Monday, 4 April 2011

Creative writing workshop

Free writing

Within five minutes of arriving we started our first task, which was to free write, given the first sentence, for ten minutes.

Task one

Constant noise is something she….
..absolutely detested.  She hated the vibrations in her head, which gave her a persistent headache.  The noises were getting louder and louder; more piercing with every second.  Oh no, please stop she cannot stand it, the incessant screeching was going to drive her mad.  Please stop before my head bursts.  Silence!  She could still hear the constant noise even though there was no other sound in the room.  Silence!  He noise was starting to fade and she could hear her heart beat slowing down.  Her breath, which had been shallow, was now returning to normal.  Calm was restored and she started to feel she could think rationally again.  The room, which had been swirling, was now tranquil and she laid her head back n the pillow.

Some members of the group read their free writing to the group.  I was amazed how good some of it was and this definitely gave me ideas especially about being more expressive myself.
Free writing is used to connect hands, brains and paper. The physicality of writing and the actual strain of writing fast, helps you to limber up, it’s sort of like going to the gym.  Hands will get tired and you will ‘feel the strain’; that’s good.  

Task two

In pairs we then were set the task of finding and recording any text we saw as we wandered around the college. Eddie and I picked up instructions, sentences from posters, and items of the breakfast menu in the café, words off posters and art on the walls.  This is our list:

No admittance, authorised personnel only
Are you still thinking straight at the end of the night?
Move on p
Diggin’ thru’ funks family tree
I’m looking for a model for life drawing
Helping to put a roof over heads
In the frame reflections on art, design and media in Higher Education
If you think you’ve got anything to offer then volunteer
Even the smallest contribution can make a difference
Peru has changed my perspective on life
Careless talk costs lives
         Real life
Stop and listen
83% of college men respect their partner’s wishes about sexual activity. 17% don’t.
Your pencil your potential
Breakfast menu Bacon, sandwich, sausage sandwich, egg sandwich
Earl gray
Love without borders
Sonic youth
Tranquil moments
By ‘eck we’re a cultured lot
Don’t let house hunting get you in a twist
We are at times too ready to believe that the present is the only possible state of things.  Marcel Proust
Attack space decay time
Passion for print
Dyeing to dye
Stephanie Whittaker
Hannah mason
Ross Spedding
The hero with a thousand faces
Exploring the invisible
Points of contact disability, art and culture
The Amber Spyglass
New Start, new glamour
Look at me.


‘Make the strange familiar to make the familiar strange’

We then formed new pairs (my partner was Sarah).  From the lists above we were set the task of making a poem.  One half of the group had to make a poem that made sense and the other half’s had to make nonsense.  Tips to make them work include: Rhyme, rhythm, repetition, alliteration. .  Suggestions of how to perform the poems included taking a line each in turn, reading one half then the other, different voices or characters.

Our poem had to make sense and I had an idea immediately.  The Line ‘Look at me’ could be used to link each apparently unrelated line together.  Repeating Look at me every alternate line.  Sarah thought it would work for one of us to read the “look at me’ and the other to do the other lines.  This is our poem

First draft

Look at me
The hero with a thousand faces
Look at me
Dyeing to die
Look at me
To avoid jamming the photocopier
Look at me
These rooms are for studio-based work
Look at me
Boogaloo Fooligan
Look at me
Helping to put roofs overheads
Look at me
By ‘eck we’re a cultured lot
Look at me
3D in your face
Look at me
Just in case you are keeping score
Look at me
3D in your face
Look at me
Who the hell is Damian Hurst?
Look at me
Exploring the invisible
Look at me
Sitting pretty
Look at me
Do more good work
Look at me
A lie told to often soon becomes the truth
Look at me
Knock and enter
Look at me

Second Draft
We rethought the order of the statements so they flowed between each other in a way which made more sense.

Look at me
Look at me
The hero with a thousand faces
Look at me
Helping to put roofs over heads
Look at me
Dyeing to die
Look at me
Exploring the invisible
Look at me
3D in your face
Look at me
Who the hell is Damian Hurst?
Look at me
Boogaloo Fooligan
Look at me
By ‘Eck we’re a cultured lot
Look at me
Sitting pretty
Look at me
A lie told too often soon becomes the truth
Look at me
Just in case you’re keeping score
Look at me
To avoid jamming the photocopier
Look at me
Knock and enter
Look at me
These rooms are for studio based work
Look at me
Do more good work
Look ate me

We all read the poems out to the group, ours was well received.

