The role of a goal

Summer is here, and so let’s begin this blog with all the positivity of warmth and sunshine, although this feels like a ceremonial ‘last blog for now’ kind of a thing. We’re here to assure you that it’s not. Having gathered at the Central Library on a lovely sunny morning, us six ladies decided to make the best of the final two hours of the SO: Write Women Workshop, as we draw to a close this summer. Wait, we do reopen in September, so worry not!

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As we began with writing goals, and chatted up on what we needed to do to accomplish them, we learnt so much about the others in the room, and somehow felt so bonded to each other, almost like carbon atoms. Claire said it was important to intuitively set goals and that she was going to help writers set goals for themselves, which would inspire her own writing. Liz has wonderful plans to publish powerful pieces of writing that must never stay in the dark (and boy, do we agree!). Karen and Millie have grand plans of getting their first novels published as well, and we hope we can all sail through our goals happily, while overcoming our limiting factors. Yes, TIME, we’re talking about you.

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To this effect, we did a small goal setting exercise by writing our goals and the steps needed to achieve them on lovely postcards that Joanna had brought for us. As we got that done, we discussed them, and handed them over. Maybe someday, when we’ve accomplished our goals, we can find a postcard in our box to show us the roadmap to where we’re now.

Goal setting is hard work, but working towards the said goal is even harder. We knew we needed to write, and a perfectly fun writing exercise awaited us. As we took out blank sheets of paper, and each wrote an object, drink, place and name, we folded the paper, and passed it over to the person sitting to our left. And we wrote a story with whichever four we had. Sounds easy? Do give it a shot, and let us know!

We’ll be back with more updates, and a lot more writing snippets. Until then, have a great summer and a lovely year ahead. Cheers!

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Tea, tears, and synchronicity

It’s taken me a while to write this blog, about last Thursday’s So Write Women workshop at the Art House. I keep starting with the practicalities, who was there and who read what, members leaving and members joining, which exercises we did and what we produced.

But sometimes the whats and the hows and all the other journalistic mechanics don’t really cut it.

Thursday was special.

 

One of my biggest hopes for these workshops would be that they would be a place where women writers felt safe. Safe to express themselves, and safe to share.

 

I’d asked the women to bring along writing they’d worked on in the month since we last met. It was interesting how common themes presented themselves: we had two pieces about tea, although they were really about more than that, of course – tea as a salve for difficult conversations, tea as a source of sanity in the maelstrom of new motherhood; mothers and children loomed large too, in fractured relationships and sorrow for what has been missed and lost.

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If you look closely at this photograph you can see my eyes are leaking.

 

We closed with a free write exercise that gave us an angry bottle, glistening granite, a petrified tree, smiling geese, and sisters in an orchard.

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To return briefly to our river metaphor of a few weeks ago, there’s a natural ebb and flow to these kinds of groups, but while we say goodbye to Emma (stay in touch!) and welcome Damhnait (please come back!), there is also something constant. I’m not sure I can name it. Voice, maybe. Spirit, definitely.

 

Thank you, So Write Women; Thursday was special.

 

 

Words of Language

Hello!

It has been a fantastic month, and all’s well that ends well. Shakespeare wasn’t on our list on Saturday, but paraphrasing, and employing poetic language definitely was. Starting off the drizzly rainy Saturday by sharing what we’ve all been doing over the last month, we welcomed Fiona into the group. All settled, we all listened to the wonderful pieces of flash fiction and poetry from across the table.

Based on the ‘river’ prompt that Joanna had emailed (in accordance with Riverfest this weekend), all of them had such beautiful pieces to share about rivers and the water. Liz read out her gorgeous poem about leaving the past behind (she even brought props!) and Millie’s poem ‘Catch’ on oysters and the seaside transported us into a whole other world. Katie, inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’ song, wrote a piece of flash fiction that was so powerful and precise. Fiona, who works for music services, brought a new colour into the group as she discussed how she is working on a musical piece on menopause. As she sang a beautiful gospel-inspired song about how everything is changing, she voiced the collective screams of women going through menopause, and there was a poignancy in her dry humour, which was amazing, and usually quite hard to achieve! Clare had a short but delicate poem on rivers and incarnations, which got us thinking about how Clare and Katie used the rivers as a lyrical device to talk about the passage of time. Angela gave us the final touch of humour, poignantly balancing the undertone of sadness and a certain wistfulness, as she read out an excerpt from her diary.

We then got down to the exercises, where Joanna asked the ladies to go through their work, and remove all the adjectives and adverbs (they’re pure evil, yes!) and rewrite them with just the other parts of speech. This was a beautiful and simplistic ritual in paring down one’s work, and although the poets found it harder than the prose writers, it did turn out to be a very interesting challenge to all. It proved to be even more challenging as the next part of the exercise was to choose just one of those redacted adjectives/ adverbs, and put them back in a place that seemed best. The words that went back include audacious, chirpy, unbearably, and strange.

With the final exercise, where we gathered at the large table, to pick up lots that were categorised into verbs, adverbs, places and periods. Each of us had to pick one from each category, and indulge in some free writing exercise, ending up with fascinating pieces like the Glassy Classy Granite, the ‘starry eyed’ cliches, and a lost soul in the middle of the ocean. Although, free writing is essentially ‘freeing’ one from restrictions, the group agreed that having these constraints was liberating and helpful.

All told, what a fantastic workshop it was, and we hope to see you all again soon!

 

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone… in the company of fellow writers and great coffee.

We had the wonderful novelist Susmita Bhattacharya over at our seminar on the as our guest of honour! 🙂 This following (fabulous!) guest post by her is a testament to the wonderful time that we all spent together as writers, amidst piping cups of coffee.

On Thursday, I attended the SO:Write Women’s Writing group led by novelist, Joanna Barnard. It was a very warm and welcoming atmosphere, and the group started off by sharing their writing news. Each member had something to celebrate, whether it was completing 30 K words of their manuscript, or being long listed in a competition, or participating in a poetry slam. What was commended most was that each of the writers had put words to paper, and had enjoyed the process of writing. The group welcomed two new writers, bringing the total for the Thursday group to nine members.

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Joanna introduced the theme for the workshop – setting. The group discussed and shared ideas defining ‘setting’, how setting could be expanded to create mood, atmosphere, time, era. Then we had to do writing exercise where we were given two small chits of paper. We had to write the name of a place in one, and a time period on the other. These then went into two jars and everyone had to choose one prompt from each jar. This was a great exercise to get out of one’s comfort zone, and try and write about something different. Or do research about a place or an era one isn’t familiar with. I picked Paris and the Elizabethan era, which was a challenge! There were some very interesting outcomes, with Rhiannon writing about 1976 Florida, and Clare experimenting with sci-fi in 3017, set in Italy. Cate wrote about her grandmother’s Victorian house while Liz went underwater to explore sea life.

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The second exercise was working with visual prompts. Joanna has asked the group to bring along photos, postcards or anything else that may inspire them to write about the setting. There was a varied range of visuals, from abandoned building to fog cloaked landscapes to a family holiday on a beach in Venice. The group could use their own picture or any other they wished to write about, and had about half an hour to write a piece. This is to be polished off at home, and brought back to the next session.

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On the whole, it was a fun session, full of positive energy and camaraderie. I look forward to another session, as I would love to participate as a member of this very creative writing group. If I may, please, Joanna, and round off the total to ten?!

What would they do?

You know, when Suits was at its best and raging up TRP storms, it was trending on twitter with the Hashtag #WhatWouldHarveyDo. If by a sheer unfortunate set of events, you haven’t watched Suits, Harvey Specter is its fantastic protagonist, playing the shrewd and loveable high profile lawyer. Why this hashtag stuck with me the most was because it amply emphasised his character. He was a go-getter, and could solve any situation, salvage anyone’s life. And, it just seemed so fitting to have remembered this when we discussed character yesterday.

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We all have our favourites, and we got to hear some of them yesterday. Right from Austen’s masterpiece Elizabeth Bennett to the Orange is the new Black series, we all ripped apart our bookshelves and Netflix watch-lists to find out why we adored these characters, and what significance they had to our own writing. Occasionally, we allowed ourselves the leeway because choosing a favourite character was like choosing a favourite child- you just don’t do it! 🙂

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So, we got started with understanding characterisation. The best themes and poetic devices in the world won’t help if we can’t get our readers to empathise with or despise our characters. And often, more than what your character says, it’s in the subtext, or what’s left unsaid that brings out that unique quality or persona that we relate to.

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Our creative juices were flowing, and we needed to channelise them towards the notebook. Our first exercise was to think about five unique characteristics about a character that’s been playing on our mind. It could be a figment of our imagination, or based on real people we have encountered. Based on this list of five, we chose one and wrote a short paragraph (or a bio) and got guessing as to what characteristic the writer chose. It was deliriously fun, using words as clues and pauses as cues to find the characteristic that best defined the character in question. There were so many different forms and styles, and sometimes the characters surprised us so much, that we guessed the polar opposite of what they defined.

Hmm.. This got us thinking. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” So, what was it that our characters wanted? We decided to test it out with another exercise by writing a dialogue-only exposition of what our characters wanted. We decided to up the ante by posing some restrictions- there were to be only two characters, where one of them was busy doing something, and the other was trying to tell the former something important. After about ten minutes, when we heard each other’s work, we knew what we’d done- created beautiful little bubbles of speech and narrative arcs, from just one little characteristic. From emotional and hilarious domestic conversations to a dialogue about cakes and ovens (oooh cakes!), we thought we  had seen them all.

