Faber Academy – halfway there


As most of the regular readers of this would have noticed, I’ve been feeling a little flat recently. This has been for a number of reasons, but one of them is because of a big fat case of writers block. Sally Rippin sent me this link last week about the mid-novel slump, and reading was a bit of a Eureka moment – I just need to wade through the middle, get to the end and then go back and swap the crap for something better.

Then at class one of the others (who I’m convinced will be the next Roald Dahl) suggested that I start at the end and look back – anything to just get the thing on the paper.

If there’s one piece of advice that I feel comfortable passing on, even at this early stage of my career it’s that – get the thing on paper. Every writer I’ve heard speak, no matter how different their approach is to the actual task of writing itself agrees that there’s nothing that can be done with blank space. So I’m sitting at my desk every day and letting my fingers control the keyboard until my word count is 2000 more than it was the day before. Already I’ve got papers piling up next to me – a list of things that I’ve changed that I need to go back and iron into the rest of the story. I’m working in different voices, tenses and scenes just to get the narrative out. Once that’s done I can throw myself back into the story and figure out what’s working (and what’s not) with eyes that aren’t constantly looking forward to that final scene.

Saturday was the second (of three) full days at Faber Academy. Looking in my diary I can’t believe that there is only 5 evening sessions (one of which I’ll miss due to the very exciting time I’ll be having in San Fransisco) and one Saturday session left. I feel like I’m standing on the high diving platform, inching closer to the edge, and running out of time until I freefall into the pool below. We’re getting more into the grittiness of workshopping pieces, and a part of me misses the number of writing exercises that we were doing at the beginning. Really, I wish the course was longer – or every day. As a group I think we’ve grown quite close, and I hope (as a couple of us have suggested) that we continue to swap writing after the class is over.

What’s interesting about the writing exercises is that so often they involve diving back into memories from our own childhood. I think this has been challenging for everyone, in different ways. Not necessarily due to traumatic childhoods, but because once you start throwing yourself back there, the details really do come flooding back. And it’s quite a journey of self discovery to reconcile your five year old self to the person you are now.

Anyway, I digress. Martine Murray was our guest this Saturday, and while her style and approach to writing is very different to Andy Griffith’s, both have seen equal success, and offered invaluable advice to all of us. Martine told us a bit about her own journey into writing (which again was very much a journey of self discovery) and then talked about the need that we feel to ‘be writerly’. Although we’re trying to write reality (no matter how distorted a version of it that is) we often sit down and think ‘ok, now I have to Write something’. So Martine ran an exercise that encouraged us to throw our minds back to a point in childhood where they snagged on a memory. Then to just sit down and write out the memory. Without applying writerly touches.

The idea behind this is to create the details and then apply the imagination later (which is quite similar to Andy’s advice of grounding our fictions in reality and the age old advice of showing not telling). Just on a side note, Martine said something lovely which I wanted to share, which was ‘you write to discover the story. If you’re just writing down what happens, you’re essentially just a secretary.’

So this is my memory and exercise piece from Saturday.

It was a pink floral dress, NOT my green fancy one with the bolero jacket because I’d stained that the week before at dinner. Nanna made me this one from a Laura Ashley pattern. It had a lace collar.

I wasn’t wearing any shoes yet but I had my dress on because we were going out for dinner. I was in the patio, I don’t know why, down the end near the pond. The baby’s tears that grew around the edges underneath the fern looked so soft. I wanted to walk on them so I did. In the back corner the rocks piled up for a mini waterfall. You could switch it on with a button that slid up and down. There were two buttons like that attached to the rocks at the back. The second button made a green light come on under the water and made the water glow and look cool and deep – like there was something behind there.

I put my feet forward and balanced on the rock to my left. It was flat and cool. The goldfish swam in the pond, ducking under the weeds. I put the other foot forward. I lost my balance. I slipped. My right leg slid down the slimy walls of the pond and I fell in after it. 

I didn’t drown because it wasn’t that deep. And I didn’t get eaten by the big brown catfish that I’d never seen but knew was there. We didn’t go out for dinner. I didn’t want to tell Nanna that I’d ruined the dress because she’d made it for me for my birthday. I didn’t want her to see the stains from the algae and slime and weeds. She saw anyway. But she said it was ok.

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