Sunday, 28 February 2016

MEMOIR WRITING COURSE PART DEUX



Continuing my reply to a commentator on Part one of my Memoir course.......

The education system is a whole other topic for another day, lol, suffice to say, I gave up formal teaching with the words of William Blake ringing in my ears 'I must create my own system, or be enslaved by another man's' - a bit sexist, but I'm sure it applies to feisty women too.

I hasten to add, my teaching 'methods' were very effective. I took average, and below average students to A's and B+s, because my first criteria in teaching is to get the student to believe in him or her self.  Once they believe they can do it, they can.   

What qualifies me to teach writing?  A lifetime's dedication I would hope!  And a cabinet full of scripts, plays, short stories and everything and anything you could imagine that I haven't got round to sending out or publishing.  My passion lies in the writing, both in my own and in others.  I urge everyone to write because I know how liberating it can be, it sets you free and offers you a world to escape to, and if you have a constant dialogue running through your head, you don't have to nail your family/friends or an innocent passer by to a chair to force them to listen to it.  If you can write, you will always have someone to talk to, even if it is only one of the other Norma No Mates that inhabit your brain.  I think I would have to say truthfully, it was loneliness that drove me to write.  I was a chatterbox in a small family of chatterboxes, it was pretty hard to get a word in edgeways! I had also reached the stage where I could only get family/friends, passers by, to listen to me if I plied them (and me) with liquor and sang Memory from Cats to them.   Might explain why I am now on my own, doh!  Now I ply them with tea and home cooked food.  I'm not sure which is the greater evil - at the moment I am trying to perfect the chocolate chip cookie, my ginger nuts are to die for, and I refuse to use a liter option.  

I think most of us have experienced that feeling of loneliness, even in our younger days when our homes and social lives were buzzing, a feeling of dissonance.  OK, maybe just me.  There are times in our lives of course, when we are fortunate to bump into a soul mate, someone who shares our enthusiasm and passion for whatever our interest is at the time and thinks it is perfectly reasonable for you to phone them at 4.00am to discuss a Broadway production of a new Les Miserable.  In my experience, these soul mates are fleeting (there may be a reason for this), and in real life, it's best to keep the 'crazy' within you, until you have at least got a ring on your finger and a joint bank account.

Writing is a great way to unleash the 'crazy' without spending long spells in prison or a psychiatric ward.  Who hasn't dreamed of sneaking up behind their partner with a rusty rake or planned a life of debauchery on a Jamaican beach  with a guitar strumming Rastafarian?  Ok, again, maybe just me.  But I have to add, the wonderful Agatha Christie (would love to have had dinner with her) had a bit of a penchant for bumping off aristocrats in very grand surroundings.   

Writing allows us to go off into whatever fantasy world we wish.  We can create a hero or a heroine in whatever genre we choose.  We can be the futuristic warrior or 19th century freedom fighter.  We are not obliged to say I personally did that, or I thought that, we can put our words and deeds (and those of others) into the characters we create.  How our readers interpret what we write is up to them.

This self consciousness is, I believe the biggest hurdle most writers face.  I started out with a 'pen name' - Cristobell!  It is a great way to unbind your inner free spirit.  In this wonderful new age of technology, we can actually call ourselves by whatever name we wish, and if writing under a different name gives us the confidence to write, then why not?  George Eliot.  I rest my case.  It is a tragedy that so many use anonymity for bad, when it can be used for so much good! Anyone can publish anything, under any pen name.  For the first time in history any one of us can publish a book on any subject we want.  We don't have to sit back and get buried by a pile of rejection letters, we have got the same chances of producing a bestseller as a multimillion pound publishing house. Social media has been a great leveller.  We can all take our best shot.  There are, for now, NO prohibitions.  We can go further than writing a Mr or Mrs Angry from Tunbridge Wells letter, we can highlight any injustice we want in whatever form we want. 

I am of course biased by my love of literature, but all the major social changes that have come about through the centuries, have been heralded in by those pioneers who highlighted life's injustices through art, literature and music.  From those who finely honed their communication skills so they could connect with inner emotions, Charles Dickens, William Morris, Beethoven, they give us the ability to shine the light back onto ourselves, the endearing and starving urchins, the beauty for beauty's sake, the 'listen to me, God dammit!'. 

It breaks my heart that there are so many talented people out there, put off their dreams by ignorant teachers who crushed their dreams with an ill considered strike of a red pen or a thoughtless remark.  Sadly, I believe State education is geared towards mediocrity, and in my single sex school we were geared towards being good secretaries, nurses or hairdressers and away from the Arts and the science labs. Sadly, I think most of my generation had their inner 'I wanna be a best selling author/ rockstar etc' crushed by the reality of having to earn a living wage. And it is hard to drift away a la Virginia Woolf, when you have got hungry kids and a large Neanderthal (who's views on the Broadway play (and bank account) weren't altogether sound btw) asking when dinner is going to be ready.

