Revising and Editing Zalon

The Zalon: what a great idea for Kellie Jackson to take her Words Away salons online with Zoom.

I was the guest at Monday night’s inaugural Zalon, when over 80 writers of the ever widening Words Away community (now playing simultaneously in California and Oregon and Portugal) showed up to discuss Revising and Editing.

Some things we talked about:

* The distinction between plotters and pantsers is one I don’t really believe in: any writing needs both planning and freer-style composition.

* And while we are at it, can I add that I truly loathe the words pantser and pantsing? They feel like demeaning descriptions for an intuitive and exploratory stage in writing.

* First drafts are not shitty, but precious – even if Anne Lamott’s essay ‘Shitty First Drafts’ is essential reading. No draft along the way is shitty if it gets you where you have to be: again, why cloud your thinking about your early forays with such negative terminology?

* Editing is just as creative as writing your first draft: a holistic approach.

* Clarify your intention: decide what the pay-off will be – for you in the writing, and for the reader in the reading.

* Really take the time to take stock of your narrative content (characters, settings, dramatic situations), and work out what’s at stake before you dive into detailed and committed work on narrative style and form – unless, of course, style and form are what’s really at stake, i.e., they contribute significantly to the pay-off. To help, sometimes it makes sense to do exploratory work on the side, away from the main body of your manuscript: writing experiments, freewriting, journal writing, reading.

* Understand the difference between writing and publishing. Something else I forgot to say: much about revising is about technique – commanding craft in ways that gives your writing greater energy and force. But, too, much in publishing is about taste, however much you polish your manuscript. If you are interested in being published, agents and editors will be assessing your writing based on personal preferences and fashions too.

* It really helps to find trusted readers with whom to exchange work: writing partners or writing groups. Not only do you get a fresh pair of eyes on your writing, but you develop editorial skills to bring back to your own work too. I wish there were a good place for writers seeking writing partners to meet, but social media often provides a starting point. To be revisited …

* Something I never got to say: of course we proofread our cover letters and submissions, but doesn’t it get a bit prissy and gatekeepery when, during presentations to budding authors, agents and editors scold writers about typos? Of course we know we have to proofread our work! But in the age of the autocorrect even the best of us make ducking mistakes. And we have to save something for the ducking copyeditor, don’t we?!

Be professional, of course. But to me it is far more important to pay attention to: not being boring, and writing something that makes us want to READ ON. When I am reading a cover letter or synopsis, I’m looking for signs of life, not carefully chilled prose.

Things I find more of a turn-off: comma splices and run-on sentences (which unless you’re writing stream of consciousness can suggest a lack of clear thinking): convoluted syntax; opaque writing (a catch-all term for many forms of dull prose); writers who are looking for ‘a blueprint for publication’ (a big red flag for me – my usual reply being ‘Sorry, I’m busy for the coming year slash rest of my life’).

Thanks again to Kellie for asking me along – I look forward to attending other Zalons, which are a great way of sustaining connection and community while we are forced to stay at home.

I hope to run an online course on revising and self-editing later this year – subscribe to my blog if you’d like information in due course.

 

Blog posts on revising and editing
The posts linked below describe in more detail exercises useful in revising as well as other practical tips for drafting:

Revising: A Craft Checklist

Suggestions For Self-Editing – various practical tips

Childhood Revisitations – a writing experiment I mentioned in the Zalon

A Gift on Every Page – including a few ideas for formatting your manuscript for reading and editing your own work

The Retype Draft

Spring Clean-up – thinking symbolically about revising, in this case using analogies from gardening

Great Annotations

Working With Feedback on Your Writing

Tell Me A Story and A Book Is Not A Film – popular posts on my blog about choices in narrative style, which are often important decisions during revising

Rejected, Or Declined?

When Does A Writer Need An Editor?