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This was of course, until we discussed non-human characters. What could they possibly want? Did these inanimate objects have feelings? Did the dog long for the leash sitting on the dining table so that the owner could take it for a walk? Did the lightbulb know it needed to glow, because it was trying to be emphatic when people said, “Let there be light!” We had answers soon enough. Liz’s amazingly envisioned story of a plug, Becky’s moving story of a mountain, Katie’s quite believable narrative of a seagull, Reem’s fascinating story of the rain’s interview, Karen’s story of a bird of prey were all testimonies of character hiding in every little dust speck and crack in the table to pillars and cathedrals. By then, we were all washed over by  an evocative writer’s high. As we called it a day, and exited the lovely Central Library, even the dustbins seemed to have a story to tell!

 

Proof that Writing is Therapy

“So many books, so little time.” This Frank Zappa quote rang true for all of us on World Book Day. The ladies had all gathered at The Art House Café on Thursday, by eleven o’clock in the morning. Soon enough, armed with coffee, tea, and cakes, all of us got started talking on what we did over the month. Some of us read more, and some of us wrote more, but we all had something wonderful to share.

Jo started off with a stunning script on the refugee situation, and how an idealistic world would perceive living situations and the immigration status in futuristic Britain. It’s often the seed that’s most critical to theatre scripts, and this piece was off to a great start. Joanna and Rhiannon read the lines of dialogue for all of us, kudos to your theatrical expression too! 🙂  Lynn had a wonderful piece on a prompt that Joanna had provided. A wonderful and engaging dialogue ensued between the left and right feet, that cracked the whole room up. Julie’s rhyming couplets was inspired by an article that she had read on immigrants being asked to take an ‘immigration oath’. This combined with hours of beautiful walks in the park with her dog, turned into powerful, evocative, and profound couplets, almost delivering a punch, that still lingered even for hours after we’d finished the workshop.

Rhiannon had a power-packed piece under her sleeve (on her iPad, I was kidding), with the words “I’m never a resident here” digging the dagger in, a truly forceful piece. Claire had a soul-stirring piece on death, giving one a third person perspective, detailing how helpless we all are if someone we know has lost someone they love. Despite death being personal, the magnitude of not being able to say anything comforting was beautifully highlighted in Claire’s piece, that echoed with all of us. Liz had two pieces- one was again based on the ‘feet’ prompt, and another moving poem titled ‘The End’. We just can’t seem to say enough of Liz’s poetry, she’s a natural 🙂

Just like we’d done with the Saturday group, we had the same exercise on POV, including Pixar’s rules on storytelling. However, despite having similar exercises for two different groups, we always noticed that the results are completely different, and have different forms of reasoning. Out of the fairytales, we had the following:

 

Lynn and Julie chose to tell the story of Beauty & the Beast from the perspective of Belle’s father who has a delinquent daughter, and dropped some think-bombs on all of us by making us wonder why the father was single, and how the mother has never been mentioned in the story. Truly, creative indeed. Three pairs of ladies, chose the Wolf, but in every context, the Wolf was motivated by something different. In one piece, he was motivated by Hunger, and in the other two, by Boredom and Loneliness. It’s spectacular how the human brain works. Coming out with different perspectives was the point of this exercise, and I think we can all pat ourselves on the back to have been able to do this successfully.

We had the ‘pea under the mattress’ exercise again, and while some of gained some distance from what bothered us, some of us needed closure and braced the pea under the mattress. Some of us found it hard to start, but then suddenly it all came pouring in, while some of us knew just what we needed to write about. But ultimately, with this kind of free-writing exercise summing up as therapy, we realised, no matter how or what we write, we cannot control what others think, and that it doesn’t matter either. With this note, we’d like to thank all of you ladies for sharing your stories with us. It’s truly been wonderful, and hope to see you next month when we discuss characters 🙂

Plotting & Scheming- A Writer’s Map

Life’s lessons are so alluring. They’re also complicated, and make you think. They make you think so hard that your head hurts. But, what if you wrote that on paper? Do you feel better? Lighter? If your answer is yes, then do read on, because this post is a testament to everything that writing is- powerful, stunning, therapeutic, creative, and liberating.

The Seminar room at the Southampton Central Library filtered the sun in, while we sprang our Saturday by reading works that the ladies had written over the month. Liz’s moving poem titled ‘I’m not that woman anymore’ gave us all goosebumps as she recited it from memory with incredible passion. The short yet beautiful pieces by Claire including one on something blue that she has and an object that’s close to her heart, Karen’s emotional ‘Theo’ about her grandson, Reem’s tragic-hilarious non-fiction piece set in the 1947 India- Pakistan landscape, Katie’s brilliant ‘Tap, tap’, Millie’s short piece that went best with her doodles (that’s extraordinary talent, we are all envious!).  So many different voices, all just through paper- it felt magical.

