|with thanks to Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson|
Leading a workshop is always a good way to crystallise your own understanding of a genre or technique. A writer never stops learning, especially when teaching. Back in October 2013, I ran a workshop for adults on Voicing Your Writing as part of the Everybody'sReading literature festival. Participants ranged from newbie writers to published authors but all suffered from 'public-speaking' nerves. You never know what will click most with individuals or different groups but we did a bit of everything. Over a flapjack-fuelled hour, we assembled body-words, hummed songs, warmed-up throats & mouths, practised abdominal breathing and throwing our voices and explored the mysteries of winning over an audience. The latter proved to be the most appreciated element for my workshopees. One writer, a seasoned ex-teacher, said she always expected an audience to throw things at her. Happily, she is now immersed in a popular library speaking tour promoting her first novel. Another emerging poet has gained the courage to run the gamut of Leicester's lively open-mic scene since the workshop. My tip was simple - 'remember audiences are always your best friend because they want you to enjoy entertaining them.'
With children, I find the special pleasure is sharing my enthusiasm for storytelling in whatever form. Some years back, I was invited to perform my Northern Lights poetry to an assemblyhall full of 7-9 year olds. Since my poetry is for adults and quite complex, I wasn't sure how this would work. But they seemed genuinely excited and fully engaged with the performance. After a lively interactive session of Arctic warm-ups, reindeer quizzes and football chants, I then announced a workshop on story-writing. 'Oh noooo - not stories!' groaned a group of boys which quite shocked me. Of course, in practice, it wasn't stories they hated but writing which seemed the Devil's Work to them. With some skilled teacher guidance however, they came up with wonderful narratives in response to the question - 'Where does your flying reindeer take you?' To a World Cup Final on Mars - which is made of chocolate apparently. With an abundance of imagination and curiosity, these Reluctant Writers showed they wanted adventures not endless assessment ... but that's another story.
I also want these kids to feel that creative writing or storytelling is not the exclusive domain of adults, specialists or author-geniuses. The craft of narrative or verse can be taught. For myself, there's no question that attending writing classes have sharpened my techniques and stretched the flexibility of my writing voice. I love the throw-away, no-pressure, playfulness of workshops just as much as the Holmfield kids did. Over the years, I have learned how to cast off poetry conceptions with John Gallas, grasp poetry as show-not-tell-business with Liz Lochead, understand the function of line-breaks with Mimi Khalvati, plumb the power of taboos with John Siddique, sense out the musicality of poetry with Jean Binta Breeze and explore the nature of our creativity with Mario Petrucci. Each of these experienced practitioners has enriched my writing practice and I look forward to many more such encounters in the special environment that is the workshop.