I went to a short story workshop yesterday at Leicester University. The first challenge was finding it. Not the university – I can see that from my bedroom window – but the room in which the seminar was held. You’d have thought the building and room name would be enough to get me there, but when I arrived at the Charles Wilson there was no reception, no floor plan and no-one to ask. Whilst it was refreshing to walk into a university building without being challenged by security guards, issued with a pass and subjected to frisking; some kind of information would have been good. Instead of which I had to resort to flagging down people with name-tags on, who all looked vague and said sorry, they’d never heard of the room in question. Fortunately another seminarian overheard my plaintive cries and told me the room was on the second floor. We arrived at the second floor; there was no sign of it. In the end we asked a lecturer who said there was ‘some kind of annexe’ at the far end of his room – and this proved to be it.
Once the workshop got started it proved very good. Led by Thomas Glave
a slightly camp Jamaican with an American accent – very personable, chatty and insightful – it allowed each of us in turn to read from the stories we’d prepared. I went first; it’s always hard to read your work in front of people but the discussion hinged on people’s reactions to the characters rather than on evaluating the quality of my writing (although that is in itself a form of evaluation, of course). The resulting discussion threw up some helpful thoughts for me, including David’s suggestion that when I get stuck with my novel I should reflect that if someone were putting a gun to my head I would definitely manage to finish that chapter. He’s absolutely right, of course, and it sent me back to the novel yesterday afternoon with a renewed determination to finish. I should give myself a timetable, I think, otherwise the thing just recedes into infinity.
So that was all good. In the afternoon we each had a short tutorial with him, during which he was quite enthusiastic about my story. It’s called ‘Sides to Middle’, a reference to that thing people used to do with worn sheets, and also to the format which we were asked to use which was to start the story in the middle and work to the end, then continue from the beginning and work to the middle. The instructions made my head go round and round… anyway, he had strong emotional reactions to my main character and what she was doing and that meant, he said, that I’d ‘done my job’ as a writer. That was good to hear. As I left he gave me his card and I gave him a book of my poems.
Which are not like Vogon poetry!
So: today I shall be tackling the second section of the novel as well as forcing myself to watch the dreaded Max Hastings try to justify the First World War. Max Hastings makes me shudder. I shall need a lie-down afterwards.