Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Interview

Mid last week I was in the garden potting up lemon-grass when Stevie came out clutching the phone:

"It's Beulah O'Donahue from community learning for you."

"Beulah O'Donahue from community learning?"

"Yes, Beulah O'Donahue from community learning."


"Do you think I'm making it up?"

My mind raced: what had I done to community learning?


Turned out that a survey of this town disclosed a desire for creative writing classes amongst the population, and my name had been mooted as a possible tutor: "Would you be interested in facilitating classes?"


So yesterday I met with Beulah and her boss, Anne (I've changed their names so as not to upset anyone), and had the most fun I've had in the company of complete strangers ever.

So much fun I didn't actually get anything concrete. I have no idea when they want the classes to start, or for how long a term, or possible numbers of students. I don't know where they might be held, how often, or for how long each one might last. I do know that getting paid is tricky but it will happen. I may have to go on a course, two days, to become a council approved tutor. The other option is I could invoice them for my services but they would have to get quotes from others like me in the area.

The other thing I know is that they run a monthly women's group in which they "have a variety of free, hands-on, creative workshops for [women] to enjoy" (I got this from the poster). Judging by the poster there will be a potter and a jewelery maker, and I know there will be someone who makes gorgeous bags because it is she who passed on my name. The next one is next week and I have now been invited to set up a workshop myself. This doesn't pay, but any expenses will be covered which is fine by me. Tonight there is a meeting in which we will discuss what we plan to do. Hurrah!

At the last women's group they did have a creative writing stand, a last minute conception, on which they put a huge roll of paper for people to write something on. I have that roll on my table now, it's brilliant.

There isn't much on it but what there is is funny and rather sad. I reckon my best option is to expand on that idea. So I was thinking of buying a pack of blank postcards some of which I'd leave blank, but on others write the first line of a novel, short story or poem and invite attendees to write something of their own. They could choose which sort, or even both. What do you think?

I also thought I'd take some visual stimuli: art postcards spring to mind, and my journals which are packed full of newspaper and magazine clippings, quotes, photographs, random thoughts and sketches. All writing related, nothing personal.

And, of course, some actual poems and short stories for them to read. They did this last time too and I have those here. They are all related to the home, but I thought I'd extend that theme a bit this time.

So, do you think that's a plan? I've never done anything like this before, I've taught creative writing to school kids, but I've never been an attraction at a fair.

Any ideas you might like to share with me, please do, and if anyone can provide any first lines for the postcards, or suggest short stories or poems to show, that would be great.


Pat said...

With you as tutor I'd sign up like a shot. The fact that you are brimming with ideas illustrates how much this is your metier. I do hope you are suitably recompensed, your time will become increasingly precious.
The last course I went on we were all invited to introduce ourselves and give any relevant data which got us off to a more intimate start. But here am I teaching my metaphorical grandmother to suck eggs.
PS The toilet roll looks a bit unforgiving.

Kim Ayres said...

That looks like exactly the kind of big roll of paper I meant in my comment on your post, "Journey"

I think you'll be fantastic at this, Eryl, and if I lived closer I'd sign up without hesitation.

Do you remember my friend Mark? He's a poet and I introduced you to him once at the Open Mic session. He's also the guy I was using on my poster for the Staring Back Exhibition. Anyway, he's run creative writing courses before. I can put you in touch if you want

nick said...

Very intriguing how the invitation to be a tutor came about! The idea of the two different postcards sounds good. Hard to think of any suitably inspiring first lines. Many novels have surprisingly dull beginnings. How about "I was 37 then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to Hamburg Airport." (Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami)

red-handed said...

Sometimes I put the elements of a story on index cards ... or recipe cards, if you like. A single card might be a single character. Another card might be ending. Then you lay the cards out, trying the see the connections. Different people can write different cards. You just need to set out the general recipe beforehand (for example, a short detective story, or a prose poem, etc).

It's just about writing, after all.

Titus said...

Where is it? When?

I was so excited when I thought you'd met someone called Beulah. But I'm still excited!

Charlie said...

"Yesterday afternoon the six o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit.”

So begins the short story “Children on Their Birthdays” by Truman Capote. It's one of my favorites because the story can literally go anywhere—just what you want from students.

Anonymous said...

I think that's a plan. Or better, points from where to start.
I teached a bit (not Creative Writing), and I guess it went best when I put trust in them. And they in themselves and each other.

steven said...

eryl if this was available through you in this community i'd bike over to every meeting after spending my week counting down the hours. steven

angryparsnip said...

