Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Creative Writing Weekend

I’ve just returned from the Winter Writers and Artists’ Workshop Weekend in Fishguard where I’ve been taking the Novel course, one of five on offer. My work began a couple of weeks ago, when my prospective students’ first chapters and synopses arrived. I read them, noted what they hoped to get out of the course, wrote a brief report for each typescript and decided which workshops would be best.
I arrive at the Fishguard Bay Hotel on Friday afternoon and meet my twelve students for the first time. My job at this point is to introduce myself and make sure that they all know each other – more of a social exercise, really. I’d already had a worried email from a student concerned about being a beginner, so I need to reassure anyone who looks apprehensive.

I also tell them what the course will be covering: plot, first chapter, character, description, dialogue and half a session each on the synopsis and the letter to an agent. It’s an extremely intensive weekend. There are two one hour sessions on Saturday morning, two more in the afternoon and the final two sessions follow on Sunday morning. There’s a half hour tea/coffee and biscuits break at 10.30 am and another half hour break at 3.30 pm for more tea/coffee and biscuits. And we need them!

The lunch break is from 12.30 to 2.30 and I try to snatch a brief walk to recharge my batteries. The location is beautiful, overlooking Fishguard Bay with hills opposite and behind. There are Bronze Age burial cairns up on the moors (very much my thing) and, at this time of year, the birds are in nest-building mood – I can hear a woodpecker drilling in the woods behind the hotel. A half hour walk and some deep breaths of fresh sea air is wonderfully restorative. Then back to the next session.

The concentration is almost palpable and we all work hard. There are a number of five minute exercises to do and read out; there’s plenty of discussion and questions; and I try to make sure that everybody is involved and feels encouraged. Fortunately, my students are all great and there are no members of the ‘awkward squad’ to be reined in.

You can tell if a group is working well together – they are supportive of each other and their comments are positive rather than negative. There’s a real buzz in the air and the conversation continues after the sessions have finished.

The Fishguard Bay Hotel is an excellent venue: the food is good – they do a delicious cooked breakfast, (their poached eggs are cooked to perfection), a two course lunch plus tea/coffee and a two course evening meal. The staff are all friendly and helpful. Anne and Gerry Hobbs, who run the weekend course, are very welcoming and always on hand to make sure it’s all running smoothly.

I have been invited to return next year. I’m looking forward to it.

Elizabeth Hawksley

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