Archive for September, 2010

Today was my first Fiction Workshop, which was two hours of discussion about three people’s stories.

Birmingham Writers’ Group do Anonymous Manuscripts sessions, when unnamed manuscripts are circulated in advance of a meeting, and the pieces are discussed without knowing who wrote it. A lot of submitters would write a small paragraph at the beginning, stating what type of work it was (short story, novel chapter, etc) and asking any specific questions they might have, such as whether the narrative voice was strong enough, if BWG members could recommend any submission locations, or even how a story should end. I thought this was a useful addition to the process, but this course has a different approach.

The writer isn’t allowed to ask any specific questions about what they want the readers to look for when they’re reading. While the piece is being discussed, the writer is not to talk or defend their work. As I said in my last post, they want the reader to ‘go in cold’.

To me, this makes complete sense now. The tutor said that in the future of that piece, you will never be able to say to a reader or editor “no, but you see, you don’t get it – that bit means….” etc. I.e. a piece of writing needs to stand alone for the reader as well as the writer. What do you think to that?

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The course starts on Tuesday. Well, officially tomorrow, but my first lesson is on Tuesday.

The structure of the course is interesting; we have a two-hour Fiction Workshop weekly, when three members of the group circulate their work in advance, and those pieces are discussed in the workshop.

In the induction meeting, I asked whether it is helpful to give information when we submit work; should we specify if our submissions are short stories or part of a novel, and if the latter, which part? And surely it would be helpful to supply a synopsis of the novel if that is the case, to aid understanding and context? And if we’re looking for specific considerations, can we ask about those: is the tense right, and point of view, and is it a short story, or in fact the beginning of a longer piece? But the answer was no, the tutors think it best if the workshop readers ‘go in cold’ and aren’t guided in their criticism in any way.

To some extent, I think that makes sense. An unbiased reading is best. But sometimes it does help if someone can read a piece with a specific question in mind. But the tutors know best.

Alongside the Fiction Workshop, we also have a Creative Writing Seminar, which I believe will be a more theoretical session on writing. This will be exciting, I think. A lot of preparatory reading necessary throughout the week.

And finally, there is a Literature Option each semester, and we have a weekly lesson for that, which also requires a lot of preparatory reading.

As a bonus, nearly every other week there is a guest speaker who comes to discuss their work. In semester one, these guests will be predominantly writers, and in semester two the theme develops wider, into publishing and the wider implications of writing.

I’m so pleased to be here. And I love Scotland.

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For now, I’m living alone in Edinburgh. There are a lot of observations to make about this style of living, the first of which is this:

I can’t seem to settle into one single task or pastime. When I’m watching a film, I wonder whether I should be reading a book instead. When I’m reading  a book, I realise I should maybe check my emails. When I’m checking my emails, watching a film seems like a good idea. It’s taken me all week to get two hours into Gone with the Wind. Seriously – I’m watching it in 20-minute chunks,and not on purpose.

This type of flightiness has always been part of me, but when I’m alone it’s magnified. I suppose this is because there’s no one else around to encourage me or motivate me to stick with just one thing. I’m sure I’ll calm down as time passes, and begin to just enjoy what I’m doing at the time.

Soon, I need to do some writing. And that’s one of the only things which can actually absorb me totally for hours.

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