I Remember York (2013)


I remember the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing 2013.

I remember it was Friday the 13th.

I remember the quiet carriage.

I remember people crowding on to the train before most of us had got off.

I remember sun, and rain, and going back for an umbrella.

I remember bunting, and a loving balloon. Well, I think it was a balloon.

I remember little chunks of coffee cake. I had one with Saturday’s lunch, but two on Sunday.

I remember using Windows again. It looked different, and improved. I actually felt a little bit jealous.

I remember losing my voice.

I remember a very kind glass of water.

I remember a very nice glass of champagne.

I remember my English teacher Mrs Blakemore used to mark us down if we used the word ‘nice’ in a sentence. Yes, we have to be concrete and specific in our word choices, but sometimes an often-used word is just right.

I remember Harry (in sunglasses), and Beth and Tom (not in sunglasses). Ah!

I remember being called a recovering publisher.

I remember channelling my inner Sharon Osbourne. ‘You go, girl!’ (I wish I’d had the balls actually to say that.)

I remember, the next morning, discovering I’d left the label on the sleeve of my new jacket as I sat on a stage in front of hundreds of people. And they were writers, so they could read, and what they could read was Marks and Spencer Sartorial. (And who knew I’d end up in Marks and Spencer Blue Harbour so soon.)

I remember not remembering if I’d worn these boxer shorts before :/ Sniff, sniff.

I remember my opinion of literary agents rising.

I remember saying that ‘Opinion is the death of thinking’ is a very elegant sentence, illustrating, for any number of good reasons, how to balance noun and verb forms in your writing.

I remember saying how ‘Opinion is the death of thinking’ is an important sentiment for a divided world.

I remember being very opinionated.

I remember saying The Slap is a book that must be read; you must overcome your prejudices against its (apparent) prejudices, because the prejudices are critiquing prejudice, not prejudices in themselves. And if you can’t see that, maybe you should stick to reading the Farrow & Ball colour chart.

I remember telling any number of writers it might be best not to open their novels with that cliché of someone waking (especially from a dream).

I then remember remembering that The Slap opens with someone waking up. But at least its very first page has a fart under the sheets and some very spicy language.

I remember realising I was ranting when I was rattling on about the deficiencies of the learning and teaching of writing in British schools and universities. Oops!

I remember thinking that sometimes people’s written stories only really come to life when they are talking about them (and by that I mean talking conversationally, not delivering some worried-about pitch).

I remember repeating that mantra that you should trust your natural speaking voice. Sometimes those sentences that you speak aloud are the ones that need to go down on the page. ‘I used to work in Jarrow, and my office looked down on the street where Catherine Cookson used to live.’

I remember telling people to write I remembers.

I remember widely recommending Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin and Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.

I remember telling people that their writing is an act of giving to a reader. When do you give, when do you hold back?

I remember needing extra chairs and handouts.

I remember not having time to get to the tightening and brightening exercise. One to finish at home. (No Right Answers, just variations on a theme.)

I remember knowing I must have been snoring, and hoping my neighbours never noticed. Halls of residences have very thin walls.

I remember thinking that York University students must be very thin, because their showerheads are very close to the walls (like, two inches away).

I remember porridge, and prunes.

I remember a robot, mothers, teachers, detectives, an engineer, a creepy neighbour, and an abbot who bangs his fist on the table.

I remember the Weimar Republic, Ireland, Africa, the Lebanon, the 70s, rings, sewers, a tsunami, a prison.

I remember listening with mother, great-grandchildren, dogs, teachers, divorces, a doctor, a New Zealander, the Olympic stadium in Berlin.

I remember Yorkshirewomen, more dogs, four cats and a doctor, a lorry driver, a costume shop, Australians, self-publishers, and a Black Country accent stronger than my own.

I remember even more dogs, and lovely dog-lovers, and an apparently grateful whippet (dogs really can communicate, you know – especially with their eyes).

I remember loving dog-people, and realising they’re probably even stranger than cat-people.

I remember thinking that I love the job of working with writers because you meet so many colourful, sweet, funny, crazy-assed people, and hear so many colourful, sweet, funny, crazy-assed and very moving stories.

I thank all those people for sharing so much.

I remember marking dates in my diary for 2014.


PS I will remember to post links and other info from the workshops later in the week. (Update: I did remember, eventually, but did forget some things I needed to add later. But here are my notes on York as well as notes on the book doctor one-on-ones, and here also is a Friday Writing Experiment from last year introducing variations on the idea of ‘I Remember’. And all credit to Joe Brainard and his own ‘I Remember’, now in its own very handsome UK edition.)

24 thoughts on “I Remember York (2013)

  1. I remember really embarrassingly not recognising you because my brain was focusing on not being able to find anyone to setup my tech stuff for the mini-course I was about to do. OF COURSE I KNOW WHO YOU ARE! *face palm* Sorry!

  2. No worries, Nicola! I remember my brain going into tech-panic meltdowns just about every time I set up any workshop or seminar. One day I hope to make time in my own schedule so I can hear you speak or attend one of your courses. Are you doing any events in London any time soon?