For most people, getting past that 'naked in a crowded room' stage can take decades.  Especially if there are a lot of harsh words from the past to undo.  Navel gazing is a very strange preoccupation, it takes you off into places you could never have imagined and it's way, way cheaper than therapy!  I always start by taking people back to the 5 year old they once were, the age when they completely free (we hope) to allow their inbuilt personality to shine through, without being inhibited by society's codes and conventions and their own growing self awareness. It sounds terrifying, but it's actually very cathartic and much easier to do than you would think.  When you look back on your past, depending what frame of mind you are in, or what you hope to achieve, I recommend that you begin by looking for all that was good and everything that made you laugh.  Everything that made you what you are now.

When you explore your own past, you have to begin by forgiving yourself for everything, you were young ffs, and you didn't have the wisdom your have now.  Going back to tell a decrepit old lady that you once stole a gobstopper from her sweet shop, may absolve your conscious, but it is also likely to get you a whack over the head with an umbrella - same as it did first time round.  You must accept that there were circumstances prevalent at the time that were beyond your control.  And the same forgiveness must apply to your loved ones, your parents especially.  They too probably found themselves in circumstances beyond their control and they were also once young and na├»ve.    

The first rule of writing is that there are no rules.  We are all unique and the grammar police often, just don't get it.  There is nothing wrong with writing in your own vernacular.  Everything doesn't have to be an academic essay, or a poem consisting of ten stanzas.  They stifle freedom of speech by rigidly checking every line for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes whilst making us squirm.  Whilst we should strive for perfection, it takes time and practice to get the narrative flowing, when in full flow, you go back and make the corrections later. I believe it is good manners to check your final work thoroughly, but if it is good enough you will have editors to do it for you! Meanwhile, you have google at your finger tips, spelling errors these days are just lazy, lol.  And yes, I'm guilty of it too. We all are.  First drafts will be far from perfect, even for writers with years of experience, but if you can forgive yourself the first errors and omissions (and you will be your own harshest critic) you would be advised to get another opinion before you tear up your manuscript and abandon your dream.  You might just have the next Angela's Ashes or Hunger Games on your hands.       

For all of those who want to write, and I think many people secretly do, they are put off firstly, by that intimidating fear that by 'writing anything down' they will expose their weakness with the written word, their spelling and grammatical errors, their inability to compose a complete text that they would be proud of.  Most people have an almost adolescent self consciousness that they will mocked and derided, left naked in a crowded room, if they ever reveal their inner thoughts.  They become almost paranoid, hiding everything they write away in a box under the bed, hoping no-body will ever look, or maybe somebody will, and that somebody will understand you and what you were trying to say.  Even if it is one hundred years down the line. 

That reticence  is all too familiar to old writers as well new, but for new writers there is a terror that they will be thrown into the public spotlight and their lives will be torn apart by plebs.  To them, I would say, they should be so lucky!  The biggest problems potential authors have is getting someone, anyone, to read their work.  Try walking up to people and saying do you want to read my manuscript, and see where that gets.  The alternative of course is to send your manuscript of an agent, publisher, producers, where it will sit under the huge pile of more interesting autobiographies from the cast of TOWIE. Happily, having permanently startled eyebrows and inflated lips is no longer the only route to literary success.  Every genre has an audience, and it has never been easier to 'create your own system'. 

I have gone down the socially acceptable via an agent and publishing route.  I have been 'edited' to an inch of my life, along with the mountain of legal readings and re-writes I had to do.  It is exhausting!  You are only assigned an editor for a limited time, and you have constant deadlines. My published book 'Cry and You Cry Alone'  did not fit the 'misery memoir' genre,  I did not embellish anything, and I did not give any graphic descriptions of abuse.  I wasn't looking for sympathy.    

But returning to your question and points 3 and 4 I believe.  My course is in the draft stage at the moment.  If I learned anything from teaching within the state system, it is just how crucial it is for a student to have individual attention, so I don't want a 'one size fits all' course and I really need to have a chat with the most logical person I know, who just happens to be meditating in a Buddhist monastery at the moment and is therefore uncontactable.  (Or so he tells me :(  )    A set course that caters for people across a wide range of abilities will not bring out the best in them, it won't allow their unique talents to shine through. 

Most people who 'think' about writing have no idea how to begin.  They don't even know what vernacular or genre they want to write in.  They are without direction because they believe their work isn't good enough, or worse, ouch, that they should be ashamed of it - this where those ignorant teachers come in. 

