Last night was the ninth Not for the Faint Hearted session that Ellen and I have run. I still feel the same excitement about the event that I felt for the first. We're also still bringing in new people along with our regulars. That mix of friends and newcomers is one of the things that keeps it fresh.
The prompt images that we used last night were:
This time we used several black and white archive images. Weirdly I found those more difficult to write about than modern photos.
My favourite thing about these sessions is hearing the different responses people have had to the same images. For me, one of the challenges is finding a good idea in the time available while still having time to write it.
I know now that I can write and edit a basic story in about 90 seconds – although I prefer to have longer. This gives me time to sift through ideas, abandoning the first few until I encounter one that surprises me. This reminds me of some advice that the journalist Caitlin Moran was given by Alan Coren:
"The first idea that occurs to you, will have occurred to everyone. The second idea that occurs to you, will have already also occurred to the clever people. But your third idea – only you will have had that one."
On Saturday we had the latest of the Brighton Creative Writing Sessions workshops, on Writing and the Tarot. Ellen and I were very excited as we had a guest tutor for the event, poet and tarot-reader Naomi Foyle.
The tarot has an interesting history as a tool for writers. Italo Calvino described it as a "machine for telling stories", and used it as the basis for his book The Castle of Cross Destinies. (Apparently there was supposed to be a third part of this book, called the Motel of Crossed Destinies, which was never written).
The workshop explored the Major Arcana and Fool's Journey. We played with relating the archetypal symbols on the cards with stories. For me it was most interesting to see how different people interpreted the cards, and the way these symbols could be used, something I want to continue exploring. I was also fascinated to learn that Ted Hughes collection, the Birthday Letters can be analysed in terms of the Major Arcana – more information here.
I had a fascinating day – thank you to Naomi for running the workshop, and to Jake for providing the space. Ellen and I are now planning 2011's workshops. We have a Top Secret session planned for January, and Writing Brighton in February. Details to follow!
Raymond Chandler once gave the following rule for writing: "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."
You can certainly see that in Chandlers' work. When the Big Sleep was being adapted for cinema, Chandler was asked whether a certain character had been murder or had killed himself. He confided in a friend, "dammit I didn't know either."
When I am writing at the Not For the Faint-Hearted events, I have a number of tropes that I fall back on if I am stuck. One of these is clowns. They're so easy to write about. They're supposed to be having fun all the time, so if a clown unhappy you have an immediate question to work with. A clown sitting at the side of a street, with a half-empty bottle of whiskey: why?
I've shared my clown theory with my friend Louise Halvardsson. Her first clown story, Clowntown, was recently read at a short story night. I think there should be more stories about clowns. As Louise advises, "add a clown to your writing whenever you get stuck."
I had a strange day yesterday, with a bus crash, snow and wandering through a somewhat diffuse protest on London Road. I also attended a rehearsal for Michael J. Parker's new show, 12 Ways to Get Into Glastonbury:
I've been helping out a little with the show over the last month or two. In fact, the first run through of the show was in my lounge back in September:
The show includes poems, songs and stories based around the Glastonbury festival. It's been fascinating to watch the work being honed over last couple of months and I am very excited about the point Mike has reached. The night also features cabaret compered by Paul Stones, including poetry from Chris Parkinson. It's going to be a great night. You must come!
12 Ways to Get Into Glastonbury: Tuesday 7th December, 7:30pm, Komedia Studio Bar, £5/£4