    • Well, I’m doing a teenage brain one called Understanding Teenagers, (which is not about teenagers being understanding), but I don’t think that’s the kind of course you mean! I’d also love to go to one of yours – I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never been to a creative writing workshop and I’d love to. Maybe see you in York next year. If I’m invited.

      • Oh wow, that sounds really interesting … Will have to recommend to my sister, who is pastoral care manager in our old school (in the West Midlands). I’m currently watching Educating Yorkshire and getting something of an insight into the nitty-gritty of her job day to day. [Eyes get wider and wider.]

        And creative writing workshops … Of course, do we need creative writing workshops in order (1) to write and (2) to get published. Clearly not, judging by your success! But they can be an awful lot of fun, and energising. I remember going to my first workshop, when I started at Naropa. Terrifying! Here was I, (not so) serious editor with experience in publishing. And here were all these hippies writing poems. Actually, I take that back, because there were lots of other people: park rangers and linguists and psychologists and innkeepers. I learned a lot. And I had to do a lot of unlearning.

        The fun is the best bit, tho.

  3. And I N/i>remember, red-faced belatedly, that all the handouts you gave me are still stuffed, unread, into the yellow plastic folder along with everything else I’ve yet to look at. But having come to your ‘how to write a sentence’ with more than a degree of grumpiness (I eschewed grammar at grammar school because its complexities confused me) I left empowered. Thank you.

    • I don’t remember getting any grammar at school, at least in English. (And I don’t think German grammar is always useful – we don’t have to order time/manner/place in our sentences, I’m glad to say.)
      I remember rediscovering the joys of grammar as an adult (only quite recently, actually). It’s an ongoing progress, and I love the great clarity that it brings to my otherwise instinctive understanding of writing.
      I remember thinking I use too many handouts …

  4. I remember bursting into tears because I’d muddled the times of my 1-2-1 slots – and you very kindly adding me to the end of your list for the day so I could still see you. 🙂

  5. I remember the train leaving from Stevenage, galloping up a grey spine of track convinced that having a rear-facing seat was an omen of doom.
    I remember meeting the strong Brummie accent at the station who’d come to collect me, and feeling a tiny bit braver.
    I remember remembering the room from last year, and feeling as if I had come home and that it might be all right if I were brave.
    I remember being brave.
    I remember a one to one where I realised just exactly what I was writing about and why, and having a rush of energy hit me to hard to go and write that instant, that I barely remembered I had to talk to two agents next.
    I remember my heart beating.
    I remember crying at Harry’s film.
    I remember going home, but feeling I was leaving home at the same time.
    Thanks for being part of my York.

    • I remember my first book doctor slot. Thanks for being a friendly face.
      I remember Berlin, and a … (oh, it’s your story, and I shouldn’t give anything away! but I love the image and the very specific action that opening contains).
      I remember rear-facing seats always making me feel as if I’m travelling backwards in time.

  6. I remember being told that my writing can feel a little overcooked.
    I remember how discouraged I was at the time.
    I remember SJ Bolton’s farewell speech, how it made me realise that good writing can be achieved! Thank you Andrew for your advice.

    • I remember someone looking quite serious as I gave her feedback. I remembering hoping she wasn’t too discouraged, but then she told me she’d not been writing for long, and I remember thinking, ‘Great, get ’em while they’re young.’
      I remember her demon, and the desert, and Harold Shipman on the telly.
      I remember North Greenwich station.
      I remember those details, and they are real things to build on. (Hey, I read a lot last week, so it’s pretty good that these details stuck out for me, right?!)
      Thank you, Gina, for your story (I think the concept certainly has potential) – and YES, good writing is a goal ahoy. I really recommend for you STEERING THE CRAFT by Ursula Le Guin but also I think you might find WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie GOldberg super-inspiring.

    • Actually, I remembered wrongly. I now remember correctly that I had one bit of coffee cake on the Saturday, and one bit of coffee cake and one bit of Victoria sponge on the Sunday.

      But fiction is better than truth, hey?!

      (And if you missed the cake, I remember that last year at York I did not realise that there was a hot buffet as well as salad on the Friday night, so I remember eating mostly potato salad that evening.)

  7. Pingback: Seminar etiquette: York Festival of Writing 2013 | isabelrogers.org

  8. I remember raising my hand sheepishly when someone asked how many of us were writing in the present tense and then how he told us we must be high. I remember wishing I’d got that advice 3 or 4 years ago and then thinking oh well, if Hilary can do it… denial is very important for a writer.

    • Hilary does it so well! Actually, a lot of good books use present tense – or variations on it, e.g., diaries that recap at the end of a day’s events – that’s a sort of cheating present tense, I think, but very effective and gets the best of both worlds, as the narrating permits slides between past and present, and all the perspectives the narrator’s stance allows. See: Bridget Jones or Notes On A Scandal.

      Deny, deny! And hold the faith.

  9. Pingback: I Remember | Isabel Costello

Leave a Reply to So marvellous. I actually looked at this before but thought it was just a caption for the sweet looking dog. Then scrolled down just now and there were masses of amazing, bursting I remembers on a spectrum of bodily, lived and communal life that was: a tr Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *