I am away on a creative writing course this week. Why? Because my beloved says he’s fed up with me talking about writing the great novel and would like an instant transformation into J K Rowling. Anyway, in case you are wondering, I suspect that I won’t be ratcheting up the tone of my blogs any time soon...
I am in the wilds of West Yorkshire on a residential course in what was the home of a renowned, now dead, poet. That’s enough detail on location. There are sixteen of us here with two published and award-winning authors to tutor us.
The mornings are spent in workshops where we discuss various fiction techniques and do writing exercises. The rest of the day is spent writing, walking (me because if I don’t go outside and get some fresh air and exercise I’ll have cabin-fever), and cooking and eating supper and clearing up which we do in turns. My turn to cook hasn’t come yet but I am getting to the point where if I don’t get a proper meal with meat I may bite someone. And then in the evenings, we have readings and more discussion. All very hard on the brain and there are some seriously mighty brains here. In fact, I must be the only person here without a degree, or multiple degrees, apart from the two girls who are studying at UCL and Cambridge. So you see, academically so far out of my depth that I can’t even see the bubbles on the surface.
Anyway, my strategy on day one was to volunteer to be the first to read a piece of work out to the assembled formidable audience of my fellow students. The reasoning behind this gung ho approach was that if I waited till everyone had read I would have been so terrified that I would have bottled. So off I went, it went ok and all was well...so far.
Day 2 and my strategy failed. We were asked to write about our childhood home. We had about twenty minutes so lots of adrenalin and writing to a deadline which is, of course, what I am all about. I wrote and returned to the barn where the workshops take place and sat in my usual place. Bad news! The tutors decided to go round the room and I was alarmingly near the end of the queue.
Each student read out a childhood memory - these guys are amazing and all have so much more experience and word skills than me. The oldest of the students talked about being evacuated to the country during the Second World War - it was like Goodnight Mr Tom but captured in about ten sentences - awesome. Then gradually the process moved round the room, and I noticed a theme emerging. One had grown up in a house with seven people and only 4 chairs so that she never had a chair until several of her siblings had left home. Another lived in a Scottish tenement where washing was hung out on a communal green. The lady from HongKong had grown up in a cubicle and slept on the floor. Could I re-write my piece so I lived in a shoe box? (“We used to dream of living in a corridor” Monty Python)
My brief memory of moving to the country and the fulfillment of my childhood dream of having my first pony went down... well, what can I say? Lead balloon doesn’t cover it really. Someone asked me if the pony had died - obviously looking for a bit of tragedy in my nice middle class childhood. “No, the pony was fine.”
So you see, cover blown. Perhaps I am really here to write about this surreal experience and not the great novel after all...unless I can turn this into a novel - now there’s a thought.