Tag Archive: creative writing


We have delivered workshops to Afghan women via skype again! Only this time it was from the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, and I was with my esteemed colleague Professor Sinead Morrissey.

With the support of the School of English at Queen’s University, and the British Council offices in both Northern Ireland and Kabul, this was the third and possibly final stage of the Afghan Women Spread the Word project – teaching the participants creative writing skills. And who better to do that than an award-winning poet?

Sinead began by introducing the women to the haiku, the Japanese 17-syllable verse. But they were soon reading her their poetry and talking about landai, the traditional oral short poems, often recited by Pashto women.

The seminar even made it into the newspapers http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/helping-afghan-women-is-poetry-in-motion-31529952.html

But the most satisfying part of it was that it yet again a success. And Sinead was as captivated by the women’s enthusiasm as I always am.

I’m not sure where the project goes from here – but we have built so many links so far – between women from across Afghanistan – and between Afghanistan and Ireland, that I don’t think we can lose that.

Hulia2

The teaching has finished, the final assignments are in, and suddenly all that remains of the MA is the dissertation. (Admittedly, that’s 15 thousand words, so no small challenge). But, as if by magic, my brave new year is nearly complete!

So, when we met for an event to read some of our work and show the short film that I and five other students had made, I think we were all a bit shell-shocked.

The combined nerves of around 15 people, in a small space, is a powerful thing. The evening was so charged you could have lit your fag by waving it around a bit carelessly.

And then it was my turn to step onto the makeshift ‘stage’ and stand, clutching my photocopied bits of paper, and read ‘my novel’.

I had argued to everyone that it was imperative that we all took part. I felt that reading our work out would somehow cement the status of ‘writer’ that we had been learning how to adopt all year.

But when it came to it, I was terrified. I now see that reading your ‘creation’ to a live audience is not the same as reading a news script – however much that felt like a creation at the time.

Of course it was all grand. I didn’t lose my voice; people were interested and kind – and then we all went off and got horribly drunk! And briefly it felt again like we were ‘real’ students!

 

 

The creative zone chez Paul – where no one can hear you scream…

It’s a funny old thing, but when you are convinced you’ve always wanted to do something, and then you actually get to do it, sometimes the experience may not be quite what you expected. I hate that phrase – ‘Be careful what you wish for’, but like most hateful phrases, it has more than a grain of truth.

Could I be talking about writing a novel, I hear you cry? Well, maybe.

The first thing my course has taught me is that I have spent the last 38 odd years consuming books like fast food. When I used to travel for a living, I could read an average size novel in a day – a day of 14 hours of assorted aircraft journeys and endless queuing you understand. But even when my life settled down to a living-in-one-place, pile-of-books-by-the-bed type of existance I would still canter through novels. I would read anything and everything, seeing it as a challenge if I didn’t like a book. I’ve relaxed it now, because life’s too short, but for years I had a rule that if I started a book I had to finish it, no matter how long it took. And I truly believed that this huge consumption made me a literary expert. I’d read so much, I’d forgotten more books than most people had read.

But I’ve been brought up short.

Being asked to dissect passages of prose, not the themes mind, but the technique of the writing – and then asked what effect it has – has totally stumped me on more than one occasion. I’ve found myself mumbling like a fifteen year old English Lit pupil, “Erm, dunno, I just like it, like.” Suddenly, reading quickly and voraciously is not the skill I thought it was. Because while I have enjoyed probably 90 per cent of the books I have read, in my reading of every one of those books, I have been totally bewitched by the author. I am a novelist’s dream reader. I trust the narrative voice; I never question the way I’m being led through the novel, or what I’m being encouraged to think. Basically, a book has to be truly badly written before I even notice the way it’s written (any guesses?)

And when I talk about the way a book is written I don’t just mean the clever metaphors/ narrative voice/ passages of beautiful description type of thing - I mean things like the way the prose looks on the page. I mean the punctuation. I mean the typeface! Did you know that a novelist can choose to use single or double inverted commas to show speech? I thought there were rules to govern these type of things. But no, these are also ‘creative decisions’. Blimey.

So, while I knew writing would be hard work, and something one could be easily distracted from (hello blog) I had no idea I would be stumped by the mechanics. But really what did I expect? If it was easy I’d have done it by now. All these years that I’ve been saying ‘I will do it’, now I have to actually learn how to.

And the other strange thing? On some level, I don’t want to. I don’t want to unscrew all the nuts and bolts and take the back off and look at the workings. I remember when I started working in television and I learned the tricks of the trade when it came to filming and editing. Now when I watch some amazing footage I think ‘How did they get that shot?’ And in some ways I don’t want to unravel the mystic around the novel.

But, let’s face it, I am far from having to worry about that! The second big lesson from the course is to just get it down on the page – and keep on doing it – you can sort it all out later – but don’t even stop for a minute to think about later – just keep going. For the minute, that’s what I’m trying to do…

Poetry and Pints

Ok, I’m stealing the very clever title for the gatherings held by the English Society at Queen’s – but I’m stealing it because it so aptly describes a recent night.

This week I went to a poetry reading. I’ve been to prose readings before, but up until a few months ago you’d have been as likely to find me at a poetry reading as a football match. (I have been to both you understand, but neither would be high on my list of top entertainments). We were there en masse from the MA course – partly because we’re all ‘writers’ now, and partly to support one of the readers – poet Paul Maddern, who teaches us http://www.templarpoetry.co.uk/paulmaddern/index.html. He was reading, along with Alex Wylie.

So, there we all were, crammed into the Crescent Arts Centre auditorium. It was another reminder of the shift in orbit my life has taken. The gathering was like a Who’s Who of the literary world of the Seamus Heaney centre – writers, journalists, poets, lecturers – and students of all the above. Not a politician to be seen though.

I was there to show my support too, and not really expecting to be really engaged with the whole thing – but it was amazing. Alex Wylie http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SeamusHeaneyCentreforPoetry/pal/alexwylie/ is clearly one of the bright young stars of the Seamus Heaney centre. Listening to and reading poetry again, after so many years, has made me realise it’s not a test – you can just enjoy it on whatever level you access it. I would love to read Alex’s work though, as on first hearing I was sometimes running to catch up.

Paul read some of The Beachcomber’s Report from the collection of the same name and absolutely spirited me away. As I gushed to him afterwards: “It was like a novel!” High praise indeed from me, whereas one suspects probably not what most poets want to hear. But what I meant was,  that it took us on a journey – a journey that ranged from Donegal to London and in between – and it compelling and engaging – rather than leaving us wondering what it was all about. I loved it.

So, bouyed up by literary enthusiasm and cheap red wine, our ‘group’ – the young’uns, the Carrick Lovely, and me – sat and chatted and eventually drifted to a nearby bar. Now here’s the worst thing about being a student – everyone shuffles up to the bar and orders their own drink. Of course totally sensible when we’re all living on a shoestring, but it seems so anti-social! But, even so, one drink led to another, and the chat ebbed and flowed, until, perhaps unsurprisingly in such a diverse group, age came up. I actually thought the young’uns were in theri mid-twenties, they seemed so mature. But no, it transpired they were all 21. The Carrick Lovely was admitting to early thirties I think, and then came my turn. I think, by the time you’re in your mid-forties, age has become pretty irrelevant, so I blithely spilt the beans. Most gratifyingly, there were disbelieving looks all round. “We thought you were 35!” gasped one of the young’uns. I was delighted, until I thought about it and realised that at 21, you can’t really imagine age beyond 35!

 

 

 

 

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