A First Creative Writing Workshop

What a fantastic morning! Nine creative writers turned up for our first session at the College of North West London.

We started with an introductory activity, taken from Sue Lee Kerr’s book Creative Writing: the Quick Matrix,  in which each person interviewed their partner about their passions and their writing history. Then we had a feedback session. I think we were all amazed at how interesting and talented everyone was. Writing experiences ranged from want to write a children’s book but didn’t know where to begin to academic writers through to writers for church plays and poetry sessions. Who knew our small college housed so much writing talent.

The second task was a word association(bubble)  task. I put up a word on the whiteboard and the students suggested related words and ideas. Then, they chose one of the words from a list I gave them to brainstorm connections and associations. I handed out egg timers with the instruction that they had three turns of the timer to do the task. People scribbled furiously and soon papers were filled with words.

The writing task was to take a word or an idea to produce some kind of text over 30 minutes. The room went quiet as they wrote furiously. At the end of the allotted time, writers volunteered to read their WIP. Some chose not to but that was fine. What interesting work they produced – life stories, a short story, children’s stories and a polemic.

We had a little discussion at the end and it seems we might meet again to do some creative writing.


An MA in Creative Writing: Pros and Cons

It is now the second week in July 2016 and all the teaching components of the online MA in Creative (Novel) Writing at Middlesex University are done and dusted. There is only the 15,000 extract from the WIP and  5,000 word critical commentary to complete.Life has gone from being stressful and panic-ridden to remarkably boring and calm. The summer will be filled with research, tweaking, final tutorials and putting it all together ready for the 7th October.

All that was necessary to complete the course was the  fee (4,200 pre-Brexit English pounds, since you ask), a decent bit of computer equipment, WiFi, a warm spot which was relatively quiet and some spare time. As it was an online course it could be taken pretty much anywhere at any time. I like to work in bursts of say 10 to 12 hours for a day or two then slacken off for a couple of days before hitting the keyboard again. Once I was done and ready to submit, I wrote up my notes and sent them off to the forum.

The course was in turns interesting, boring, exciting, challenging, difficult, incomprehensible, time-consuming, frustrating and demanding. I work well on my own so I didn’t get too lonely but there were moments when I would have loved to have discussed focalisation, stream of consciousness and centre of consciousness with someone other than Google search. The course blurb stated that having a degree in English Lit might not necessarily help with the key concepts but I can’t help feeling that it might have been of some benefit. Apparently, some bloke called Genette invented the term “‘focalisation’ to distinguish between perspective (who sees) and point of view (who narrates).” (I quote from the teaching notes.” I truly wish he hadn’t bothered as I am still trying to figure that one out.

I am not sure if writers are born or made. Perhaps, they are born with some intuitive writing skill (I am thinking of Fran Lebowitz here) or they have been moulded by creative writing tutors or books. Some writers (like me) happily share their scribblings  with the world while others are sensitive and like to keep their WIP close to their chest. For each and everyone there is surely a writing course, writing group or MA to meet their needs.

Here in London,writing courses and meetings breed like the rabbits under my friend Margaret’s garden shed. When I decided that I thought I had a germ of talent and wanted to get serious about writing I sampled a few: City Lit, Bishopsgate Institute and the Mary Ward Centre. I learnt different things from each one but am aware they do not suit all writers. Equally useful and interesting have been the MeetUps. I especially recommend the ones organised by Lisa Goll, as I have attended a few. I have used the writing space provided by Shut Up and Write in Cricklewood (Orna Ross) to meet other writers and to sit down and write.

People do MAs in Creative Writing for different purposes. I want to: a) produce a really good novel and b) go on to teach creative writing. I am happy churning out materials then getting professional feedback at critical points. I work at my own pace fueled by coffee and endless episodes of Hotel Inspector. Studying online suits me, my lifestyle and my idiosyncrasies. Other people I know, struggle with it. If you like bouncing ideas of other people then I recommend a face to face class. A colleague, and fellow writer, is happily doing an online class from an American university, where he is set weekly writing activities followed by feedback. His writing is thriving as a result.

Overall, the aim is to become a better writer. To become a better writer you need to read and write. The MA at Middlesex has introduced me to books and writers I might not have engaged with on my own. I bought lots of the books which studied sections of and will, over the next few months, read all of them. It has given me the skills to improve my own writing and encouraged me in my journey towards become a creative writing teaching myself. The important thing is that I am now a better writer and have embarked on the next stage of my writing career. I wish other writers to also have the same positive experiences.

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London Book Fair

The London Book Fair is about to start. The public event takes over the Earls Court Conference Centre for 3 days from the 8th to the 10th April, with several other book related events happening in central London.

In fact, literature seems to be the big topic in London at the moment. Writers are spoilt for courses to attend with adult education institutions such as CityLit and the Bishopsgate Institute running writing courses at different levels, the Faber Academy offering short courses and The Guardian teaming up with the University of East Anglia to run accredited writing courses on a variety of subjects. Add to that there are writing groups and workshops springing up all over the city. Waterstones are reigniting a passion for reading by running short talks, book signing and meet-the-author events. Foyles, the grand old lady of London bookstores, is about to move from its original home to the refurbished St Martin’s College building, compelete with an auditorium for reading events. This can be nothing but good news for the reading and writing community.

I have attended three short courses at the Bishopsgate Institute in London where the tutor (and fellow scribblers) have helped me to improve the crime novel I have been working on for the last months. I am now a far better writer than I was five months.  To anyone thinking of getting into writing, I recommend joining a reading group (which is where I started) and a writing group (which is what I moved on to) as well as a writing course.