At the moment I am thinking about setting the course up as six sessions the first two consisting of 'how to get started' with exercises designed to help the student find their niche.  The narrative style that is comfortable for them.  No-one should be spending hours labouring over single chapters, or heaven forbid, single paragraphs.  When your find your own comfort zone, the words will flow naturally.  Along of course, with teaching the student how to turn their manuscript and ideas into a tangible, finished memoir or work of fiction, that they can publish themselves, or via a publishing house, or simply printed and preserved as a wonderful treasure for your family or future historians. 

No, it is not an accredited course.  It is designed purely for pleasure and I hope the beginning of a fulfilling lifelong hobby that keeps mischievous minds young and sprightly.  And if you are passionate and determined enough it may result in a new career, a best seller, and a penthouse apartment overlooking Brighton beach.  My dream is a yellow 'Noddy' car - make of that what you will. 

The objective of my course is to get those who want to write, writing.  I want to get them to remove those invisible self awareness shackles and believe that everything they have to say is valid.  It matters not a jot what other people think.  There will be praise, but there will also be critics.  Not least from those closest to you.  When you are upstairs writing, you are not paying attention to them.  It's 'A Room of One's Own' all again.  To be well written, you have to be well read - that is essential and there are no shortcuts, well there are, but nothing beats reading night and day.  The reading will expand your vocabulary. I will be recommending books that offer specific learning curves appropriate to students' aims and goals.  No point in pointing them towards Eminem if they have a passion for Shakespeare. 

At the moment, my memoir course is in the design stage, I'd like to get a bit of   market 'what the customer wants' research before carving anything in stone.  I have over the years encountered so many people who have such interesting and amazing stories to tell.  And people who have such a natural gift for storytelling without even being aware of.  Writing a memoir is not the daunting process most people believe it to be.  Once you find a way in which to structure the plotline, with a beginning, a middle and an end, and a SUBTEXT, the narrative will come easily. 

If you are inspired, and you will be if you set off on the journey of writing a book, you will be inspired by everything that is around you.  An old black and white family photograph can take you back in time, the clothes, the expressions, the surroundings.  It can stir memories and open up your mind as you try to imagine the worlds they lived in.  The great great grandmother who gave birth to 11 children, was she happy exhausting her body and mind because Queen Victoria thought large families were a good thing? How about great great grandpapa, was he happy to go off to fight a war he didn't understand because it came with a regular pay cheque? (he had a lot of mouths to feed).

Many people now search for their Ancestry online, and heaven knows, I am sure we all have mountains of material there.  If we are lucky (best seller wise) there will be a bit of skulduggery and I'm hoping in my case a long line of female rebels who were no better than they ought to be.  The 'crazy' in my own bloodline seems to be predominantly in the female genes, possibly because my own grandmamma was a power crazy matriarch who made grown men and small children tremble. I jest of course, her self esteem was quite impressive, the Good Lord agreed with her, not the other way round. 

But back to those questions.  I am thinking of charging between £200.00 and £300.00 for the six session course.  The introduction will be free, it will be a way in which I can assess the student's abilities and needs and they can assess my ability to teach them.  I will also be offering editing and critiques, probably at around £200 per 5,000 words.  I am also considering ghost writing, or re-writes but that would be considerably more as it would involve a lot of close contact with the 'author' in order to tell their story, and I have no figures for that at the moment. 

As for 'being sober', lol, fortunately or unfortunately, I stopped drinking about 3 years ago, the spirit was willing but the body couldn't handle it!  It's a shame really, because I used to write some batshit crazy stuff whilst under the influence, though tis true to say my grammar was all over the place!  These days my drinking is restricted to a glass of sherry at Christmas and a maybe the odd noggin of a good red wine with a fine steak. 

As well as a BA(Hons) degree, I have a Higher National Diploma in professional/ creative writing.  I have studied in depth ways in which to structure narrative.  Ways in which to fill that blank page. I can make a screenplay out of an afternoon sat in the waiting room of a busy consultant's office -  I see clearly delineated stories where others only see a mish mash of great ideas but no way in which to connect them all together.  A full accredited writing course will teach how to structure narrative, but I will do it the quick way.  Very few writing courses are accredited by the way - my own HND was the first of its kind and quite unique at the time - and it was a two year course that included much,much more than writing. 

I hope that my course will appeal to those who have already taken the first tentative steps.  People who have been stuck on manuscripts for years because they can't think of an ending and they don't know which direction to take.  I always recommend that you begin with 'The End' btw, because if you know what your grand finale is going to be, you can leave hints and pointers along the way, it makes it more interesting for the reader. 





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