Definitions of Editing: Structural Editing; Copyediting; Proofreading – a series of posts describing editing from the points of view of both writers and publishing professionals

 

Resources and books useful for revising that I mentioned (or meant to)
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Ursula Le Guin, Steering the Craft and The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction
Stephen King, On Writing
Nina Schuyler, How to Write Stunning Sentences
Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey (a great exercise: applying its ideas to a favourite book or a work that somehow influences your own writing)
Ronald Tobias, 20 Master Plots
Susan Bell, The Artful Edit
Scott Pack, Tips From A Publisher: A Guide to Writing, Editing, Submitting and Publishing Your Book  (which includes an excellent discussion of models of publishing – not directly relevant to revising quite yet, but a context all authors need to grasp)

 

Childhood Revisitations

This is a writing experiment for someone who wants a boost of energy to take their revising deeper, or anyone who’s come to a bit of a halt in their drafting. It could also be a valuable exercise in the early stages of planning a book.

Writing experiment: Reread a favourite book of your childhood, or a favourite fairy story or myth you first encountered as a child. Perhaps choose something that was once important to you, but that you have not read in ages. You might have even forgotten most of its details, or there might be several variations – in which case it could be interesting to compare them.

It’s also good to listen to audio versions, or maybe to get someone to read them to you. Sometimes listening can arouse memories and deep feelings in a way that reading a printed page cannot. (Though audiobooks were not an option back then, I now am remembering my vinyl 45 Read Alongs of Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and Disney’s It’s A Small World …)

As you read/listen, jot down any details that strike your attention. Characters, objects, settings. Turning points, emotional shifts, inexplicable but enthralling twists and reversals. Look out for powerful archetypes, or currents and themes that have played a role in your future life. Also jot down any particular lines or scenes that really pop out to you, or things you didn’t notice before.

Now: consider how these striking ingredients can serve as vectors for your work-in-progress in some way. VECTOR: a quantity that possesses weight and momentum as well as direction. How can these new ingredients add ballast and depth and forward-moving energy to your story?

You could add details in a literal way: the Little House books invite you to trap your characters in a snowstorm, or Alice in Wonderland gives you a disorganised tea party. Or you could translate more deeply, if indirectly, e.g., developing a character’s princess complex (remember that men can be princesses too). Or rereading The Secret Garden might help you see how a clearer focus could be built around the loneliness of a protagonist. Or you could introduce, however loosely, three wishes into a story to help give it some shape and pacing through repetition and progression.

I recently reread ‘The Pomegranate Seeds’ from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales. I was reading an edition originally read aloud to us at primary school; my teacher gave it to me on her retirement – yes, I was teacher’s pet – so this particular volume already had magic powers.

Hawthorne’s retelling is forty pages long, more fleshed out and fictionalised than some of the sketchy renditions I would later encounter in other contexts. It uses the names Proserpina and Pluto from the Roman version, which in turn is based on the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades; there are always retellings.

There are plenty of archetypes: innocents and predators, and mothers – in this reading, Ceres (Demeter) figures more strongly as the protagonist, and this time I felt this story more deeply as one of loss and reconciliation and compromise.

I found myself latching on to a few details in this read too. The number six of the pomegranate seeds. The dryads and naiads: I’ve always been fascinated with these spirits of woods and water, and I realise that this was probably the first time I encountered them, at the age of seven.

I was also intrigued by the line that tells us that Pluto pats Proserpine’s cheek, ‘for he really wished to be kind, if he had only known how’ – an oddly human (or inhuman) detail.

I also noted that the seven-year-old me had no idea he’d be reading Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter as an American Studies undergraduate some eleven years later, or buying the collected novels of Hawthorne in a used bookstore in Provincetown at the turn of the century.

And rereading this little red Tanglewood I was whisked back to Mrs Bentley’s classroom. I remembered the nature table, and the portable shelf of library books. I remembered listening to her read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Wind in the Willows.

And I also remembered the time I played Rumpelstiltskin in a school play. I had to wear green tights and a green crepe paper tunic, and spin a polystyrene spinning wheel and sing a song, and I still know all its lyrics OFF BY HEART. Spin wheel, spin / Turn wheel, turn / And every straw / Upon the floor / Turn to shining god. I probably need a therapist to unpack all this! A Jungian, please.

And Rumpelstiltskin is not only a story of hiding your name, your truth, but also the story of HAVING A FUNNY NAME. Duh, I only just saw that one! Seriously: I’ve only recently realised the burden and trauma of GROWING UP WITH A FUNNY NAME. Millions of words have been devoted to critiques of white male heterosexual privilege and the inequalities of economic class, but has anyone ever studied the psychosocial effects of the name you inherit?!

