Sunday, 4 June 2017

Adam Z Robinson Creative Writing Workshop, Halifax, 3 June 2017

I attended this inspiring and informative creative writing workshop yesterday at Square Chapel for the Arts in Halifax.  After talking about the books we were currently reading and giving a short introduction to ourselves in this way, Adam told us that he writes for Theatre and short stories and he is currently working on 'This Storm is what we call progress.'  He recently toured his play 'The Book of Darkness and Light' featuring Gothic ghost stories and three brand new ghost stories, 'Shivers' is coming in Autumn.  He has also written a film The Split which did film festivals last year and he explained that the workshop was themed 'identity' and there would be a series of writing exercises following this theme.

We then had to write three sentences, two lies and a truth which we had to read out without revealing which one was the truth.  Mine were:

I once met Michael Caine in Harrods Food Hall when he was eating lobster bisque and I said "You're Michael Caine," and he said, "I know."

On leaving a hotel, I was checking out whilst Pierce Brosnan was checking in and I asked for his autograph.  He refused because the piece of paper was my hotel bill.

When I met Sharon, Simon and Louie on X-Factor they never showed our audition of my duet partner Claire and I, but we weren't bothered as we had only gone on for a laugh and never expected to get that far.

I wonder if any of my followers can guess which one is true?

We then did an exercise using paragraphs from Joe Brainards' I remember, where we had seven minutes to write memories (they didn't have to be real/yours).  Mine were:

I remember the squeal of the tyres as the car hit the wall inches from where I'd been standing before my best friend pulled me away.

I remember the cold slowly inching around my body as the blue dye explored for cancer.

I remember telling my 6 year-old daughter that just because Christina said I was going to die, it didn't make it true.

I remember knowing that I woke at that time before dawn when the light is just thinking of showing its face, that you'd died.

I remember the crushing disappointment when you talked to my chest rather than look me in the eye and risk me talking to you.  And I was a fan.

I remember the happiness of meeting you and you being normal and generous and kind, everything I had hoped my writing hero would be.

I remember when Philip Pullman said his daemon would be a magpie as he was always busy stealing someone else's stories.

I remember being the blue toothbrush to your pink toothbrush at Guide Summer Fair.

I remember thinking I'd known you all my whole life on our first date.

I remember knowing I'd never love so much again when I held you in my arms.

I remember you filled the cot from end to end and no-one believed you were only hours old.

We then had to pick one of the memories and start the piece using it to bring us into that world that tells us the story but holds loads back.  Like Wilkie Collins said "Make 'em laugh.  Make 'em cry.  Make 'em wait."

Here is mine, which I am thinking of using as the beginning to a new novel that I hope will be a literary one:

I remember being the blue toothbrush to your pink toothbrush at the Guide Summer Fair.  My Mum was so excited for us to win because she had made the costumes, but I knew that would never happen.  You were in the in crowd but I would never be.  You were just unlucky enough to live on my street and our Mum's were friends.  Our Mum's thought we were friends too.  Again, I knew this would never happen.

Your Mum liked to tell mine how you had scored so highly in tests at school, how you had made the netball team.  I was on the rugby team and scored most of the tries but Mum was never going to brag about that.

Your hair was long, almost to your bottom, and mine was short.  My Mum liked it that way and anyway, everyone else had the Lady Di cut so I should be grateful I suppose.  But the haircut got me thrown out of toilets because they thought I was a boy.  Like I was going to try and prove it!

So here I am, the blue toothbrush to your pink and I smile at the irony.  We will never win.  I will never win.  You will never see me as more than I am.  You will never love me like I love you.  Unlike our toothbrushes, I will never come clean.

Adam said that repetition is a great way to access things and when I read my piece out, he likened it to Jeanette Winterson, which was a huge compliment.

He recommended starting inside out or outside and working in.  How you feel about something that reflects how you feel about the world.

We then did a time capsule exercise, where we had to put 10 items in that would tell a person who digs it up in 100 years time, what it is like to be you (or your character).  My 10 items for my character were:

A lined notebook.  A pencil with an Adam Ant topper.  A Nik Kershaw concert flyer.  A rugby ball.  A faded black and white picture of 2 kids dressed as toothbrushes.  A tattoo sticker of a broken heart.  A green 2CV.  A CHiPs annual.  The number 32.  Black fingerless gloves.

We then took a break and then when we returned, we had to write a poem which comes in list format with the title or pick one item/object and tell us the story of it.  Adam told us about the Hitchcock McGuffin - an object within a film/story that propels the story forward but is not what the story is about.  It helps if the object is something somebody else wants and what is stopping them from getting that as it creates dramatic tension and you have a story straight away.  We had 7 minutes and this was mine:

Dark and hot, the heavy evening hair hanging packed with sweaty bodies and a spotlight.  I held my breath as my heart beat accelerated and for once not because of Caroline.  This was all new to me.  For once I was the same as everyone else around me and we were all thinking the same thing.

Fan Woods, where we always camped down the rackety road to ruin to leaky tents and endless washing up and rain.  This year though was different and I was different. 

He was tinier than me in real life, like Prince or Kylie Minogue to give you an idea.  He sang 'Wouldn't it be good', 'The Riddle' and 'I won't let the sun go down on me' and whilst he was drinking a carton of orange juice in his break (there were breaks back in the late 70s and early 80s), I reached out and touched his arm.  I didn't wash my hand for a week.

Adam said that it is important for you to know everything but how much/quickly you reveal this to your reader is what intrigues.  Flashbacks, conversations and recollections all work, but tell a story and keep it propelling forward, it doesn't have to be linear.  Trust your reader to fill in the blanks because they trust you as a writer.  Mystery and unanswered questions are good.  Have faith in your readers, people are smart.  Only put it in if you want to and if it is necessary.

The last exercise was one of anaphora, a repetitive piece inspired by poet Caroline Bird's poem 219 to Whitstable, where we had to choose something we want to do in our lives, or that we wish to change/alter in our life.  You could bluff or be super honest, but we had to be specific.

This is mine:

False Confidence

I am complete once the last glass of champagne is drunk at my book launch

I am complete once my agent asks for more

I am complete once midnight means the queue starts for my latest novel

I am complete once no-one asks 'if  I have I heard of a book you wrote?'

I am complete once your eyes don't glaze over when I say I'm a writer

I am complete once you will choose to read my work

I am complete once someone sees meaning in my words

I am complete once I feel I can edit no more

I am complete once I finish THE book

I am complete once I believe I can write

I am complete once I am

I am complete once the dream is a reality

To finish the workshop, Adam recommended looking at your writing once you have finished it and try to flip it on its head and provide a negative as well as a positive.  We then handed in our feedback forms with our emails as Adam is hoping to run a ghost story workshop soon.  I will let me followers know if and when I hear of these.

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