinement, people with experience of prison, homelessness, drug addiction and the families of people in the armed forces.

The anthology ‘Paperchains: Our Stories of Lockdown’ has been published by Story Machine and the tales have been turned into a live performance which will tour prisons this spring and be presented at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in the Country of Wales.

The anthology and show recount prisoners spending more than 23 hours a day locked in a cell, breathing the same recycled air – for months, with no visitors.

They talk about drug addicts who are just beginning to recover and rebuild, only to find themselves on the brink; and people with nowhere to live, military families and young people stuck at home with no contact from loved ones.

AG Smith

AG Smith, writer and prison librarian who founded Paperchains amid the Covid crisis, said: “Paperchains was created to help people who were struggling during the pandemic.

“Our chosen communities have always had a voice, but those voices have not always been heard.

“Paperchains has now made them part of the story so that future generations can understand what lockdown was like for them.”

The author, whose real name is Alan, is known for his horror stories which are brought to life by Weeping Bank Productions at venues around Stourbridge and the West Midlands with actor Alan Birch, a graphic designer who designed the logo Paper chains.

Stourbridge News: Illustration from Paperchains by Alan BirchPaperchains artwork by Alan Birch

The two Alans provided voice-overs for the animated section of the touring piece, alongside acting and comedy star Stephen Fry who in 2020 was voted to have the UK’s second favorite voice, behind only Sir David Attenborough.

The live show – created by Story Machine and The Outsiders Project – will tour 15 prisons in March and April. It will also be performed at the National Center for Writing and the Hay Festival (May 26-June 5) after premiering at The Outsiders Project in Boscombe on Saturday March 26.

For more information and tickets, visit

The screenplay was written by anthology editor Sam Ruddock with performer Gary Lee. Both are recovering drug addicts and worked with playwright Nell Leyshon and theater director Jo Billingham of The Outsiders Project to create an engaging event that showcases the stories and experiences.

Sam, director of Story Machine, said: “The Covid-19 lockdowns have been important to all of us. But while some of us have support to fall back on, others have had a very different experience.

“Reading the submissions for Paperchains was an experience of the very joy of reading: a process of putting on other shoes and seeing the world through other eyes.

“I’m so happy to have been able to work with talented artists to bring these experiences to life.”

Lola R. McClure