But: we all come to live with our truths, and I’d never change being a Wille.

All these triggers, all these elemental details. All these haunting and defining motifs – these themes of a life. It’s rich stuff that wakes something inside us that brings our writing to life. Many of these stories from childhood are so deeply part of who we are. The flying carpet, the magic wardrobe, the talking animals, the little details we’ve forgotten or read differently as adults: they captured our imaginations as children, and they trigger our imaginations today.

I guess we could worry about copyright and the use of other people’s ideas, but hey: the school for wizards existed before Harry Potter, right?! So many of these stories are retellings, based on archetypes. The important thing is to make these ingredients our own, and to shape and express them in our own way.

Later you might want to explore this rich field further, but for now don’t overthink this task. Just reread the magical texts of your childhood with a notebook to hand, and see how you can relate various themes and details to your work today.

Where do your eyes and heart and mind take you, and how do you bring your findings back into your writing? How do they give you details or currents to work through in your drafting and revisions?

Further resources on archetypal stories, childhood reads and fairy tales
Library of Congress, Classic Children’s Books
Folktexts: A Library of Folktales, Folklore, Fairy Tales, and Mythology
Maria Tatar, ed., The Classic Fairy Tales
Jack Zipes, ed., The Great Fairy Tale Tradition
Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey
Victoria Lynn Schmidt, 45 Master Characters (my go-to reference for frameworks for balancing masculine vs feminine journeys in story)
Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves 
Liz Greene and Juliet Sharman-Burke, The Mythic Journey
Maureen Murdock, The Heroine’s Journey
Ursula Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction

If you are looking to buy any children’s books, I *highly* recommend The Alligator’s Mouth in Richmond (now able to fulfil online order requests in the UK). SUPPORT YOUR INDIE BOOKSHOPS! The book world relies on them.

Also check out Zoe Gilbert’s London Lit Lab workshops based on analysis of fairy tales and folklore.

Tulip Fever

This month I was going to make a thoughtful post/papal address – something topical on slow writing, or productivity, or how to crochet a big gay rug for lockdown dance parties in your big gay commune. But everyone is a poster/pope now, and there is so much guidance and advice and ‘content’ out there that we could spend a lifetime of quarantines just reading the index.

Also: though I am very good at slow writing, I am no expert on productivity – preacher, heal thyself, etc.

Also: someone beat me to the big gay rug.

So instead I am going to post a writing experiment inspired by something that’s far more important. Something that has been a real salve of late.

TULIPS. 

I love tulips. I love gardens and I love gardening. We have a tiny garden, and I fill its beds with ferns and shrubs, and I fill the gaps with pots, and I fill many of those pots with bulbs. And one day in spring you turn your head, and colour and texture and form are there where they weren’t before. Especially in the bold form of

TULIPS

I planted 345 tulip bulbs back in November/December, and every morning since early April I have gone out in the garden to check on their progress. Cruellest month, my arse; Eliot is as bad as Plath, who described a tulip as a ‘wound’ – insert Scream emoticon! Two misery-guts together, spectres with their mugs lurking above Anglo-American poetry.

Back to my tulips – not wounds, but salves, comforts, great joys. Just a few duds this year (a pot of Tulipa humilis Liliput that I fear I waterlogged). Otherwise: the tulips are a thesaurus of pinks and plums and oranges.

And their names! Some grand, some silly, some wtf. And each name belongs to its tulip – sometimes a perfect fit, sometimes a less comfortable description but an interesting combination all the same. Trusty Ballerina, fey Orange Angelique, lush Jan Reus – admire his crimson hues at the top of the page. Prinses Irene like a flirty divorcée, hunky Havran, seductive Paul Scherer the sales director. China Pink: spiky and funny and intelligent – a scientist, I suspect (see just above). Each has its own personality, profession, deepest yearnings.

Sometimes they talk about me behind my back while I’m drinking my tea, like these Ballerinas above.

Sometimes I have to break up fights – check out these Queens of the Night ganging up on a couple of those bitchy Ballerinas in the rain.