Everybody loves Pixar, who doesn’t? But not all of us knew that they have formulae (or formulas?) for storytelling. They have a list of 22 rules which you can access here. The fourth rule is literally a plug-in format which any story can fit into. It goes like this:

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So, based on this ‘scientifically artistic’ approach, we did a short exercise on Point-of-View (POV), also what Joanna liked to call the ‘Story Spine’. We mixed things up a bit. So here’s what we did:

  1. We picked the following super famous stories: Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Adam & Eve and listed their lead characters: The Big Bad Wolf, Woodcutter, Grandmother, the Fairy Godmother, Ugly sisters, The Prince, The Serpent, The Apple, respectively.
  2. In pairs, we decided to write a story from a different POV
  3. The result: Aha! Brava! Amazing! We thought we had heard it all until we heard a different POV from each writer duo. At one stage, it got quite heated as the Prince battled with the ugly sisters. Phew, that was a close call.

This exercise opened up our perspectives as if a knot had been loosened. I remembered a friend who ripped open The Great Gatsby, and wrote her piece from Daisy’s perspective, and I still recall how perfectly well it fitted with the overall plot. This was an eye-opening exercise, and we all thought that the fairy tales played their role appropriately, if not excessively.

All of us have our pet peeves, and we decided that enough was enough, we wanted to embrace it. A famous playwright said that the best plays are the ones written as an offspring of a thought you’ll never tell someone about. We wanted to put that to practice, and listed three (yes, we had to limit it, sigh!) things that made us most uncomfortable. Joanna called it the ‘Pea under the mattress’. How fitting! This exercise opened up new dimensions, helped us access emotions, anger, redemption, hurt and resolve. Although not all of us were comfortable writing about those things that got on our nerves, which is perfectly valid, some of us were super brave and surprised the whole gathering with their pieces. Did you know how nerve-racking cake meetings can be? Well, we know now, and how we laughed!

All in all, it was a splendid session, and we all had our Writergasms, (yes it’s a real thing) and look forward to an awesome session next month where we’ll be discussing Character and Dialogue. We don’t want to be ‘that group’ that gives out sheets of homework assignments, but if you do find the time to write (we strongly recommend you do) we’d love to hear your pieces (even experimental or work-in-progresses are great) on perspectives, plotting, experimenting with 1st, 2nd and 3rd person POVs, and the like.

Remember, ladies, it’s your right to write! 🙂

Women Writers Inc.

Once upon a time, we realised that ‘Once upon a time’ beginnings aren’t in today. Breaking stereotypes, embracing their natural selves, over the last couple of weeks we’ve met and spoken to over twenty women, resolute in their dreams of being authors. It’s been an impactful journey as we, driven by a metaphorical and educational sense, ‘found our voices’, the building block of this whole programme.

The first Saturday session was on the 21st of January, 2017, and we flagged off the first Thursday session yesterday. The energy was palpable, as they set words and papers flying, amidst laughter and fun!

Pictures speak a thousand words, so here’s all the awesome stuff about how we found our voices:

A summary of the first Saturday session can be read here.

Once again, thank you, wonderful people! You’ve made this happen, and we can’t wait to start putting together the anthology.

Before we wind up, we just wanted to share with you a few interesting events happening in Southampton.

  1. Women in the film industry — screening and discussion
    6 Feb 2017, 6.30pm, Stripe Auditorium, University of Winchester. Entry is free, but you must book here: https://goo.gl/x0Cb9K
  2. There is a workshop on ‘Writing the Body’ as part of International Women’s Day celebrations. Tickets to the show are available here and to book a place on the workshop or gather more details, please email matt@artfulscribe.co.uk. The show includes free cake, welcomes all genders, and promises a powerful performance, with support from Jenn Hart and open mic for women who wish to share their words.
  3. Entropics: a series of exciting experimental poetry events, will be running throughout February and March at Mettricks Old Town Cafe in Southampton city centre. Events are free, public and open to all. Doors open at 6.30pm; performances begin at 7pm. The series will launch on February 13th with Nisha Ramayya, followed by Jay Bernard (February 20th), Sophie Seita (February 27th), Trevor Joyce (March 6th) and Peter Manson (February 13th). News of the last poet will follow soon. All information, including interviews with the poets and advice about getting to the venue from the university can be found here: https://entropicsblog.wordpress.com

Coming back to our workshop, next month, we’re having some schemes, stories and plots up our notebooks (yes, like conjurors)! We’re accessible via email and social media, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us 🙂

p.s. A ton of thank you’s to the Central Library and Art House Café wouldn’t suffice 🙂