Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Down to Earth - Back from York Festival of Writing

Well, what a weekend of writing, teaching, laughing, drinking, talking, eating, and learning. From Thursday night, when I arrived at what appeared to be a deserted uni campus and was shown to a little single room which made me feel like a 19 year old student again, through to Sunday night, when I staggered back home, it was like being in a creative bubble, or on another planet, far away from loved ones, cooking, housework, even my usual diet of TV! Although the other kind of diet was more than satisfied with fantastic food, copious coffee, tea and biscuits all day long, and a bit too much nice white wine!
   And instead of my husband and sons, I was surrounded by birds of the same feather, all of whom had one thing on their minds. Who spoke the same language.  Who didn't glaze over or pat you patronisingly on the head when you said what you do, or what you dream of doing. That is, writing.
   When up to 300 aspiring and published writers, agents and publishers are gathered together, there will be one topic of conversation. Writing. Sub-divided into characterisation, plotting, dialogue, showing not telling. Genre, sub-divided into romance, historical, sci-fi, fantasy and, yes indeedie, erotica (of which more later!) And dreaming. The dream of sitting across the little table during the one-to-one sessions, facing an agent, and seeing a certain Simon Cowell-esque click in the eyes as they say, 'I like your submission and I'm taking you on.'
   I will never get over the excitement of being paid for my first short story, right through to meeting my latest Harper Collins editor and seeing my novel in Tesco, and I will never fully realise I've achieved my own dream, so seeing the hope and determination, the energy and humour of the people flocking to festivals like these is really humbling as well as inspiring.
   I have to say I haven't been as nervous as I was before giving my first workshop since my first job interview, or my first day at university, or climbing on a plane to take a job in Cairo. Or my wedding day, blissful though it was. Anyway, I had the best part of Friday and Saturday to anticipate it, but there was always such support and advice from fellow authors who quickly felt like friends that it was hard to be anxious for long.
   My erotica workshop had about 15 'customers', and I reiterated my blurb that I wanted everyone to leave their inhibitions firmly at the door before we jotted some naughty words on the blackboard to get us going.

(This image is from a menu board in Amsterdam, actually, but you get the idea!!)

Then I told them my story, how a romantic rejection became my first erotic short story, and then I gave them some technical stuff about setting, character, the use of senses, building a sex scene and so on. I then read some beautiful lines from D H Lawrence to illustrate great sex scenes and some hideous examples of how not to do it from the Bad Sex Awards.
   Then it was their turn to write. 10 minutes to hit me between the eyes. And my goodness, what a fantastic, uninhibited, warm, tender, adventurous clutch of offerings was read back to me. I realised that while my nerves were melting away, my class were trembling with anxiety at the prospect of a)writing and b)reading out loud, but they should have been proud of themselves. The pieces were fantastic.
   I was a little disappointed with one person who refused to write anything 'as 10 minutes wasn't enough' and another who refused to read hers out loud or let me read it for her, but the others not only read theirs out, eyes shining with pleasure when I praised them, but also clustered round me to chat some more at the end of the class.
   Although my abiding memory of the hour was of laughter and enthusiasm, apparently there was talk of my workshop at dinner later, including a couple of people who professed to be shocked by it. What was it that offended them? Seeing the word 'fuck' on the blackboard? Well, they were the ones who evidently firmly dragged their inhibitions into the room with them, know what I'm sayin? To all the others, thanks a million, both for entering the spirit of it and being my first ever guinea pigs!

This is also a sign from Amsterdam, but as I didn't take any pics in York, I couldn't resist it, or this one:
In fact, Writers Workshop, how about a writers' festival in Amsterdam next time!!!?

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