Task 3

During lunch we were set a task of finding a real setting.  It could be a room, a cupboard, a street, smoking area.  We needed to make notes about this space, gather sensory details such as taste, smell, touch, hearing, vision.  Smell links to memory. Think about how this place makes you feel and also how this place would feel if it were a person.  What would the places personality and character be? What does it think?  For example a kitchen may be anally retentive about cleanliness, enjoying being shiny and bright.
Write in the first person, free writing quickly.

The Road
Sensory details collected. I chose the Alley/Road which runs behind Tescos/ Blackwells.  It runs parallel to Blenheim Walk.

Tired old man
In need of repair
Full of bins – overflowing bins
Small of takeaway food, fat, cumin
Painted walls, graffiti
Pot holes
Red brick
Metal gates – security
No vegetation other than a dandelion
Wet, soggy pizza box discarded
Metal spikes to keep people out
Iridescent oil swirling in puddles
Sound of passing traffic, cars and lorries
Drum n bass
Metal bars on the windows
Room for one car to pass
Yellow lines
Sirens roaring
Oh the shame of it!  Dog muck
CCTV surveillance
Lorries unloading
Discarded fag butts
Green moss
Food extractors pumping greasy food smells
Dripping water from a broken gutter
Chime of the Uni bells
Back Blenheim Terrace
Rusty metal gates
Shadow of New Uni building – Rusty ugly building
Battle scars
Peeling paint
Chicken wire

Free writing

The Road - Unedited

No-one really cares.  My poor body is battle scarred with broken tarmac patches worn out with gaping holes which collect dirty water.  My only decoration is the yellow stripes and signs not even a patch of grass.
I gag at the greasy take way food stench as it’s blown across my face.  My only company is the dirty, smelly overflowing dustbins which are overflowing with litter.  The pizza boxes, paper and banana skins spill out lying unloved.  Either blowing away in the wind or getting soggy in the rain.  The constant hum of traffic in the distance fills the air.  People use me as an ashtray, discarding cigarette butts and dogs use me as a toilet, oh the shame of it.
Oh but the nights are exciting.  Those nice young people keep me company.  Decorating me with beautiful colours and filling my ears with drum and bass.

Edited - The Back Alley

No-one really cares, my poor body lies battle scarred under the weight of heavy lorries making deliveries.  They just patch me up with treacle black tarmac which is no use as I end up with gaping holes which fill with muddy water.  My only decorations are the ugly yellow stripes and signs which run all the way down my sides.  No chance of any greenery unless it’s a dandelion risking to pop its head up.
The greasy takeaway stench blown out of the back of cafes makes me gag.  My only company is the plastic smelly bins which are overflowing with litter.  The discarded pizza boxes, paper and banana skins spill out, lying unloved, like me.  The constant hum of traffic gives me a banging headache.  Drip, Drip the incessant dripping water from a broken gutter.  People use me as an ashtray; discarding fag butts and dogs use me as a toilet; the shame of it!
Oh but the nights are really exciting!  Those colourful young people keep me company.  Decorating my walls with vibrant colours and filling the silent evening with drum n bass.

We discussed our book choices with each other and then had to try to convince two other people to read our favourite.  I had taken in Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, Twilight by Stephanie Meyers, Reasons to be cheerful - a biography about Barney bubbles by Paul Gorman. And Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.  I tried to sell the Reason to be cheerful as it is a book about a cult graphic designer from the 60’s and 70’s.

Task 4
We were given random paragraphs to start some free writing.  I really struggled to get engaged with the first one which was:

Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the main reason for its own existence.  If ants from space ever visit earth the first question they will ask in order to assess the level of civilisation is …

What is humanity?  Humanity is caring for and respecting each other.  In order to continue the human race we have to procreate and learn to live with each other in harmony….

At this point I got really stuck so asked Garry for another one.  On reflection there were two reasons I hit a brick wall one was I am just not an alien/outer space kind of girl and two was the starting sentence did not inspire me.

As the horse awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed into a gigantic insect…
He felt that he had grown another two legs and yes there was a waft of air over his back from the powerful wings.  His hooves left the ground – he was flying!
As he rose from the ground he looked around and he noticed other horses in the fields have also morphed into huge insects just like him.  They were bright green with huge bubble shaped eyes and they too were discovering their wings.  Navigating was tricky, it certainly wasn’t like galloping around a field that was for sure.  The view was amazing from up here he could see for miles around. The county of West Yorkshire was opening up in front of his eyes.
Gary suggested we put reversals in
He suddenly realised he was able to eat whatever he wanted and spotted an orchard full of ripe apple trees.