Some are flashy, and even when they are getting old and a bit crispy at the edges they love to show their drawers. They remind me of my nan. These above are called Burgundy, but they look mauve to me. Which just goes to show: appearances are deceiving. Also applies to my nan …

So far this year I’ve taken 236 photos of tulips on my iPhone. I keep them in a special album, which is why I, unlike Priti Patel, can provide accurate statistics. I’ve posted some others on my Instagram. Sometimes I feel I am overdoing it with the photos, but I guess that’s what photographers do – you just take pics until you are happy with one. And they make me very happy.

From the vantage of my hermitage, and after however many weeks it is (three, six, a Priti thirty-four), I’ve come to realise that dogs and plants and books are on the whole my preferred company.

In other tulip news, I broke the longest fast of book-buying in my life, and ordered myself a belated birthday present in the form of Anna Pavord’s The Tulip, which for some reason I never got round to reading before. I am glad I waited, as last year it came out in a sumptous twentieth-anniversary edition, and it is GORGEOUS. Tulips for year round – and for planning my pots for 2021, and beyond.

Anyway, at the risk of being a bit Let Them Eat Tulips: I want to use tulips for a writing experiment in which you create a story. This is what I propose:

1. Pick half a dozen of your favourite tulips. Use some of the inspirations listed in the links below. Or go out into your garden or to a florist and pick some yourself, if you can. Be drawn to their hues, their shapes, their names perhaps, and what they represent to you.

2. Write their names down the side of a piece of paper. (Leave space for working beside each one.)

3. Now put them to work. Sort these names out. Take notes. Some of the names will be characters. Some will be settings, either the names you give to places, or places you can take your story to. Some might be the names of random objects that will set your story in action. Some might have other resonances: themes, workplaces, ambitions, character flaws.

4. And now: put all of these names together into a story. I’m here thinking of Ursula Le Guin’s Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, where you put various ingredients into a container and then work out their connections: How do they describe themselves, and how do others see them? What are their deepest yearnings, and their inner conflicts, and how do these create tensions among the group? How do they sit in each other’s company, and what do they give or take from each other? What part of the world are they in? What story do they have to tell?

Then write it up. You can change names later, if the tulip names seem a little too peculiar for the story you end up with. Or you might just want to create tulippy variants.

Have fun with this. It is often a good idea to start with a name, and then just let your imagination go wild. You could ever do variations with the names of other plants: types of roses, the brassy monikers of heucheras, cultivars of apples. Or extend this idea to other catalogues: the names of yoga poses or cars, or product names from Ikea.

If you want some inspirations for tulip names, though, try some of the following links and departure points (excuse us, Black Knight and Don Quichotte!):

* The tulip pages at Avon Bulbs (my favourite supplier)

* Elegant Tulip Bulbs (new to me, but this site apparently lists over 3,700 tulip names – can’t be true, or can it?! you might have to Google some of the images)

* Other garden catalogues – Parker’s, Sarah Raven, Jacques Amand

* Arthur Parkinson’s Instagram

* Forde Abbey on Instagram

* The RHS

* Annie Proulx, whose use of names for characters and places is astonishing. Absurd, even, but I’m not complaining. Jack Twist, Lightning Flat, Brokeback Mountain, Quoyle, Petal Bear, Dakotah, Charles Duquet. Some of those could be tulip names.

* Google

* And not tulip but ever so colourful – if you really want to crochet that rug: Artist Fritz Haeg on How to Make a Rug from Materials in Your Home

And now farewells, from Orange Angelique …

… Black Night, Don Quichotte, China Pink, Havran, and Barcelona … and …

… probably my fave of all, lusty Jan Reus.

We’ll be welcoming in the summer by then, but note that I am teaching an online workshop on Perfect Plotting for The Literary Consultancy via Zoom on Wednesday 24 June at 4-6pm – more details at this link.

And I am planning other online workshops too. Subscribe to my blog for further information when it’s ready.

 

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction (and Life)

I’m interested in ideas about story that deviate from the usual nagging about conflict – ‘Where’s the conflict?’ ‘This narrative arc lacks conflict’ etc., etc. The idea of conflict works well for many books, and especially for the visual media of films and plays. But too conflict can account for an awful lot of formulaic writing. I often raise this matter in workshops, quoting St Ursula from her classic writing guide Steering the Craft.

Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing. Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing.

