Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Writing and Place

Now I have to transmute scribbled jottings in notebooks, my souvenir from three straight days at the British Council's City of Stories creative writing workshops, into something coherent for my blog. I promised to share what I learned with other folks not lucky enough to get into my workshops, while other participants have said that they will be writing theirs. If you would like to write something and don't have a blog - well, I have this space you could use! If you do blog an entry, I will be happy to link to you. (Let's shaaaaare!)

Sarah Butler's Friday workshop Writing & Place began with a quick warmer. We interviewed a partner and found out about their favourite place. Then we had to write down 2 things we loved about KL, two things we hated. We read them back around the group, alternating between the positives and negatives and Sarah said that just from that she got a very good impression of the city and what it was like to live here.

We went on to think about our relationship to place. We wrote a description of a place that used to frighten us as a child. (For me it was a chance to revisit the carillon bell tower in Loughborough ... a place I still have nightmares about.)

We then looked at how other writers had described place and in groups looked at three extracts - Arundhati Roy's description of May in Ayemenen from The God of Small Things, Dicken's description of the fog from Bleak House, and an extract from The Hiding Place by Theresa Azzopardi. An interesting whole group discussion on the such factors as use of detail, style, rhythm followed, and the group was pretty much divided as to whether we preferred the richness and piled up images of Roy and Dickens, or the more pared down directness of Azzopardi.

We moved on to an exercise I liked so much I must definitely steal it for my own classes. Everyone wrote down the name of a (fairly specific) place on a piece of paper, and on another the name of an emotion. The papers were then redistributed randomly so that everyone had a new place and emotion and then we freewrote about it. (I got a toughie - nostalgia and a KL rapid bus and was glad I didn't have to read it out!)

In the afternoon we concentrated on a specific building in the city and thought about it in various ways. What can it see, and what can't it? What affects it? What is it made of? What associations do you have with it? We then did the same kind of thing with an open space, before writing a piece which was a conversation between buildings. (I had a rather supercilious Petronas Twin Towers talking down to Wisma Selangor Dredging who was fretting over its lost reflection of Bok House!)

Then another very nice exercise which I shall nick for my own use. Sarah showed us some "maps of the imagination" (I think they were taken from this book) which showed different kinds of personal journeys - some through place, others through life.

We then drew a journey of our own through part of the city and marked it with all kinds of personal details. (I drew the area round central market and marked on it such landmarks as the spot where I saw Bandaraya guys fish a crocodile out of the Klang River; the place where I saw Jackie Chan hanging from a helicopter; the beggar outside the LRT station who I always feel like screaming at because I don't want to be confronted by his ugliness; the Dayabumi building which David Copperfield was supposed to make disappear on the day I was sitting a diploma exam etc etc.)

Then we exchanged maps and with someone else's in hand, wrote a piece of fiction. I got a map which had Taman Connaught in the corner and my mind went leaping off to the days when I used to go for extended dim sun breakfasts with my colleagues which got turned into fiction.

It was a great day. I could feel my flabby writing muscles tauten again, and I really enjoyed the pieces written by the other members of the group. It was also great to experience being the other side of the workshop facilitator's desk for a while and see how it felt ....

(More to come!)

Photos of miscellaneous course participants working hard. How many can you name?


Chet said...

There's a lot of similarities between your workshop and the 2-day City Stories I attended.

Thanks for this post, as it gives me a guide to how to write mine. I've already psoted one, not about the workshop content, but its effect on me.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thanks for sharing. Yeah, being on the other side of things does make you think. Last night I had to sit in on two part time teachers who were teaching what I had taught that very morning. It sure got me thinking and comparing the various teacher-student interaction/class dynamics (or lack there of) and this also applies to workshops. I'm repeating what I did for MPH in Kuching for Miri for a writer's group (no MPH in Miri!) But now I'm wondering, despite the good comments I got, how effective was it for those who failed to bring their own story? Or those just starting out...Sometimes its difficult to find the workshop balance between new, young writers full of ideas and jaded writers who've seen it all but are hoping to be reinspired. Ah, that's the challenge. Thanks for the ideas, too!