Here towards the end of the summer break comes a post with info on writing and creativity workshops I’m leading in the autumn:
* Saturday 28 September, 9.45am-5pm
Everyday Magic: The Four Elements of Creativity, at London Bridge Hive, in conjunction with Words Away
* Sunday 13 October 2019, 2pm-5pm
Food: Bigger Than The Page, at the Victoria & Albert Museum
* Saturday 9 November, 9.45am-5pm
Finding Your Fire: A Four Elements Workshop on Theme and Voice, at London Bridge Hive, in conjunction with Words Away
You can follow the links above for further information plus booking details (and early bird rates for Words Away workshops), but here is a little more background on each of them.
First, I’m very excited to be teaching at the V&A for the first time. The 13 October workshop is inspired by a truly innovative and highly recommended V&A exhibition called Food: Bigger Than The Plate.
I’m not sure the writing experiments we’ll be doing will be as wild as some of exhibits you’ll find there (communicate with a tomato! coffee cups made from … coffee grinds! plant pots made of … cow shit!) – but we can try. We’ll consider some of its themes of composting and trading and cooking, and we’ll pay particular attention to food for its symbolism, and its ability to evoke the senses, and its power to conjure up memories. Food can play a central role in many types of writing – not just cookbooks and food writing, but fiction and poetry and memoir and film and stage. Fancy a madeleine?!
Oh: and the V&A classroom is AMAZING. Not that that is the only lure, of course.
I’m also excited to be working with Kellie Jackson of Words Away once more. We’ve worked together before, and I think we are a good team. On 28 September, we are revisiting Everyday Magic, the workshop based on the Four Elements I’ve run several times before. And later in the autumn and then into the winter, spring, and summer I am expanding this into four entirely new workshops devoted to each of the elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Air.
I developed Four Elements workshops as, in my work as a book doctor and editor, I find that one of the greatest hurdles for writers is overthinking. This shows up in any number of ways that can lead us away from the act of creation: cluttered prose, procrastination, self-consciousness, neurosis, comparison, destructive self-criticism. Writers often need to get out of their heads, and their own way.
With that in mind, Four Elements workshops invite writers to gain fresh (and less overthought?) perspectives on writing: its energy (Fire), its emotional qualities (Water), and its ability to conjure up the material world (Earth). And then we return to thinking about writing with greater clarity and focus (Air). Working holistically and symbolically, we can expand our sense of what our writing can be.
My inspirations and touchstones for these workshops are varied: tarot, Jungian archetypes, meditation, contemplative approaches to learning I encountered at Naropa, inspiring teachers such as Lynda Barry and Natalie Goldberg and Bobbie Louise Hawkins and Jack Collom and Austin Kleon. Also: reading. I do plenty of reading, and I’m always thinking about the Four Elements as I read. I usually assign short reading and writing assignments to be completed before class so we have a common foundation for our discussions and activities. Our readings nearly always include, among others, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ by Annie Proulx; it’s only 10,000 words, so everyone has chance to have read it, but it gives us so much to talk about. And it’s such an awesomely good story.
So we shall be looking at craft, using examples from the readings, but we mostly shall try to avoid getting too schoolroom about such matters; lots of writing courses focus on technical aspects of writing, including our own series of masterclasses, and one of the aims of Four Elements is to find different routes into writing that are intuitive and avoid over-intellectualising. So, for example, we shall seek out the fire in a piece of writing, and use that lens to consider and feel how that energy is achieved – particularly through doing writing ourselves. There will be plenty of prompts and writing experiments to try in class and to take home.
The four new Four Elements workshops will also feature sessions led by guest gurus whose work in various fields in the arts invites further perspectives on creativity. We hope to have a firestarter from the world of theatre coming along on 9 November, and then poets and other artists coming to other workshops later.
The workshops are interactive; it’s always valuable to hear what other writers have to bring to our discussions, and I never fail to leave a class brimming with fresh ideas people have raised, as well as, e.g., lots of reading recommendations. There’s always something new to learn. And we get a great variety of people coming along: published writers and absolute beginners (no such thing!), and everyone in between; fiction writers, journalists, poets, writers of nonfiction, screenwriters, people trying new forms, other types of artist.
Each workshop stands alone – Everyday Magic (28 September) serves as an overview or an introduction, but it’s not essential to taking one of the other Four Elements workshops, and you can sign up for any as you wish, as they are designed to be self-contained. We continue with Finding Your Fire (9 November), when we will explore ways to bring energy into our writing and our practice, and pay particular attention to theme and voice as well as the symbolism of Fire. We’ll follow with (titles tbc):
Feeling Your Way: Water – emotion, tone and perspective (January tbc)
Grounded in Action: Earth – character, action and description (March tbc)
Clear Thinking: Air – symbol, structure and form (May tbc)
And in June we hope to repeat the successful masterclass The Craft of Revising, which is a daylong intensive on self-editing and revision.
And meanwhile I hope you have had productive summers. I feel very smug, as without planning to do so I read War and Peace. And yes, it can be read in ten days (I was on holiday, mind). I very much enjoyed the Anthony Briggs translation – have to mention that, as I dipped into others, and though I gather it’s not for purists I found this translation the most fleet in the reading.
I so often make new year resolutions to read X or Y (this year it was more sf and fantasy, um), but I always end up feeling I’ve let myself down. But this summer I read War and Peace! And it is GREAT. Now, 1,400 big hardback pages later, I understand the raves. And, too, I FINALLY read Portrait of a Lady and David Copperfield too – both as audiobooks, in fact.
I hope to see some of you later in the autumn – at workshops, or at other events such as Words Away salons.
Meanwhile, back to the garden, where I’ve also been busy this week. Chrysanthemums always welcome the autumn, don’t they?