Fabulous News and love the postcard idea.
I would sign up for your class and the Woman's monthly meeting group if I could.

"I did not have a year in Provence or a villa under the Tuscan sun. I
did not have a farm in Africa. Instead, my diminished resources dictated a move to a run-down cottage in a honky-tonk town where live bait is sold from vending machines"
Still life with Chickens, Catherine Goldhammer...
I know it is more than an opening sentence but these first few lines drew me right in. I think it really was the live bait sold from vending machines part !

cheers, parsnip

Carole said...

This is good stuff. I like the postcard ideas. Your future students are as lucky as they can be. Can't wait to hear more about it.

Lulu LaBonne said...

This is GREAT and sounds as though it will be huge fun.

Looking forward to hearing about it.

a fairground attraction huh? - impressive

Kass said...

I'm so excited for you. This sounds fabulous.

"He could never remember if a yellow blouse meant yes or no." - just picked that one out of the air.

Eryl Shields said...

Pat ~ I always forget introductions so I will write that down. On one course I went to we had to introduce the person next to us which meant quizzing them a bit but it worked really well because the shy ones, not having to talk about themselves, were able to join in without squirming.

Kim ~ the second they showed me that roll I thought of your comment. I'm definitely going to get myself one.

I remember Mark and may well need to talk to him, if he won't mind me quizzing him. Thanks.

Nick ~ this is the first time I've ever had an 'it's not what you know it's who you know' experience!

I think I may revise the 'first line' idea. Currently thinking about simpler prompts to do with making abstracts concrete such as, for example, 'the smell of irritation is...'

Red ~ I know someone who writes plays like that, odd bits of dialogue on index cards, and have been meaning to try it out myself with prose. It's a brilliant idea for classes as I think people are daunted by wholes, so breaking up the process into manageable chunks could be just the ticket. Thank you.

Titus ~ the Proudfoot Institute, Moffat, next Thursday 7-9.

I might change my name to Beulah and adopt a southern drawl!

Charlie ~ excellent! I completely agree, thanks.

Mago ~ that trust, I think, is the most vital element in teaching. I spend an awful lot of time in class saying: 'that is such a brilliant interpretation/idea/line...'

Steven ~ maybe I'll do a touring class!

Parsnip ~ live bait from vending machines I have to get that book!

Carole ~ I do hope they enjoy the classes as much as I am enjoying playing with ideas for them.

Lulu ~ I'm really looking forward to it. Seriously considering getting a headscarf and huge hoop earrings.

Kass ~ what's that from, I want to read it right now?

Titus said...

Ooooh! Craig's on days, so pending no major (or indeed minor) crisis I might be able to be there. Excitement indeed.

Dave King said...

Fabulous. Should be a lot of fun. Enjoy it and don't worry too much about the nuts and bolts.

Eryl Shields said...

Titus ~ yeehaah!

Dave ~ you're right: it should be a lot of fun, and I shouldn't worry. I can't help it though, I will even worry about the position, size, and layout of my table, even though I know it will be fine and no one else will notice.

Alesa Warcan said...

Awesome That sounds fantastic!

I love the idea of postcards!

I was recently given a magnetic poetry kit (eg http://www.magneticpoetry.com/poetgame/create.cfm?k=1)... It would be easy enough to reproduce using slips of paper and glue.
I'm sure you could think of several ways of using it.

I'm also sure you'll knock their socks off! : j

Kass said...

Eryl - You're joking, right? That line is totally mine.

I once attended a poetry writing workshop and one of the exercises was to cut out random words we liked in a magazine and use them in a poem. Another exercise was to take the form of a very famous poem and change the nouns and adjectives to make it our own. Take, for instance, Dylan Thomas's "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines." You could change that to: Boots haul when every Pygmy offends....
Do you see what I mean?

Eryl Shields said...

Kass ~ no, it totally resonates, you have the first line, now you must write the book!

Have you read Dave Eggers' Short Shorts? There's a story in there narrated by a man who seems bewildered by his wife, he goes on about her blouse. It's a marvellously original book, well worth the hour or so it takes to read.

Those exercises sound perfect. Your example of the second reminds me of the surrealist game (The Exquisite Corpse) where you pass a piece of paper round the table thus: first person writes a definite or indefinite article and an adjective making sure no one else can see, folds the paper over passes it on to the next who writes a noun, folds, passes to the next who writes a verb another article and adjective and the final one writes a noun. The paper is then unfolded and the sentence shared. You can all do this at once so you have lots of sentences to read out at the end. You end up with things like: 'a motley squib attests to the glowing bassoon.' It's a great game to play with a group of kids.