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction is an essay by Ursula Le Guin that explores some of these ideas in more detail. It has recently been republished in a bijou volume by Ignota Books. Le Guin posits that ‘the novel is a fundamentally unheroic kind of story’, even if the hero has frequently taken it over. She critiques the linear ‘Time’s-(killing)-arrow mode of the Techno-Heroic’ where fiction is embodied as ‘triumphant (Man conquers earth, space, aliens, death, the future, etc.) and tragic (apocalypse, holocaust, then or now)’.

For Le Guin, that sort of story is represented by weapons – ‘long, hard objects for sticking, bashing, and killing’. The killer story.

Instead, Le Guin proposes a different object to represent the novel, and opens a space to discuss a different type of story: the life story.

The daughter of eminent anthropologists, Le Guin draws on the idea that the earliest cultural invention was a container that held items that had been gathered: ‘A leaf a gourd a shell a net a bag a sling a sack a bottle a pot a box a container. A holder. A recipient.’ The mammoth hunters might ‘spectacularly occupy’ cave paintings, but in reality it was the gatherers of seeds and nuts and leaves and berries who provided most of the food consumed in prehistoric times (they worked less hard than we do today, apparently). Thus we reach the Carrier Bag Theory:

A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us.

And working out the nature of the things held in that container often relies on something other than resolving conflicts, or even finding them in the first place. This container (or life story) can be ‘full of beginnings without ends, of initiations, of losses, of transformations and translations, and far more tricks than conflicts, far fewer triumphs than snares and delusions; full of space ships that get stuck, missions that fail, and people who don’t understand’. For writers, negotiating the nature of those relationships within the life story often forces us to dig deeper in the writing, drawing out greater feeling and purpose as we interrogate connections.

I relate this to something Ocean Vuong says in a 2019 podcast, where he is critical of the dominance of conflict-driven plots in the conventions of creative writing:

The way we move through the world … tension and drama happen simply by proximity. The way chemistry works, you have oxygen and hydrogen: fine on their own. Put them side by side and all of a sudden: water.

I often prefer to look for tension rather than conflict in writing – a subtle difference, I feel. The tension of anticipation: what’s coming out of the bag next? The tension of loss: how will what’s left behind adapt when we take something out of the container? The tension of newness: what happens when we add something to our bag of tricks? 

Such questions are, I feel, often more interesting and sustaining than asking who’s fighting who, or demanding an inner conflict. Warfare is soooo 20th century, after all, and don’t we have enough neurosis already – do we really need to add more?!

I jest – but only a little. Conflicts and inner turmoil are the substance of many of our stories. I’m just inclined to think they are often not enough, and that we emphasise conflict at the expense of other things and at the risk of creating further conflict in the world.

My friend Bhanu Kapil gave me a copy of Carrier Bag Theory as a gift as we sat in the café in Foyle’s on Charing Cross Road just after Christmas; what a different world that now seems! This great epic we currently find ourselves in – a vast public health crisis with the potential for economic calamity – could be framed as a war against a virus, and certain politicians and pointless rentagobs are certainly playing to type as their first close-minded response is to cast blame at other politicians or at people from other countries. 

But in truth, isn’t the best resolution to such a crisis not one based in conflict but one that relies on cooperation? See Roosevelt’s New Deal in the US in the 1930s. See the foundation of the United Nations after the Second World War. See the foundation of the National Health Service in the postwar era. See the GI Bill. See the ingenuity and expertise of scientists collaborating in the creation of a vaccine. See the sacrifice and public-spiritedness of health workers and supermarket staff and community volunteers. These are not stories whose primary drive is conflict. These stories have a utopian impulse, and require kindness and openness and truth (and certainly not spin or lies). These stories require imagination.

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction is a short book, and the Ignota edition adds a scintillating preface from the publishers Sarah Shin and Ben Vickers, as well as illustrations. It also has French flaps! (We love French flaps.) It also includes a thought-provoking introduction by cultural theorist Donna Haraway, who tells the stories of three bags she has brought back from a trip to Colombia. One is embroidered, one is intricately knotted, one is crocheted, and all three carry the stories of the activists and artists and environmental campaigners and craftswomen she met there. For Haraway, each of these bags ‘grows from, and demands a response to, the urgent questions about how to tell stories that can help remake history for the kinds of living and dying that deserve thick presents and rich futures’.

