Sunday, 24 March 2013

Creative Saturdays with Herbert

I'm a little sad this week. I've been taking a course at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. Called 'Creating the Creative Writer', it ran for four Saturdays and was led by writing tutors Cathy Whittaker and Connie Ramsay Bott. I got so much out of this stimulating and challenging course, which was taught in a very friendly and supportive group. Last Saturday was the final session. I'm really going to miss those creative days. So, this weekend I am just reflecting on what I learned, and how I can use it to carry my writing forwards.

Why do I write? This was one question I had to answer during the course. Strangely, for someone who writes almost every day, I often struggle to identify the reasons. Writing has become such a big part of my life now that I just tend to carry on, regardless of rejections, hard years, illness or despair! Having to write about why I write pushed me to the conclusion that I do it for two main reasons.

1. To escape the world.

2. To observe the world more closely.

That may sound like a contradiction, but it makes sense to me. Writing lets you hold things up and examine them; explore situations and see what you think or feel about them. Add in the power of the imagination and, well, you really can go anywhere.

Each of the four Saturdays had a different focus, beginning with memoir, moving through fiction, poetry, and developing our writing via constructive feedback. We did lots of writing exercises, many using the Herbert's collections as inspiration. For example, we would be asked to find a character in a painting to write about, or a picture that sparked a memory from our earlier lives.

We also used the Herbert's temporary exhibition 'Caught in the Crossfire' to prompt ideas about conflict - a necessary element in fiction. Conflict is something I find hard to judge, especially if I am trying to write a gentler magazine story. Too much conflict - or too little? I don't think there is an easy solution to this, except more practice!

As if the Herbert didn't have enough thought provoking material in its exhibition, evidence of past conflict is very evident outside too. The remains of Coventry's ancient cathedral are right next door.
One thing I noticed during the course was how my motivation soared. I was tired, recovering from a persistent cold, and at work more days than I wanted to be. Yet I could not stop writing. One day, on the train home from Coventry, I wrote a poem about the passengers. During my lunchbreak at work, I wrote another about the view from the window. Writing seems to fuel itself, and the more I do it, the more I want to do it. Some days I think I don't have enough time, but the time is there really, if I just make myself start. That is the difficult bit.

There will be a further course of four Saturdays, 'Creating the Story Writer', at the Herbert in the summer, again led by Cathy and Connie. For details see the Herbert's website here. I would definitely recommend it if you are within reach of Coventry city centre.

For more about Cathy Whittaker and Connie Ramsay Bott, their website is here.

In case you're wondering about Herbert, go here....

And this is Ecce Homo by Jacob Epstein, in the cathedral ruins, just because I like it.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Reality? Me?

Thank you to Hayley N. Jones for passing on her 'Reality' blog award to me. I don't always have time to do these, but this one is short and sweet.

First I have to answer the following four questions.

1. If you could change one thing, what would it be?

I would like to see greater respect for all living things. People, animals and our beautiful planet.

2. If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

There is no era in my life that I would choose to repeat. I have achieved more in my forties than in any previous decade. Now I am about to turn fifty, I just think I am incredibly lucky to be here, after some of the stupid things I did when I was young.

3. What one thing really scares you?

Being seriously ill and losing control of my life.

4. If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?

This was such a hard question! What an opportunity - being someone else for a day. The best answer I can give right now is that I would try being novelist Anne Tyler, in the hope that some of her brilliance would rub off!

Now I have to pass on the award to other deserving bloggers, if they wish to participate. I'm nominating:

Kate Jackson

Susan Jane Jones


Old kitty

Monday, 11 March 2013

Books and being busy

Firstly a big thank you to blog friend Becky Povich. Becky kindly mailed me a copy of Not Your Mother's Book... On Dogs, after I won a giveaway contest on her blog. I have really enjoyed dipping into this book of dog stories. It was especially exciting to read Becky's own story and see the photo of her dog Rocky.
Other books I've enjoyed lately include The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It's a retelling of an old Russian folk tale, which the author has set in Alaska. I loved the descriptions of the setting, and found the first half of the book quite magical. Sadly the magic seemed to wear off a little in the second half. I would be interested to hear the opinions of anyone else who has read this book.

I've also just finished Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. For only a pound, I bought a nice hardback edition of this from the charity shop. The plot is fairly thin, but the characters are as excellent as the title. I can see this becoming one of the comfort books that I return to every so often, along with the Miss Read novels and the earlier books of Maeve Binchy.

Life is busy, and I have neglected blogland again recently. I am doing a short writing course, on top of my regular writers' group. More on that next time. It's clearly beneficial, because I am feeling very upbeat and motivated about the writing, which isn't always the case.

I don't know whether it was down to the fact that we did 'stream of consciousness' in the writers' group this morning, but I came home and wrote the entire first draft of a new story. I am normally more of a plodder, and it's just wonderful to have that sudden burst of writing energy. At those times a story almost seems to write itself, with my pen struggling to keep up. Tomorrow I am at the day job, but I can't wait to be off again on Wednesday, when I can type up that story and begin editing.

I also have another story on Alfie Dog, by the way. It's called Spooky Strolls, and it was previously published in Writing Magazine, 2007, when it won the summer ghost story competition.

That's it from me for today. Hope all my blog readers are well and enjoying the signs of spring.