I found it a challenge to write the piece as an animal and also to write about something unbelievable and surreal. I think my writing needs to draw on empathy and life experience rather than imagination/mystical/fantasy.

Task 5
Sophie was given a secret by Garry and she came in the room as a certain character.  Our task was to find out who she was and what her secret was.

64 years old
Gladys Cartwright
Simple life
Bungalow, quiet life
Cat, tiddles
Hobbies – Baking, Sewing
Favourite cake is Victoria sponge
3 grand children
2 daughters and a son
Two husbands

The secret was she had murdered her husband.

Sophie was excellent at keeping in character however someone spoiled the task by asking the question quite early on.  The purpose of this exercise was to start thinking about character development and plot

Task 6
Character development

We were given five minutes to develop a character.  I had seen a young black woman cleaning the college earlier that day who looked really sad.  I based this fictional character around her.

Young black woman aged 23
Recently immigrated from Uganda
Clean at the Art College
Up at 5am
Missing home she has five brothers and three sisters
Living with her mum’s cousin
Saving up to go to college in September
Sadness in her eyes

Her brother was killed in a car accident in Uganda

Currently feeling

Guilty, sad, running away, sent away by family, alone, why wasn’t I killed instead, weight on her shoulders, Resentful – left a promising career in a Bank.

The Secret is a device to push the character to extremes or limit.
Other considerations:
Is the story set in present day or historically?
What’s the name?
Cultural landscapes
Nurture, parents, child hood, what shapes us?
Physical characteristics – fat, strong, beautiful, hairstyle, clothes, posture, body

Overnight we were set the task of fleshing the character out by finding further facts to make the character more believable.  We talked about a person being like an iceberg.

I researched about Uganda

‘Pearl of Africa’
Gained independence from Britain in 1962
Language: English and Swahili
City: Kampala near Lake Victoria
Main religion is Christianity
Makere University
Dry June – Aug.  Dec - Feb

Sadness – needs to move on, stop blaming herself, needs to find a way of moving on.  Catalyst for change?  Garry warned us he would drop in random sentences as we were writing which we would have to incorporate in the story immediately.  These are highlighted in bold.

The morning of the second day, we were given 40 minute to free write.

The sadness in her eyes dulled her beauty yet made me stop and wonder what her story was.  She shuffled slowly pushing the mop along the floor obviously a million miles away.  She looked up, noticed me watching, and continued pushing the mop but with more force.  What was this young black woman doing in such a dead end job?
My reverie was broken as the back of my neck prickled.  A student was leaning casually on the wall to my right.  It felt like yogurt was dripping down my back as his eyes looked me up and down.  I focussed on the job in hand and continued cleaning the floor moving away from the intrusion.
Why would anyone be interested in me?  If only he knew.  Getting up so early every morning even when the sky was blue and orange.  I can see the beauty in the dawn but still would have preferred to snuggle back into the covers.  Needs must!  This job may look like a dead end but it’s the start of the rest of my life.  I already have £1000 saved up.  Working seven days a week means I have no time to spend so it all adds up. 
Back in Uganda my life had been mapped out for me until that dreadful day.  Running away seemed the only option.  But there was a broken teeth crunch when the car hit the wall which I can’t run away from. The noise replays itself in my head over and over again.  Coming to England has quietened the noise a little.  My aunt assures me time is a healer but it’s been over a year now.  The void is still there gaping black and painful as ever.
Maybe I deserve a future?  Why else did God spare me on that dreadful day?  The smell of an old dishcloth broke my reverie again.  The student from earlier was still hanging around.  Oh, oh I think he is coming over to talk to me.
“Excuse me; I can’t help noticing you seem a million miles away.  I wondered if you would like to go for a coffee with me?” He asked
 I looked up into the deepest blue eyes which pierced through me they were so direct, open and honest.
“Why would you want to go for a coffee with me?” I challenged.

