My first workshop review of Leeds Trinity Writer's Festival is Workshop 8 - Fake News or True Stories, Blurring the Lines between Fact and Fiction with Alison Taft.
Alison Taft's first three novels were published by Caffeine Nights and independent press based in Kent. She now writes under the name Ali Harper. Alison graduated from the MA at Leeds Trinity in 2014. The book she started for her dissertation will be published by Harper Collins in May 2018. She enjoyed studying so much that she is now working on a PhD at the University of Huddersfield.
The workshop started with the participants interviewing the person next to them to glean the answers to the following questions: 1 Name?, 2 Why you have chosen this workshop today?, 3 What is the best thing you have ever written?, 4 A true fact and 5 A believable lie.
Alison has started writing her second book in her series and she shared a picture of Jimmy Saville introducing Frank Bruno to the Yorkshire Ripper, as well as a picture showing Roundhay Park in Leeds detailing where the attacks took place and Jimmy Saville's home with its floor to ceiling windows. This brings up questions such as 'Was he watching?' There was also an interview with a woman who used to date a Harley Street dentist in Leeds who was there for a cast of Jimmy Saville's teeth and it is known Saville liked to bite women and some of the Yorkshire Ripper's victims had bite marks. Saville is known to have said that he could "make things disappear' and as they used to keep all evidence in police cellars/dungeons and a lot of it disappeared, what if someone had tried to tell?
Participants were then given a clipping of a newspaper story which brought up questions about the story such as: What is the story? What is the real story? Who's story is it? What do they want? What's stopping them/obstacles? What happens next? What isn't in the story/what's missing? What's the subtext? and the all important, What if? question.
Using my clipping, the answers to the above questions were: Internet/gaming addicts sent to bootcamp, Control/conformity, Xiong Chengzuo and the other teenagers/addicts, their families, the Xu Xiagyang Education Centre workers, they want to break the addiction and turn the teenagers/addicts into a money earning, family positive and meaningful member of society, the addiction/mental health, the things that happen to Xiong behind closed doors, whether Xiong wants to be helped, that the Xu Xiagyang Education Centre is profiting off someone's misery/mental health issues, that they are 'helping' Xiong as he does not have a meaningful life - but what constitutes a meaningful life? What it is to them may not be what it is to Xiong, what if this is just a way for the parents to get the son to conform/get rid of the son? What if the Xu Xiagyang Centre is a front for something else like people trafficking or experiments? What if they never come out?
Title of my story would be 'Electronic Heroin.'
Writers can use fact because we always bring our own unique take on it. How we go from the spark/inspiration.
Alison then showed the group pictures and information about the body on the Moor (the man who travelled from Lahore India, via London to the Yorkshire Moors in England to commit suicide). Why has he done that? Was he trying to tell us something? He has been identified now as David Lyton from London but he had no wallet, mobile phone or any other identifying articles on his person and Alison says a writer could put the two things together, maybe a woman who he knew died there and he committed suicide on the same spot? Using a juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated events, they can come together and smash to make a story.
Don't worry about using something true as the things you worry about will not be the things that happen. You have the right to write/tell your own story of how it was.
Participants then impulsively picked a picture from a selection laid out - I picked a red-haired woman wearing black at a microphone in some lecture-type room. She was uncovering herself from a black scarf that had been covering her head/face. She had red lipstick and nails and a haughty expression. A man, just obscured, stood behind her has white hair and it is a red room with brown wooden walls/benches. The woman may be 50/60 and is Caucasian. Is her hair colour natural and is her all-black attire significant? Her jewellery (watch and earrings) look expensive. She looks like a villain rather than a hero.
Alison then asked us to think of possible connections, e.g. the woman could be a former patient of the Centre who now wants to be free from the life they forced her into, she could be a former worker at the Centre who feared for her life because she knew too much, telling the truth and being brave enough to reveal who she is, she could be the mother of a former patient who now realises it was her decision to inter her daughter there that made her disappear/commit suicide and the uncovering is the moment she reveals herself as the source that got the Centre shut down. All these are possible 'what if's' for the picture. It looks like the inside of a court building so it could be a human rights thing - is she a witness, on trial or the victim? Xiong was interred on 18 December, so could set the story with parallels with the Christmas story. Could Xiong meet the protagonist inside and be the one that helped her escape? Could they have fallen in love or made some sort of pact? Is he still in there? Is he still alive?
Using the ying/yang symbol as an example, Alison explained that a baddie has to have a piece of your goodie and your goodie has to have a piece of your baddie (J. K. Rowling did this literally in Harry Potter) to make it less black and white. The shades of grey make it more textured and the richer the writing becomes.
We writers have to decide what we take and how we turn it into a story. A memoir is a story from a life, so it still has to fit the fiction of what the story should be.
A hand-out was shared depicting a map of a story (a plan of a story) with a Beginning (introduce the characters, context, scene setting - status quo - good opening line/hook, start of a bit of conflict because of the 'inciting incident' and establish the point of view), Beginning to Middle (conflict/obstacles protagonist v antagonist) is Crisis 1, Middle 1 end is Crisis 2 Point of No Return, Middle 2 end is the Crisis 3 Lowest point/final battle then the End is the resolution (tie up loose ends after the lowest point). You have to wrap up the main point of the story or the reader will feel cheated.
Then we had to take our story and see if we could jot down some ideas for scenes in the story chart given. For example, in mine: Beginning introducing main character(s) Xiong Chengzuo/protagonist (daughter of pictured, or her when younger), parents of interred, Head of Xu Xiagyang Education Centre in Huai'an, a city 250 miles north of Shanghai, the Evil Godfather Xu Xiagyang the affable former PLA (People's Liberation Army) soldier - antagonist. Set up Xiong and the protagonists real world then have them taken to the Centre and left there (crisis 1, 1st act reversal) Xiong and protagonist realising they are in it together Middle 1 (progress main characters, introduce others, develop storyline) other interred, staff e.g. P.E., Canteen, Doctors. Crisis 2 Point of No Return (protagonist escapes leaving Xiong behind). Middle 2 (continue progression, leading logically towards resolution) shows her starting a campaign to get the Centre investigated to try and free Xiong. Crisis 3 (lowest point/final battle) protagonist loses court case. Resolution (tie up loose ends) Takes it to European Court of Appeal and wins. They are reunited.
Theme: They say they are doing it because they love me and I have a problem, how is this prison a show of kindness?
My second review of Liz Mistry's workshop The Crime Writers Toolbox is to follow as a separate blogpost.