I'm not a hot weather person. I wilt when temperatures rise above comfortably warm. According to various weather forecasters last week was one of the hottest for ten years. Was I on the beach or relaxing in the shade at home? No, I was teaching a week's summer school in Novel Writing at my local university. Building work on campus meant we had to have half the windows closed. This cut out some of the noise and dust and sent the temperature rocketing. We tried leaving the door open but learned far more than we wished to know about the weekend parties and future plans of students using the library across the lobby. The co-ordinator won our undying gratitude when she arrived with an electric fan. Even set at hurricane level it didn't cool the air much, but at least kept it moving. I abandoned morning and afternoon breaks. Instead we glugged down pints of water, iced tea, fruit teas, and coffee while we worked.
And how we worked. Many would say that writing cannot be taught. I agree. I think writers are born with a need to express themselves in words. But what can be taught are the techniques that help shape and polish that first outpouring of words into an up-put-downable novel. Techniques that help bring characters to life as complex multi-layered people dealing with the demands of a plot whose events will change them forever.
I've been a professional writer for 30 years and my 24th book was published last week. I first started teaching fifteen years ago. It was at a Writers' weekend at a hotel in Torquay. I was utterly petrified and barely glanced up from my notes which shook so much I could hardly read them. But something of my passion for my craft must have shown because by the end of the two days people were telling me how much they had enjoyed it, and how much they had learned. And I had met my agent. I've learned a lot since then. I'm still learning.
For me, one of the joys of teaching is to meet a bunch of strangers on a Monday morning and, during a five day course of seminars, exercises and homework watch them metamorphose into a weary, tightly-knit, supportive group who have not only deepened their understanding of themselves and the craft of writing, but produced work of a quality that amazes them. To be part of that is a huge privilege. But I get even more out of it. Showing them how the techniques work makes me aware of instances where my current book-in-progress needs tightening or further development. By the end of the course we're all exhausted, on a high and can't wait to get on with our stories. Life doesn't get much better.
Dangerous Waters, pub. Robert Hale Mar 2006 Available on Amazon.co.uk
The Chain Garden, pub. Robert Hale July 2006 Available on Amazon.co.uk