A taste of bananas and diesel was a vivid reminder of the last coffee I went for back in Uganda.  Joseph and I had been driving away from the coffee shop in Kampala when the old banana truck had turned into our path coming at us out of nowhere.  I had tried to break but it was too late.  The smell of diesel filled by nostrils and the smoke hit the back of my throat….
‘Ah, hem’ the student was still there awaiting my response.  How to get out of this?
Conflicting thoughts crowded my brain; did I deserve a shot at happiness? No! Yes!
The boy’s face suddenly broke into a smile and said with some amusement “I usually don’t have to wait all day for an answer.”
My silence was beginning to feel uncomfortable and I was having difficulty formulating ‘no’
“Okay then” popped out of my mouth which even surprised me.
“I finish at 12 noon so will meet you at the Latte Café around the corner” he said whilst throwing his rucksack over his shoulder and walking away.

I had managed not to be picked for reading out to the group apart from the poem when we had all read out however it was my turn.  How nerve racking that turned out to be!  This is so personal, my voice was shaking so much I had to stop to try and calm down!  My reading was well received.  Garry said it was the start of a novel.  Sophie said she wanted to read the book!
We also reflected on how it felt when Garry introduced the random phrases of sensory detail.  Even though they were very off the wall we had all managed to incorporate them into our stories.  They provided a hiatus which actually made the story lines fresher.  Of all the exercises so far this had been the most enjoyable and productive.  I think this was because I had researched and had time to reflect on the character and her story.

Task 7
The business and dialogue
Each member of the group selected some business or job for a character for another member of the group which would create a situation where two people are working together.  If possible use your existing character

Show don’t tell

Us the dialogue to set the scene, reveal character and move the plot forward.

The business given to me was a burglar and owner of a house.  I could not incorporate with my current character so made two new ones up.

I decided the style would be a black comedy – a high class burglar bluff

“What the hell are you doing in my house?”  The tall man shouted as he fumbled for the light switch

“What do you mean your house?” The other man countered.

“This is where I live and have done for the last five years” said the tall man was unfastening his coat and taking his hat off.

“My friend, Marcus Simmons Black asked me to house sit for him whilst he was in South Africa.  This is his house.” The other man replied confidently eyeballing the tall man.

“How did you get in?  You can’t have a key?  This is impossible, a mistake, look this is a photo of my wife and I in Tunisia. Here is my son’s swimming county championship trophy.  So I suggest you remove yourself from my home before I call the Police.” The tall man advised pulling his mobile phone out of his brief case.

“Well, Sir, I apologise this seems to have all been an embarrassing misunderstanding. I will gather my belongings and leave immediately.” The other man hastily backs out of the room, preparing for a sharp exit.
“ Just hang fire one minute, this does not make sense,  you…..” out of the corner of his eye the tall man, normally of reasonable intelligence, spots a window ajar, the fastening broken.

The other man had already scarpered out the open front door and was legging it up the road.

“Thief! Stop that man” the tall man shouted, realising he had been duped.  He stumbled after the thief whilst dialling the police on his phone.

Garry then asked us to consider the same dialogue but set in a different period in time. 
He added by considering setting your dialogue in a different genre it can add to the strength of the writing.   

I decided to set mine like a late 1940’s Hollywood movie dramatization of the early 18th century with Errol Flynn as the lead role.

“Sir, why are you intruding on my property? He shouts as he draws his sword from his holster.
“Your property, sir?  I do protest!” says the other man who already had a sword in hand.
“Don’t test me.  You are trespassing.  Leave immediately or you face the consequences, you blaggard.” The man coldly states as he walks towards the stranger.
“You have read the situation incorrectly, my friend, Sit Marcus Black, invited me to oversee his property whilst he was visiting the West Country.”  The man bluffs arrogantly.

I found this dialogue a challenge as I couldn’t really engage or empathise with the characters or the situation.  I would have preferred to have redeveloped the Elizabeth’ character at this stage and chosen my own business.

To develop a story consider dropping in different dialogue. 

Develop a ‘voice’ in your head.

Do the ‘teacup test’. Copy and group the dialogue from each character together to ensure it sounds like one character.

Task 8

In groups of four we were given two unrelated newspaper clippings.  The aim of the task was to think of a storyline to link the stories by thinking of a film plot.
Points to consider
Whose story is it?
What is the story?
Where are you going to open the story?
Who are the characters?
Build in loads of red herrings
We were then to sell the plot/storyline to another group to assess believability.
How to plot – generating ideas from anywhere for example newspaper clippings. 

The first story was about the results of an inquest of a baby who had died in a Nottingham hospital after a ‘drug error’  The second story was a South Wales woman aged 21 years old who had received 160 parking fines.

Can also use Newspaper clippings for sub-plots.

