Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Leeds Trinity University Writers' Festival Andy Willoughby workshop review

In the second part of my Leeds Trinity University Writers' Festival review, here are the details of the Andy Willoughby, Life Goes to the Movies - writing from movie memory, screen icons, stills and mise-en-scene, workshop.

Andy Willoughby, poet and playwright, is the former Poet Laureate of Middlesbrough and has had his work published by various publishers in full collections, pamphlets and collaborative international projects.  He is a social playwright, often working in collaboration with disadvantaged groups using interactive creative writing and Boalian and Brechtian techniques to create plays to be performed by participants as well as creating more traditional theatre.  He has had performance work commissioned by the BBC and the European City of Culture 2011: KIDS, with Bob Beagrie, has had residencies at key national and international venues.  His latest publication is Sampo: Heading Further North - poems inspired by Kalevala a joint collection with Bob Beagrie (Red Squirrel 2015).  He is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing and Literature at Teesside University, with over 20 years teaching experience.  He runs Ek Zuban Press and Literature Development with Beagrie and is co director of Teesside's legendary Electric Kool-Aid Cabaret of the Spoken Word.

The workshop started by the attendees thinking of an early movie memory that was shared with the group - mine was The Beast with Five Fingers a Hammer House of Horror film I saw as a child at my grandparents house late at night.

Stephen King said that the line 'Man is in the forest' from Bambi is the feeling he tries to create with his fiction.

We were then shown a picture of stars from the 1930s to depict their iconography, e.g. Charlie Chaplin's moustache, and the way that their costume or ways of walking/talking and mannerisms worked so well, the way catchphrases do now.

Andy then showed us a picture of Harpo Marx and we were to have 3 lines, 1 the image and what you think it means in the 5, 7, 5 format.  This was mine:

Squashed hat eyes wide staring
Overcoat and jaunty tie, clashing curly hair
Same but different, keeping here

Icons of the day were trapped in personas, e.g. Audrey Hepburn and Andy asked us to describe the picture we were each given as though to a child who was trying to draw it.

Then we had to think of an actor/actress we admired and write how they look, speak, mannerisms etc. and then use the furniture game, i.e. if they were, what would they be and the weather equivalent, e.g. the first ray of sunshine after a heavy rainstorm, music, e.g. purposeful drums with a measured beat and mode of transport: dependable Volvo.  Here was mine:

Experience mapped on your forehead
Dependable as the rain
Measured consideration of each word
Carefully breathed disdain

A shuffled gait, never late
Perfection as a prowl

Sturdy as a Volvo
Conversation through your hands
You have the knack to venture back
To movies with big plans

Behind the mask, a stifled gasp
Eyebrows point the way

You had this friend for dinner
I wished I'd shared the wine
A nice glass of chianti
With the best actor of our time

Andy then passed around 3 homages to Harpo Marx, a sonnet by Robert Lowell, free verse by Jack Kerouac and a villanelle by John Wain.  We then discussed various modern actor/actress roles, e.g. Cate Blanchett as a villain Bob Dylan and were asked about the process of going to the cinema, our most vivid memory of going to see a movie.  We had to describe the movie, scene but the end should be about you, e.g. he or she sits.  This was what I came up with:

Smell of Popcorn

As wide as the world
the curtains pull back to show
Clashing colours pure
Music pulls me in
A drawing but real life too
Eyes wide with delight

Sweetness wafts across
of the ice cream in the back
Darkness like a cloth
Surprise pulls me in
Knowledge that something is wrong
Gasp at the horror

Here I sit in awe
First taste of the heat of death
But I want some more

Then we had to imagine a dialogue with a star you wish you were then.  What would the star give you as advice for the situation.  This was mine:

The light a hot shard tripling the fear and I know I'm tipping back.  I want to be anywhere but here, but there's no chance of that.

"Is it the light?  Would you prefer it off?"

"I don't think it helps to be in the dark."

"Would you rather sit up?"

"I'd feel like I had more control."

"You had the control before we got here and we all know how well that went."


"It's the old adage."

"What is?"


"I don't understand."

"Lie back and think of England."

"Or America."

"I guess."

"Either way, he's going to do this any way."

"You could always bit him."

The door opens and the time is up.

"Morning Mrs Leigh and....."

His voice trails off uncertain as he stares at the interloper.


"Oh-kay.  Can you please wait outside?"

"I have just one question before I go; are you feeling lucky punk?"


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