Friday, 17 June 2016

Back to School: Week 6

It's Friday: Yay!
I have a one year old: Up at 5 am it is then!

I'm not going to lie - the course venue I am at isn't the greatest.  The lesson plan went a bit off track today where two of us spent a good twenty minutes sorting out a sound issue with the computer.  I feel a complaint coming on (I have become quite the Victor Meldrew).  The course administrator had done a runner so with a bit of trial and error - that is pressing everything on the computer that looked remotely like a speaker - we were able to sit back and watch a movie.  Ten minutes into Far from the Madding Crowd I'd forgotten I was in an advanced writing class and was engrossed.  So I was dissapointment when the film was stopped - cue booing and popcorn throwing (just kidding, there was no popcorn!).

Here we looked at how the film makers picked up on Hardy's style of writing and character development.  It was interesting just how much we learn about the two characters in just the first ten minutes.  Having said that we are a writing class and not a film studies class so on with the writing I say!

We then compared the opening paragraphs of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd with Andrew's Marr's Children of the Master.  Both writers give little snippets of character description rather than huge chunks.  We are rewarded with little crumbs along the way.


  • Read sections 2, 3 and 4 of Stephen King's 'On Writing'
  • Review the Hodder and Stoughton website - if you like me decide to do this now, do so at you own risk.  Somehow I found myself on facebook and then shopping for clothes.
  • Review handouts on dialogue and psychology of character

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The art of letter writing is not dead

I wanted to share a recommendation of my own - a tried and test one.  Ages ago I got a copy of Writing for Magazines by Diana Cambridge and was impressed by its simplicity, layout and straightforward tips.  I read it cover to cover and decided to work from the letter writing section.  I emailed my letter (my first) to Psychologies Magazine over a month ago and forgot all about it.  I'd heard nothing back but I was writing again so I was happy with the outcome.

Then I spotted this yesterday whilst casually flicking through the magazine during a quick lunch break:

Not bad for a first go.  This wasn't a paying gig but then if I wrote for the money I'd have given up a long time ago!

Back to School: Week 5

This week we reviewed section twenty of Stephen King's 'On Writing'.  Here he is saying that we should only take so much notice of what other people say.  It also gives a good quick lesson on self editing and also finding a good one!

Building Characterisation

Here we looked at Maslow's hierarchy of needs:

Group activity
Complete two lists for a character.  One with traits that the outsider sees and one that the individual feels.  I used Jim Parson's character Sheldon Cooper as a good example of this.

Outsiders view                       Individual
A show off/arrogant               Intelligent/genius
Rude                                       Struggles with empathy
Stand offish                            Doesn’t get social queues
Cold in emotion                      Anxious
Untrusting                               Trustworthy
Blunt                                       Honest
Not flexible                             Reliable


Complete Christmas short story if time.  Focus on developing your character(s) in as much detail.  Write this in narrative style.  Complete a plot outline in bullet point format.

Back to School: Week 4

This week we have the night off as our tutor is invigilating.  We also had last week off due to the school being closed for half term.  As a result I managed to complete my Christmas story which was started in this particular lesson.

I am choosing tonight to catch up on my class notes:


  • The Cambridge Guide to Literature and English
  • Hogans Heroes - well written episodes.
  • Hodder and Stoughton website
  • Nora Ephron
One of my classmates shared a good analogy: there are two types of writer: 
  1.  The architect - plans the story out.
  2. The gardener - Plants the seed and watches them grow and nurtures them

Important elements of a short story
  • Length - defining the structure
  • Number of characters
  • Start as close to the end of the story as you feel you can
  • 3D emotional characters the reader can empathise with - in particular ones that are quirky.

Class Activity

Sketch a few ideas for a Christmas themed short story.

We had ten minutes for this particular task.  I think I spent seven of those minutes freaking out about my blank page and three frantically scribbling down my brains idea transcript.  Amazingly I came up with something to write about.  In fact we each came up with something which showed our individual interests.  We will later enter these stories into this competition by the end of June.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Back to School: Week 3

So today we are reminded that there is no right or wrong in creative writing (although my ever expanding rejection spreadsheet says otherwise!).

We all take part in a group activity on frequently used themes such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  The story has been used again and again, with numerous film adaptations such as West Side Story.  I managed two story ideas based on this theme in about 15 minutes. 

So why are love stories like Romeo and Juliet so popular?  
Possibly because they have character and stories with which we can all relate. 

Is character more important than plot?
-          Plot is the foundation
-          Characters can grow because of the plot but they drive the plot on.

Castle – Channel 5

Homework: Think of the most interesting person you have met and write a few lines of potted biography about that person. 