The Plot - considerations
Whose story is it?
What is the story?
Sensory details
Where are you going to open the story?
Who are the characters?
Who believes what?
When do you begin?

Our group came up with the following plot:

Louisa Swinburn was sacked after the dreadful mistake and moved from Notts to South Wales. She had a breakdown, is unemployed and got 160 parking fines.  She has also discovered she is having a baby.

Introduce a red herring to surprise the reader

The reason for the mistake.  Louisa had been really drunk after splitting up with her boyfriend.  Really stressed at work

Louisa’s best friend bumps into her ex in Nott’s and spills the beans about Louisa’s pregnancy (his baby)

Who are the characters?

Louisa Swinburn

Age 21

Just qualified as a nurse when ‘drug’ mistake’ happened

Was living with her boyfriend however night before mistake she had a big argument with her boyfriend.  She got very drunk drowning her sorrows.

After accident she runaway to Wales


Not very strong, insecure.  Outside she appeared confident.

Best friend is Danielle from Notts.

Boyfriend is Paul
The story begins when her best friend phones her in Wales.  Characters.
The business – She is sat in the car, pulling off the parking ticket.

The autumn leaves were blowing from the trees creating a rustic brown and orange tapestry on the pavements as the young woman yanked her front door shut.  As she approached her car she swore loudly.  The bright yellow parking ticket was prominently displayed on her car windscreen.
She angrily ripped the offending tickets off and threw it with countless others in the glove compartment of the car.  As she inserted the key into the ignition her phone began to ring her bag, leaning over the foot well she yanked the phone out of her bag and turned the key in the ignition.

“Oh hi Danielle” she said holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder.
 “How are you feeling, Louisa?”
“Oh, you know, as well as can be expected.  Another parking ticket.  Living in this bloody flat is doing my head in.”  She said whilst glaring at the offending building.
“Oh no!  Well I really need to talk to you.”
“Right, I am just on my way to Asda”
“I think you should hear this now.  Listen. I went round to Pauls last night……..”  Danielle faltered obviously nervous about her best friend’s reaction.
“…… So I thought enough is enough.  You need some help and he deserves to know about the baby” She ended more confidently.
“Shit Danielle!  You just made my life ten times more complicated.” She said as she turned the car engine off and slumped in her seat.
“Louisa I am only thinking about you and the baby.  I feel useless me here in Nottingham whilst you are struggling over on Cardiff.  Any way I had to phone you as Paul is coming down to see you.  He knew you would not speak to him after the way you ran away so he is coming down.”  Danielle explained quickly, just glad her best friend had not slammed the phone down on her.
“Oh cheers, Thanks a lot” Louisa sarcastically replied.
Awkward silence filled the space, Louisa’s mind spinning whilst Danielle tried to think of how to make this situation better.
“You know this is the right thing to do….”
Louisa interrupted ‘So when is he coming?”
“Tonight.  So don’t go running away this time.  Just listen to what he has to say”
“Okay I will speak to him but I’m not expecting anything.
“Alright Honey phone me later and let me know how you are.”
Louisa took the car keys out of the ignition and stared off into the middle distance.  Shit, Shit, Shit! What was she going to say to her ex-boyfriend, soon to become father of her child?

I was quite pleased with this final piece of writing.  What started out as quite a contrived plot actually did start to have some believability.  As the writer is actually just using the newspaper clippings to create characters and plots they don’t have to take every piece of information literally.  I think overall I prefer the more ‘human’ realistic storylines which are not too unbelievable.  I also like the opportunity to research, build characters and plots.  So I am going to take this approach with my piece of writing. 

I was struggling to get started with this work.  The main problem was having to type up all the notes from the two days.  This seemed a brick wall between me and starting the story.  I wrote this short piece of free writing to get it out of my system:

She knew failure was inevitable, unless she set her mind to doing the work this weekend.  Next weekend would be a nightmare in a battle to catch up. She bit her lip, procrastination was dangerous.  She had read her emails, both college and work.  Even tidied them, deleting the emails and spam no longer needed, unheard of!  Had a roam on Facebook, no new messages.  Checked her blog for comments.  It was no good she had to put pen to paper.  How could it be?  What was the matter?  She had kept up with the relentless pace of the course so far, so why set herself to fail now?  What was she afraid of?  Was she just saturated with the effort of the last six months?  Why didn’t this brief hook her in like they normally did?

To break the dead lock I actually started researching ideas for the story which proved the catalyst to get me going.  You can see the research on my Design Context

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