Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Leeds Trinity Writers Festival 22 March 2017

I attended the Becky Cherriman and Miles Salter workshops at the Leeds Trinity University Writers Festival this year and here is my review of the workshops as I thought the information may be useful for my followers:

Becky Cherriman The Rhythms of a Writer

Which patterns of behaviour do we fall into as writers?  How do these help or hinder us?  When do they entangle us in nets and when do they allow us to spin intricate webs?  We will discuss habits people use to make time and space for their writing. The focus of the workshop will be on learning more about our own ways of working but there will be an opportunity to write creatively.  Come away with an individually-tailored structure that you can follow and branch-off from when you need to.

Becky Cherriman is a writer, experienced workshop leader and performer based in Leeds.  Published by Myslexia, New Walk, Envoi, Mother's Milk, Bloodaxe, and Well versed and in Poets for Corbyn, she was resident poet for Morley Literature Festival in 2013 and lead artist for Altofts Festival in a Day 2016.  Becky is a co-writer and performer of Haunt, a site-specific commission for Imove, a project about homelessness.  She is currently working on her one woman show, Corseted as part of the Alice in Bloomers project.  Her first poetry pamphlet Echolocation and first collection Empires of Clay were published in 2016 by Mother's Milk and Cinnamon Press respectively.

We started with a free writing exercise where we had to write whatever came into our heads for 10-15 minutes.  I was pleased in that a brand new scene for my WIP came out onto the page.  We were then given a selection of patterns to choose from.  When we had chosen one we were given the following prompts: What does it make you think of?  How does it make you feel?  The emotions or feelings evoked.  Who would wear this or see this in their surroundings?  Describe that person and where that pattern is in relation to them.

I was given a rich ornate pattern, reminiscent of an antique mirror or cloth on a period piece of furniture.  We then had to look at what we had written and take three quarters of the most important/relevant words in our ideas and use them to write a 6/8 line poem and repeat some of your words within it.  Here is the poem I came up with:

Faded yet proud
the ornate sigil of
generations past

Demure intertwined with danger
Swords touching beauty

As she sits upon
its ornate opulence
Waiting demure for
her time to come

Not the first of the last
Demure generations of women
Ornate yet a sigil
of faded money and power

Demure intertwined with danger
Swords touching beauty

Colours muted reflect her place
A faded sigil
of obedience

We followed this with five minutes of meditation.

Becky recommended writing what you're passionate about.  Julia Cameron in the Artists Way book says to write three pages every morning of free writing and don't look at it for a certain time.  Carmel Bird 'Do no housework.'

Where you write
When you write
Discipline to write
Head space to write

Becky then discussed the Disney technique - time for the dreamer (as wild as you like), the realist (how you make it happen - timetables), the critic (interrogates this and finds weaknesses and problems) and the action planner (how you can make it work - plan the dream).

We then discussed various techniques which included prompts lists and randomisers or word of the day apps.  Places to inspire you - pictures.  Timetables and rewards.  The pomodoro technique - using a tomato-shaped timer, write for 25 minutes then a 5 minute break and every 4 sets of 25 have a longer break.  If anything distracts you, write it down.  Finding a really quiet space - Leeds Beckett Library was recommended.

Julia Cameron in the Artists Way suggests writing a letter to your internal editor or someone who has stood in your way.

For editing, Becky suggests setting targets - someone suggested writing when you are hungover!  If you get stuck, add extra conflict to get you to the end or go back to plot. 

Books recommended were The Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer and The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler (I highly recommend this book too).

We were then asked whether these writing rituals ever stand in our way.  Know when to experiment so you don't get so that you can't work if the usual conditions can't be met.  Allow space in our lives for randomness - always carry a notebook.  If it stops working, try something different, have a holiday from your usual routine.

To finish the session, we all wrote our writing aims and why we were aiming for these on a paper timetable that we could take away.

Over lunch, there were Readings and then in the afternoon, our second workshop.

Miles Salter  Writing Another

Writing allows us the freedom to climb inside the heads of other people.  What's it like from somebody else's perspective?  How do we capture their concerns and mannerisms?  How do we write with a voice that is alien to our own?  This workshop provides an opportunity to write from different perspectives and explore other personalities.

Miles Salter has written fiction, journalism and poetry.  Since 2010 he has been writer in residence in a prison, Director of York Literature Festival and visiting lecturer at Leeds Trinity University.  His books include A Song for Nicky Moon, Animals and Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure.  Find out more at

Miles started by asking 'how do we capture the voice of character?'  He asked us to think of somebody but they must not be you - put yourself in their shoes and get into their head.  Put them in a challenging situation.  We then had 2 minutes to write that person in first person.

I was pleased in that yet again a new scene for my current WIP from one of MCs POV was written.

Miles recommended the Stephen King book On Writing (I recommend this highly too) and then read a poem he had written about the hacking scandal at News International that shut down the News of the World and started the Sun on Sunday.  He tried to write the poem HACK from the perspective of Rebecca Brookes, supposedly mistress of Andy Coulson.  He has also written a book Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure with a 10 year-old narrator.  Then we discussed Room by Emma Donoghue as to what we think about the child author voice as some thought it too authoritative.

We were then separated into pairs and given a handout with 8 extracts from novels and we had to consider the following questions:

What sort of person is 'speaking' in each extract (age, gender, personality, experience etc.)
What sort of 'tricks' does the writer employ to convey the voice to the reader?  (Think about tone, in/formality, use of slang, how sophisticated the language is etc.)

After this we had to come up with a character with a particular occupation and put him/her in a situation that might challenge them in some way.  We were told to get into this characters head and write a piece - you were able to introduce another character to enable dialogue.  I came up with a male street cleaner who has an ill daughter and wrote a flash fiction.

We were then given the following scenarios:

A teenager dreams of escaping the small town she lives in.
A child approaches a dog for the first time.
A single mother from Yorkshire finds a bag of cash.
A parrot in a pet store.

Asked to give the piece emotion, physical detail, scents, sounds, smells, accents and denote whether the character was fe/male we each wrote a story.  I chose the first scenario and wrote a flash fiction that will need a lot of work if I am to use it.

Following this workshop there were more Readings by visiting writers followed by refreshments and then the launch of the Inspiring Futures poetry anthology, including a wine reception and readings.

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