Yesterday was the fourth of our five Saturday ‘workshops’ (I rather agree with Alexei Sayle’s famous quotation about the word — that anyone who uses it ‘without referring to light engineering is a tw*t’). As things worked out it was the first time that I wasn’t doing a reading. (We got a chance to sign up for our readings and tutorials next term. I made sure I didn’t do consecutive reading this time, although I only get two goes.)
This meant I had seven pieces to read and make comments on in advance — which takes a surprisingly long time. What also took quite a long time was the workshop itself. We over-ran by nearly an hour which was ironic as Alison asked us all to be brief and succinct in our comments. (I’m getting a little paranoid that whenever a reminder is given about concise comments it invariably seems to come just before I speak even though I’m pretty convinced that I’m not one of the worst culprits in ploughing through every single annotation they’ve made on the script.) She also didn’t stop anyone reading their piece in the middle unlike last time when Michael B was cut off in mid-flow and I sabotaged myself my making it clear when about three quarters through that I was moving to a new scene which was completely different. I’m still a bit piqued by being stopped from reading (I’d only got to 1,750 words) and it must have made the subsequent discussion a bit incomprehensible to Alison herself as there were as many comments from everyone else about the bit that wasn’t read out as the stuff that was. Maybe this was why everyone was allowed their full allocation this time, although I thought it was a little unfair on Guy that he had to read after a few people had to leave for other commitments. It’s a good job his piece was so accomplished — and funny.
Hopefully my comments will have been of some use to the people who did the readings but I had the opportunity to think of what I got out of the session myself. It’s interesting to compare the development of others’ novels compared to my own. There were a couple of people whose work didn’t really give me much scope for offering feedback — not only was it generally very good and polished (revealing the work that had gone into it) but it was also consistent with what they’d produced previously. The feedback is really — ‘it’s very good, please carry on and do more like this’. Â There are also cases where I’m not sure soliciting feedback from the whole group is particularly useful for the writer because of it may be in a style that is not to everyone’s taste and one or two people, with the best of intentions, like to offer suggestions to the writer of how that piece of work could be transformed into something the person giving the feedback would prefer to read. This can be a bit destructive if the writer has the whole novel planned out and is writing the start of the novel in a particular way for a specific reason that is yet to be revealed. I’m reminded of the Thomas Hardy novel Â — ‘Return of the Native’ I think — which spends a whole chapter at the beginning describing the landscape of Egdon Heath. Imagine if he brought that into his creative writing workshop — ‘The setting is great but I think you’re lacking a bit of characterisation’, ‘what would work for me personally is a bit more plot’.
There are also some works-in-progress that seem to make most use of the workshop by bringing in experimental and less well-developed pieces that invite opinions from everyone else because the writer hasn’t fully decided in which direction to go. I may be a bit guilty of wanting to shape other works to my own preferences with some of my comments but there were a couple that I thought — ‘yes, this could be really, really good if only the writer put a bit more x,y or z into it’.
A few of us had an interesting discussion over lunch about sex scenes. I’m a little surprised that we’ve not had anything more explicit in our workshops. My description of James’ imaginings of Emma’s naked (upper) body probably lead the field jointly with Nicole’s excellent Gypsy girl seduction scene, which I thought was great. Jennifer has also put in a couple of honourable mentions with Connie standing starkers on the balcony and Peter greedily ogling the doctor’s receptionist. This might be something to do with us having to read the material out loud. However, I know this is an area that I’d probably have substantial difficulty with in my own novels — and I’ve put off writing them. I have plenty of ideas about what I might imagine writing but it’s really an area that, if I’m honest, I would benefit hugely from having some frank feedback about. Some genres aren’t going to go into this territory but most modern novels will deal with relationships and readers are going to expect the author not to shy away from sex scenes and discussions if the characterisation and plot seem to suggest that’s where the novel should be heading. I think I may have to pluck up the courage to bring something like that to one of my two remaining readings as I’ll either get some valuable feedback or have my confidence boosted in having made a reasonable job of it (hopefully).