The writing group that I joined in September has broken up for Christmas and I have been thinking about what I’ve gained from the course so far.
All my life I have had the urge to write; its in my genes. My maternal grandfather was an an amateur poet, and his mother was a writer who had short stories published. The act of writing has been my problem. My handwriting is appalling and deteriorates drastically after one page. The advent of computers removed this barrier and my iPad is my best friend.
About five years ago, I started contributing articles for my daughter’s blog, memoirs of her childhood and stories of mine. Encouraged by the response on her blog I set up my own http://www.lifeaccordingtogramps.co.uk
This year, I had the thought that I should really expand my writing experience and meet other writers. The answer was to join the WEA Adventures in Creative Writing group that meets in the Courthouse Arts Centre in Otley. The course is run by James Nash, poet, enthusiastic and very encouraging teacher of writing who constantly challenges us to step out of our comfort zones. James has opened the farm gate, shooed me out of familiar fields and I’m now cantering over the hills and moors.
So far what I have learned is this.
I have never before written fiction. But, given a topic or an opening sentence by James, I was fascinated how, without any plan, a character or plot develops a life of its own. The three pieces I wrote, Light is life, The letter and Fighting for life, did just that. I extended Fighting for life, originally 400 words, to eighteen hundred words and I was pleased that it seemed to maintain the pace and strength of narrative.
I absolutely love this form of fiction. Trying to express something or telling a story in 100 words teaches the discipline of tight editing. To emphasis a point in the narrative you may have to go back and steal a word or words from an earlier sentence. In my story Jump Back, to emphasis the urgency of delaying the man rushing to the meeting in the Twin Towers I had to borrow words from an earlier sentence.
Jump Back, Falling for you and Mind trip were accepted by The Drabble, a blog specialising in works of 100 words or less. There is no financial gain, just the joy of seeing your work published.
I’m definitely, way, way, out of my comfort zone when writing poetry. But, I now understand James, when he explained how poetry can feed through into our writing in other genres. Blank verse is one thing but rhyming poetry is quite something else. Sonnets are the very devil. I described writing sonnets as akin to trying to solve the Rubic Cube. Although I doubt I will ever sit and write a sonnet for fun, I have enjoyed the challenge of wrestling with iambic pentameters, rhyming couplets and quatrains. Robert Frost, a poet, I think, said “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.” I suspect there is some truth in that.
More excruciating poetry pain from James is in the offing: no gain without pain. One reward was the publication of my poem Missing Life on The Drabble website.
This is definitely my comfort zone. I have been writing memoirs for the last few years, stories, mainly humorous, about my childhood. The memoirs I have written for the group projects are a bit more serious and, I think, deeper, more descriptive, and hopefully more poetical. The Picture is about my Uncle, an artist and Magic Uncle, a story about my Uncle Bill a magician. I also wrote about a personal experience. The Awakening is about waking in the middle of a major lung operation. In the narrative, to the slight shock of the group, I used the ‘F’ word and a lively group discussion was the result. I detest film scripts that pepper dialogue with swear words. Words, regarded as offensive should be used for impact and in context. In my story, when I woke up, I truly thought “where the fuck am I.” Thinking “Golly, gosh,where on earth am I,” isn’t me, doesn’t sound right, at all.
I wasn’t expecting this when I turned up for the first group meeting. I was a bit apprehensive about reading my work out to a room of strangers. But I look forward to doing this now. I have also noticed how, reading out a piece of work, even to myself in an empty room, highlights faults in the grammar or structure, helps feel the rhythm of the words and sentences.
So, so far an excellent experience and looking forward to the next round.