01 May, 2007

at last: the perfect writing course

But first, before I tell you about my new class, I have to recommend a totally addictive British miniseries called "State of Play." It's a cracking thriller about a government minister whose assistant turns up under a tube train, setting in motion a whole series of events that don't seem as if they could possibly be connected, but... well, you know. I came upon it in my quest to watch all things containing the incandescent James McAvoy, and he's well worth the hunt. But the actors are all marvellous: Bill Nighy, John Simm, David Morrissey and oh! Marc Warren, who is so wonderful in "Hustle."

And then there's the wickedly funny and oh so totally British sitcom "Shameless." We were led to this by my film friend who knows I'll watch anything with James McAvoy, but really it's Anne-Marie Duff (his real-life wife) who steals the show. It's set in Stratford on a council estate and you have to give it at least fifteen minutes before you think you don't like it. Cigarettes, children drinking lager in school uniforms, people getting drunk and ending up in car boots on their way to Calais on the ferry. It's written by the wonderful Paul Abbott who wrote "State of Play," but you could hardly find two projects less like each other. "Shameless" is autobiographically based, though, so that may account for the range. Anyway, two really addictive programmes for you to enjoy.

But my new writing class! As you know, I have slogged through a lot of classes at Citylit, trying to find my niche. Fiction? Nope, don't have a gritty novel in me, as my classmates seemed to want me to try to pull out. Screenwriting? Hmm, I hate most films, so no, that's not my world it turns out. Comedy writing? I'm just not that funny (although we had fun in the class). A one-day workshop last year called "Autobiography into Fiction" was on the right track, but one day isn't enough to find out if you're cut out for the subject. Now, last week I started "Creative Non-Fiction," and it's... right up my alley! It's basically about turning your own life into something you can write about and not be simply reporting the facts. Like this blog, only more... creative.

My classmates are fascinating, mostly British but with a gorgeous French woman and her Israeli best friend thrown in for spice, and a girl born in Lagos but raised here, and a Kenyan lady keen on writing her family history. It seems that most people want to chronicle their family trees in some way, and I suppose I do have autobiographical family interests as well. Have you read a memoir called "A Girl Named Zippy?" You must, if you have not. A girl's smalltown Indiana life described with such wacky humor and wit (of course, her family was quite, quite nuts so she had better material than have I) that you find yourself reading it aloud to whatever poor person is sitting next to you. That's the sort of project I'm aiming for. There are, of course, two types of memoirs: the first (like Peggy Noonan's "What I Saw At the Revolution" is easy to write and easy to get published because it's written by someone famous, to whom fascinating things have happened, and who knows compelling and famous people. But no, such a lazy path is not for me. I must opt for the second type of memoir: one written by a completely unknown person who doesn't do anything very memorable or important, but somehow makes it interesting enough to get a publishing contract. Sound impossible?

Perhaps, but I have seventeen weeks of class to prove it wrong.

I do love memoirs. Ruth Reichl had a head start, being the editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine, but still, her "Tender at the Bone" is priceless no matter who she is. When her mother poisons everyone at her son's engagement party by feeding them outdated food from a store that was offloading its Automat machines, you know you're in for an excellent ride. And Annie Dillard's "An American Childhood" is unputdownable. Can I do anything half so good? We shall see.

But I digress, because I meant to explain why the class this week was so good. The writing exercise was a seemingly pointless and rather boring assignment to spend ten minutes writing about a vivid childhood memory. We could choose between ages 0-5 years, 10 years, and 16 years. Well, it turned out surprisingly easy to do, fun to craft, and everyone's examples were so intriguing that we realized the old Flannery O'Connor quote was quite true: "Anyone who can survive her childhood has enough writing material for a lifetime." Any memory of childhood is fascinating, it turns out: a dreaded Sunday tea with grandparents, waking from a nap to find a stranger bending over one's crib, the town dance with sweaty-palmed boys, a treasured measuring cup used by a beloved mother. Really wonderful. I hadn't been particularly pleased or displeased with what I wrote, but then the time came for me to read aloud (so nerve-wracking! why do I put myself in these situations!) it was well-received. It was really a milestone: the first time I've ever had feedback on style. Not content, as in my dear blog readers enjoying a recipe or an anecdote, but the way it was written. I have come to the conclusion that one cannot really analyze one's own style, or even notice it for what it is. That is for readers to see. And it's probably quite consistent within each writer, if only we can learn to see and describe what it is. So we're meant to expand on our pieces in the coming week, and go back to class ready to be ripped apart or praised, as the case may be. I think it's going to be fun.

Well, in the meantime, in the quest for decent writing material, we are headed off this evening for a weekend in Marrakech to celebrate our dear friend Vincent's birthday. Should be an adventure! I broke down and bought a bathing suit yesterday, in anticipation of the hotel swimming pool. I don't even know where we're staying! Vincent's arranged everything. I grovelled to Avery's headmistress for permission (well, sort of after the fact since all the plans had been made) to take her out of school tomorrow, and asked that any beatings be limited to the wet-noodle variety. She wrote back and said that the caterers at school were low on wet noodles, so Avery was quite safe.

See you Sunday...

1 comment:

Planethalder said...

The great thing about a writing class for me is the discipline it forces on you. You are accountable to all the people in the class so you can't make any excuses.