Kass said...

Great recommendations. Made note of them.

Speaking of kids, don't you think blogging sometimes brings out the 'kid' in us? ....or is it just me?

Leni Qinan said...

Hey Eryl, that's a thrilling challenge! You'll do fine!

I've taught a bit and am now a student now -i know, it should be the other way around, LOL- but mutual trust is important. And also, if you can get to make them interact with each other to motivate them, you'll have them interested.

Your creative ideas are original and I'm sure you'll obtain excellent results.

You may be training future known writers! Good luck!

Wigeon said...

Hey this is BRILL news! You've got loads of great ideas and I bet you find the time whizzes in and you'll have a store of ideas 'for next time.' I was asked to speak about creative writing to a local book club and they ended up asking me to run a writing group! There's 6 or 7 each time, which for this sparsely populated area is amazing!
I think you'll have a great time and it's good fun to see the work develop. Just make the ground rules about feedback and time known!

Wigeon said...

.....and Beulah ....there is a breed of sheep called a Beulah Speckled Face. From the Welsh Borders or Wales I seem to remember. I've always like the name and I like the look of the sheep!

angryparsnip said...

I loved reading all the comments and what a brilliant post to get us all thinking and writing down all kinds of thought and lines !

@ Kass,
That line was a keeper...
@ Wigeons
The comment about the Sheep.... I am off to goggle.

I too love the Beulah name but in the USA that is a really old-fashion name. Some of the older names are making a comeback here and I rather like that, Nice !

MaryWitzl said...

This sounds great, and I only wish I could think of interesting and useful suggestions myself, but my mind is a complete blank. The only writing stuff I taught was academic skills -- discursive essays about the pros and cons of mobile phones, the internet, etc, and dry as dust.

I did a poetry workshop once where we had to brainstorm adjectives and nouns, mix and match them with others, then come up with the weirdest combinations we could think of. And I definitely like the postcard idea.

Eryl Shields said...

Alesa ~ I have a magnetic poetry kit lurking around somewhere, and, I'm sure a magnetic blackboard. If I can find them I might take them with me, thanks for reminding me of them.

Kass ~ the kid in me was definitely much more suppressed until I began blogging, she's wonderfully free these days, so I totally agree! It's been one of the best things about blogging for me: being neither judged nor fawned over.

Leni ~ wouldn't it be great if just one of them turned out to be a latent talent, I couldn't think of anything better than helping someone to identify their own ability? I love the quote from Bertrand Russell: 'There is an artist imprisoned in every one of us, let him free to spread joy in the world!" (Or something like that).

Wigeon: the ground rules about feedback and time?

Good to hear of your writing group, hope you're enjoying it, sounds like you are.

Googling Beulah!

Parsnip ~ the comments are the best thing about this blog, I too relish them!

I've never met anyone called Beulah, and definitely associate it with 19th century American literature.

Mary ~ brainstorming adjectives and nouns sounds like a goer, in fact I think I might do that tonight, myself!

Welcome home, by the way.

Wigeon said...

Ah, ground rules about feedback and time might be necessary if participants would like you to give feedback and give you masses of work to read over from the very inspiring prompts. Also, if yours turn out like mine ....they'll want you to be there for as long as poss each session! I'm not being paid, just doing it for the experience and for the joy of seeing people develop their writing skills. That said I've spent many hours 'out of class' working on constructive feedback. Hence the tip for you about these! ;-)

The Pollinatrix said...

Congratulations! That sounds like a lot of fun.

I have tons of ideas (my own and others') I could share with you here, as I've taught creative writing, but here's my favorite: Bring a bunch of magazines and have them do a found poem pieced together from words/phrases found in the magazines.

Eryl Shields said...

Wigeon ~ got you! Thanks.

Polli ~ that's a great idea, thank you.

susanna said...

First, I laughed at the line "Do you think I'm making it up?" *grin*

Congratulations on being chosen by complete strangers to be the town's creative writing tutor! Really! That's quite the honour! I love it! Instantly I had a vision in my head of the scene, the people, and the conversations that had to have happened when you were nominated. It's like a scene from a movie!

You'll have to let us know how this new endeavor unfolds.

Eryl Shields said...

Susanna ~ you are my dream reader, able to fill in all the gaps I leave.

rochambeau said...

Ok. NOW I know what "The Woman's Group" is. I bet you are a fun teach~~ Eryl!!!