The second week of the British Council's City of Stories workshops was lead by author Ardashir Vakil, whose first novel Beach Boy won a Betty Trask Award in 1997 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread (now Costa). His second novel One Day was shortlisted for the Encore Award. (Sadly, neither novel was available in the local bookshops.) Ardu teaches creative writing at Goldsmith's College, London.
We were worked pretty hard throughout, with plenty more tasks and readings to keep us busy in between.
We did more exercises to develop character : we took a character from our fiction and described them ravenous with hunger for a particualr food, and then wrote about the last time they had eaten it; we placed our character in a room and described it ,and then wrote about a place where they would like to be; we described their favourite object. We wrote about who we were (Me? A brit dispalced ... a neither here nor there person ... too big, too loud too messy.)
We put stories under the microscope to see how they worked : The Kiss by Chekhov, in which a man's life is changed by a single kiss a mistake in the darkness and Jumpha Lahiri's Sexy (from The Interpreter of Maladies). We saw how economically character can be brought to life in one or two telling details, and at how so much meaning can be carried in just a few words. ("Less is More" was one of the mantras of the workshops.)
And we looked at a much more complex and skillfully handled story, Five Points by Alice Munro, we looked at shifts of time and how transitions were made. (And now I realise what a bad reader of Munro's work I have been. You can't hurry them, need to read and reread, and tease them out.)
We spent all day Saturday workshopping pieces of our own writing. It was done kindly and everyone I think took something very useful away from from the experience.
And one of the most fun things we did on Sunday was to go down to Petaling Street, to watch the crowds and record the things our senses took in.
(We sat down to write wherever we could ... and of course a nice beer helped!)
We had to make notes on one particular character who we could use later for our fiction. (I met this fascinating guy called Jack who was selling bamboo whistles from his motorcyle tricycle.)
We came back to the British Council to share pieces of writing that had inspired us and pieces of writing from our notebooks which we had written over the previous few days.
I'm sad that the whole thing is over - I've come away from the experience feeling re-enthused and validated, and I feel I know how to move forward with the pieces I shared.
My greatest wish is that we could have more workshops of this kind so that more local writers can benefit. My greatest thanks to Ardu and Sarah and to the British Council for providing us with this opportunity - I feel mighty privileged to have been part of it.
Do read Damyanti's excellent take on the two workshops too. She fills in the gaps and says all the things I forgot to say.