Ursula Le Guin has touched on these ideas in several essays gathered in the collection Dancing at the Edge of the World, which is where I first read ‘Carrier Bag Theory’ (and thanks to Ignota for sending me back there). One very short essay, simply called ‘Conflict’, is critical of the ‘gladiatorial view of fiction’, and finds Le Guin asking us to locate the conflict in EM Forster’s classic definition of plot: ‘The King died and then the Queen died of grief’. She even questions whether the plot of War and Peace ‘can be in any useful or meaningful way reduced to “conflict,” or a series of “conflicts”?’

Another essay, ‘Heroes’, takes Le Guin’s critique of the conventions of heroism and heroic stories further. As the author of one of the greatest pieces of winter literature – the trek across the ice in The Left Hand of Darkness – Le Guin has long been fascinated by accounts of Antarctic exploration. But then she comes across an entry from Shackleton’s diary – ‘Man can only do his best. The strongest faces of Nature are arrayed against us’ – and she startles herself with an instinctive reaction: ‘Oh, what nonsense!’ 

What is false is the military image; what is foolish is the egoism; what is pernicious is the identification of ‘Nature’ as enemy … Nobody, nothing, ‘arrayed’ any ‘forces’ against Shackleton except Shackleton himself. He created an obstacle to conquer or an enemy to attack; attacked; and was defeated – by what? By himself, having himself created the situation in which his defeat could occur.

Plenty of stories have conflict to the max. I love looking at the Hero’s Journey. And I love horror movies and westerns and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the tortured psychodramas of Tennessee Williams.

But sometimes we need more than goodies and baddies, or triumph and defeat – not least as in someone’s defeat lies resentment and the seeds of future conflict.

We need life stories, as well as killer stories. We need truths. In storytelling, conflict is not enough.

 

Related posts and further reading/listening

Plotting: Conflict, Complication, Curiosity, and Connection  

Only Connect

Ursula Le Guin: Steering the Craft – interviewed by David Naimon for the Between the Covers podcast

The Worlds of Ursula Le Guin – tv documentary (on BBC iPlayer while/if you can get it)

Great Lives: Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin at 85

Ursula Le Guin at 80

A Novel is a Dark Bundle by Abi Andrews

Towards a Carrier Bag Theory of Videogames by Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

 

Water Workshop at Cambridge University

This week I taught a workshop at Cambridge University’s Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio as part of Bhanu Kapil’s workshop cycle on Water, which forms a natural overlap with my own sequence of classes on the Four Elements.

I introduced the idea of the Four Elements as an alternative to binary ways of looking at writing (and the world – let’s be ambitious). And then we considered Water for its associations with feelings, which can so often be out of balance in writing. We listened to a passage from Annie Proulx’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’, and through close readings identified aspects of craft that brought a particular emotional charge to that scene. We also read aloud from Joe Brainard’s I Remember, and discussed how memory can activate feeling through specific associations.

And then, after giving ourselves watery workshop names (including Pebble, Fleet, Kelp, Great White Shark, Newt, and Goddess of the Eels and Wrong Fishes), we did some contemplative drawing exercises and wrote some powerful I Remembers of our own.

What was special about this class was that it took place in the Judith E. Wilson Studio – we had watery props, and communed with a manatee! And we had lighting: I’ve not considered so deeply before how classroom lighting might affect how we write or how I teach, and it was a real treat to be working in such a shadowy turquoise space; it was like writing on the ocean floor. It reminds me of an exercise suggested in Elaine Showalter’s Teaching Literature where she tasks students of Victorian literature to write by candlelight – such a simple idea, yet one with the potential for profound shifts in what we create. Thanks to Lorraine Carver from the English department for making this possible.

Thanks also to everyone who came for joining in so fully, and special thanks to Bhanu Kapil for hosting this workshop; the whole series of classes sounds rich and imaginative. Cambridge is one of my favourite cities, and it was a real pleasure to be teaching there.

I also saw the sacred lawns dug up by Extinction Rebellion, eek! See below. As a gardener, I was probably unconvinced … though as a teacher I’m thinking ahead to my next workshop on 21 March, when we shall mark the equinox with the WRites of Spring at Earth Works (shovels not required).