So there. I have done it! I have survived my first creative writing course. And to be perfectly honest, it will probably be the last. No course could be better than this one. This was pretty special.
Last week, I had to get into the habit of going off to work somewhere outside of my flat again – something that hasn't been happening for the past three years exactly – I left my last full-time position on 23rd October 2009! I also had to get used to being around a group of people day in and day out again. I have grown incredibly fond of my hermit life, alone in front of my laptop…
I am a loner by nature, and being around people – especially people I don’t know well – emotionally exhausts me… Interacting with other people makes me be on my guard all the time. The reasons for this are numerous and would take too long to explain. Let’s just say I am extremely weary of people in general. Going to exhibitions, the theatre and gigs doesn't really count, I guess, as one can still remain in one’s own little bubble, even though it gets reduced a great deal.
There was also the fact that I have never shown my work to anyone else. My work in music journalism was of an entirely different nature, and a lot of people read my articles and reviews, but that didn't bother me. I knew I was good at it and I was talking about other artists’ work, not mine. Fiction writing is completely different: you disclose your inner world to others, whatever comes out of your imagination is part of you and it can feel intimidating.
Metal’s Lab: On writing fiction wasn't full of pedantic self-aggrandising wannabe authors who, having paid good money to get a place on a course, feel entitled to behave like the customer they are; after all, “the customer is King”. They expect to be told how to become a famous author in 10 steps, just because they’re worth it – or at least they are worth something because they have paid.
All the people on last week’s course had been invited to attend after a rigorous selection process, and all 9 of us felt very thankful and privileged to have been picked.
One thing was immediately obvious: there was passion in there. We all had very different personalities, backgrounds and life experiences. But we also all had a passion for books, for the written word, for our writing. Chalkwell Hall was filled with energy the whole week; you could feel the subtle power of creative brains at work.
There was also a lot of talent. I was absolutely amazed at the quality of the work produced by the other participants and their knowledge of literature – and of a lot of other subjects too!
Nobody was dabbling; we were into serious writers’ territory, there.
It was a humbling, inspiring, energising experience.
The staff at Metal were absolutely wonderful: friendly and genuinely interested, they listened and observed without dictating.
A special thank has to go to Syd Moore, our “tutor” and “team leader” for the week, for her guidance, expertise and encouragement.
I love listening to other people and absorb information like a sponge, and therefore that’s what I have mainly done: I listened, and I learned a lot.
On Monday and Tuesday, we had special guest speakers, all seasoned authors in their own right.
I was particularly thrilled to be able to listen to Christopher Fowler, whose books I have been reading on and off since 1998, and whose fab blog I have been following for the past three years. He was absolutely fascinating, as was the mesmerising Cathi Unsworth – what a charismatic personality!
Julie Myerson was the most famous speaker of the three – her and her husband form one of London’s cultural power couples. I was very impressed by her self-confidence and her strong opinions on writing, even though as a person and a writer, I feel closer to Christopher Fowler’s and Cathi Unsworth’s world(s).
I actually spent one day and a half working on the top floor of Chalkwell Hall on my own work – what will become my third novel, The Right Place. When I started off, I vaguely knew in which direction I was going: my third novel would be set in Dorset, would be inspired by the landscape, the history and the very special, quasi surpernatural atmosphere of the county; I also wanted to use PJ Harvey’s song “The Wind” as inspiration, and I kept the printed lyrics in front of me while I viewed my holiday pictures of St Catherine’s chapel and Chesil Beach, two of the most important locations in my novel. And suddenly, it all started to pour out, all those ideas… A few hours after having set up on the table, my notebook was covered in Post-its and scribbles.
By the end of the day, I had written half a tempestuous scene which I then finished off the following morning. I genuinely surprised myself! I had so little when I had first arrived! It usually takes me a good six months to plan a novel, and I had done the equivalent of a month work in a day!
I am quite happy with that scene and will post it in The Right Place section of this website when I have done the small amendments that need doing.
On the Friday, when I finally stood up in front of the small, intimate audience to read an extract of the piece I had produced earlier in the week, I thought I was going to faint; I was so very nervous! I could swear small silvery stars momentarily danced in front of my eyes – for a whole second, and I forgot to breathe. It was a very different feeling to the one you have when standing in front of a class of 30 attention deficit disorder-riddled teenagers - I am an ex-teacher.
This was just so much bigger.
But I did it, and I think this first time was very very important. I believe I was the only participant who had never read to an audience before…
So now it’s a year to Metal’s Shorelines Festival – the literature festival of the sea – and we have all been invited to participate… I already have an idea about what I would like to do, but it is a whole year away and therefore I will not dwell on it…
I have gained a lot from this intense week, and I know that from now on, I will be approaching my writing in a slightly different manner. The instinct needs to be supported by more craft, and this is the recipe I will be using.
I have been thinking about revising my (hopefully) about to be self-published novel I Am a Muse before publication, but I am now running out of time.
I will be doing a quick read through this week but will leave it as it is: rather raw and incredibly imperfect, a naïve and probably not fully formed first novel.
I think therefore I write.
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