Writing Workshop Gladstone Pottery Museum

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Writing Workshop Sunday 8th September

Elisia Green and I ran a workshop as part of a weekend of workshops at the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent. It is a lovely venue to work at, a Victorian pottery with the bottle kilns and work areas beautifully preserved, well worth a visit if you are coming to the Potteries.

Our two hour afternoon workshop Using your own experience as a basis for fiction, followed a morning workshop on Short Stories run by Peter and Jan from Renegades. It was based on one I have done a few times and consists of a series of practical exercises that work on many levels.

We had 13 people attending, a couple of who were ‘new’ writers and others with plenty of experience. That is a perfect number, too few and there is no variety, more then there is no time to read out and discuss.

Instead of handing out notes I have put together what took place with a couple of the writing examples in this blog.

It’s not a devastating revolution in writing workshops, but useful exercises at whatever level of writing you participate in and a way of seeing through different ‘eyes’. If it is any use to you please use the workshop for others.

  • We began by sharing one word to sum ourselves up, which I wrote down. I used ‘Arrogant’ for me. Each person came up with a different word, and we made use of them later. (Interestingly when a few years ago I worked with a room of nearly 150 writers, where they had to write their ‘defining’ word down and someone else read it out, there were no two words the same. I used ‘Saviour’ that day!).
  • After a short discussion about what sort of experiences to use, why writers use their own lives and some examples of novels closely based on people’s own lives we set forth.
  • Exercise 1 – Write down in no more than about five or six lines each, three events in your life – (births, wedding, first day at school banned!).
  • I read the following example (if you convene this workshop it is worth bringing examples):

I was 6, on holiday with the family at our caravan. I was playing with the caravan tow gear which was painted silver and solid. Suddenly the pin dropped and chopped the end of my finger off. I ran inside and held my hand up to my mother blood going everywhere. My brother fainted. I was taken to the hospital and remember the glass cabinets full of shining knives and operating instruments. I can still remember the feeling of sewing back the pieces of my finger.

  • One of the participants Sue wrote:

I went cycling last week. We took the bikes to the coast the head wind was cold and strong. Cycling against the wind. What a waste! Those coming the other way had the wind with them. Easy.

  • Exercise 2 – Rewrite one of the stories as if happening now, first person present continuous tense (I think!). Rather like from one of those point of view computer games or films .
  • My example was:  

A big gun, that’s what it is, a big gun. Need to move this push this a bit; it’s stiff. Better get both hands at it. Painted up, bang it a bit and push from the bottom. Ooh that’s hard, c’mon shift, need to move that to make it work. Ahhh. Blood. That’s blood, darker colour than I thought. That hurts, that hurts. Shooting pain up my arm. Better see mummy, she’ll know what to do. I’m probably in trouble, she’ll tell me off, daddy will be really annoyed, perhaps she won’t tell him. ‘Mummy, look what I’ve done, I’ve made  a mess all over my shorts’.

  • Some of the group read their pieces out. Sue’s was:

Hot and cold in patches, warm where your legs burn, round and round. Cold where the wind catches, head down. Bum out. And your hair flying across your eyes. Eyes that leak salt – blown away. A force that pushes, biking into cold jelly. What’s that you say? Should have come the other way.

  • Exercise 3 – Rewrite the story as if someone else not involved is watching the events happening, Elisia came up with a good phrase – ‘A witness to the event’.
  • My example was:

“What’s that lads’ name Ida?”

“Which lad?”

“You know, the little one, blonde curly hair… the old fashioned sky blue caravan at top of site. Think they come from Stoke. Always seem a bit stuck up to me”

“Who? Oh yes I know who you mean. Seem a nice family, always say hello. Now what’s his name… Christopher… or is it James? No, no I remember, Timothy, yes Timothy”

“Bloody posh name, think they’re better than us…”

“Why you asking Jim?”

“Well he’s just hurt himself playing round with the tow hook, blood everywhere… look all up to the window, a right mess”
“Oh dear Jim! Oh dear, we ought to help, they don’t have a car. He’ll need to go the hospital poor little man. Go go see if they need a lift Jim”

“I’m not getting my car covered in blood, bloody good leather that. No, let ‘em sort it, don’t get involved that’s what I say Ida… Don’t get involved and let ‘em look after themselves. I’ll close the curtains so they don’t come askin’…”

  • Sue’s exercise was:

They parked, I’m sure it was over the line. Right next to me it was and the shouting and clanking – I couldn’t hear the news. The robins flew away, but they don’t care, no. Unloading great hulking bits of iron – are they fly-tipping? No. It’s bikes – they are standing them up by the tree. Can’t keep to their own space can they? Quite puts me off my tea… oops the flask cup is shaking on the dashboard as their doors bang. Crumbs on the floor, I’m going to have to get the vac out. Silly hats! Off you go. Why they have to treat the countryside like a gym I don’t know. Thank goodness for that, they’ve gone; a bit of P & Q and a little drop of the hard stuff in me tea to calm me down I think…. Oh no! Here’s some more and they’ve got a dog.

  • Exercise 4 – Change the ‘nature’ of the person involved, writing the story from a different emotional point of view. So using the word they had come up with at the start, choose one of the other words. For instance if they were ‘quiet’ then write as an ‘outgoing’ viewpoint. This worked ok, but maybe needed more time and discussion between the participants.
  • People appeared to get a lot from this workshop, and found that they were able to disassociate themselves from the events, but still able to use what they knew, which were the reactions of others, of the ‘character’, smells, feelings and so forth.
  • If anyone who attended wishes to add their exercises to this please send them to me and I will update the blog.

The photograph is of the group busily writing!

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