Here is mine:

This person is a successful British comedian, writer, actor, artist, DJ and musician.  This person was born in 1973 in Westminster, London and grew up in Parsons Hill, South London.  This person has a unique style and a wacky sense of humour.  This person is a keen artist and loves shopping in Camden.

From this we can collect different elements from different characters to see who or what we can create as a group. I'm really looking forward to this next week.  Oh and who was I talking about...

Mr Luxury Comedy himself: Noel Fielding

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Back to School: Week 2

After such a great first week I returned to school eager to learn more.  The school café was shut this time so sadly no free coffee.  Luckily this wasn't a deal breaker for me.

Mike was keen to advise us that we may be joined by a student of his at Solent later in the course.  She is very keen to join a session and he feels we will learn from each other.  She has won awards for winning short story competitions on twitter.

We discussed mind mapping and Mike recommended Tony Buzan

We discussed some of our favourite authors:

Thomas Hardy: Far from the Madding Crowd
We discussed what you learn from the characters in Hardy's use of descriptive writing. What clues are used and what is implied by the characters actions and how we can let the reader work it out.

Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland
We discussed the possibility that the characters were based on people (namely parishioners) in his life that drove him mad.  It was possibly easier for him to make them into children's characters.

We also discussed the popularity of writing people as animals such as Beatrix Potter's 'Peter Rabbit' and AA Milne's 'Winnie the Pooh'.


Home work:

Read page section 15 of Stephen King's 'On Writing'.

Rewrite the scene in which Bill Sikes hangs in Oliver Twist.  Feel free to use elements of Dickens style to guide you. 

Here is my take on the scene:

Nancy shifted on her elbows as she took in the scene below.  She could hear the roar from the crowd.  There was a murderer on the loose.  Nancy could see their faces illuminated by torch fire, highlighting their very wrath and passion.  On they pressed, on, on, on from the front.  The surrounding houses were penetrated by the overspill of the current.  Faces in every window.  Men gripping the rooftops like insects clinging to a wall.  No space was wasted.  Every conceivable angle full – they were looking at her.  She could hear the shouts below and the front door forced at last.  Men mounted into her room and she watched as the faces left the windows to join the throng spewing onto the cobbles below.  At that instance she climbed out onto the window ledge.
‘Stay back or I’ll jump,’ she shrieked.
As the men inched closer to the window she yelled out in terror.  And then, as panic took hold she felt her feet fly out from under her.  No time to stop herself.  The crowd quivered with shock.

We must be ourselves.  You cannot replicate success.
All of our writing is valid and different.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Back to School: Week 1

After various workshops and online writing courses I finally built up the courage to book onto a writing class which I would attend in the flesh.  It's always been a desire and a fear of mine to sit in a class room again.  I didn't have the best time at school - it was always What did Shakespeare mean when he said this and what is algebra exactly??

So my first day finally arrived last Thursday and I was pretty nervous.  Lots of questions entered my head:

1. What if no one likes me
2. What if I say something silly
3. What if I'm not smart enough for the class

... and the list goes on.

The one thing I didn't anticipate was getting lost.  After driving about two miles in the wrong direction of the school (I'm new around these parts!) I finally get parked up.  The adult education centre is tucked away nicely and again I am lost.  I finally find a group of equally lost people and luckily they accept me as one of their own.  We find the teacher and he takes us to the classroom.  Now I need to pee.  I am told the toilets are downstairs - two minutes later I am lost again.  All the school corridors look the same much to my horror and I wonder around aimlessly for five minutes until a student takes pity on me and directs me back to my classroom.  Thankfully it was smooth sailing from then on.

My teacher is Marketer and Creative Writing lecturer Mike Wilman.  He has many credits to his name and even bought us all a coffee at break time.

There are only 6 of us in the class which was a nice size.  We had enough time to introduce ourselves and discuss what we wanted from the course.  Therefore Mike can tailor to course more to our needs from novel and short story writing to poetry, writing for children, comedy to horror.  The list is not exhaustive and we can be flexible here.

Mike's recommendations:
On Writing - Stephen King
CSI - watching the actors discuss how the script is constructed
Writing festivals
The Durrells - for depicting family life
Needful Things - Stephen King (recommended to me by my classmate)
Far from the Madding Crowd
Arvon hints and tips (also classmate recommended)
Hodder and Stoughton

Various books and magazines:

Blog Blog and Blog  - this brings me back here.  I haven't blogged in such a long time but its a great tool for attracting publishers.  I'm not saying this is ground breaking stuff right here but it's certainly better than nothing.

Bring in a favourite book to read from and explain why you like it.

My next class is tomorrow and I cannot wait!