Sorry to have been so neglectful. It’s been a rough few months. The Research module is finally finished and it’s on to pastures new…
A new module, Prose Fiction – Part of the criteria is to keep a blog. So I thought I’d best get back to mine.
Tuesday 9th February 2016
Because I’d planned to meet a fellow student for lunch, I left the house around 11:00am and power walked to the station. I used to be able to run part of the journey but since my hip broke I’m limited to fast walking, not just to get there quickly, but to keep warm from the chilled wind.
I arrived at the station to discover my train was delayed by almost half an hour. I’d still be on time to meet my friend but I didn’t fancy sitting in the cold shelter for that long, even if I did have a novel to finish before class.
Luck was with me, the earlier train was also delayed and due to arrive in two minutes. The train pulled in and passengers boarded. I got settled on a window seat and took out Doris Lessing’s, novel, The Grass is Singing. It was a slow train, giving me more time to try and get through the book.
Once at uni, my friend and I checked books into the library before making our way to the Student Union cafe for a light lunch, jacket potato with cheese and black coffee.
It was time to meet our new tutor, Umi Sinha. It was in a room we used last year when studying Narrative. This brought back fond memories. Students arrived and we introduced ourselves.
Part of the criteria for this module is to include a 3500 word piece in prose fiction. My plan at the moment (although subject to change) is to use sections of The Heir of Granville, a sequel to House of Grace, but can be read as a standalone. Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about Grace, I’m hoping to use the next few months to find an agent or publisher and get her out into the big world.
Our first task today was to discuss The Grass is Singing. Have any of you read it? It took me a while to get into it but once in, I found it enjoyable, although ‘enjoyable’ is probably not the right word. We discussed settings and Doris Lessing certainly manages to achieve this with her visual descriptions of the world she creates in the story.
We looked at the conscious and unconsciousness processes of writing and discussed dreams. For me I see a dream as a gift as most of my writing is derived from when I sleep. If I’m having problems with a scene in prose or a particular subject in a poem then I think about the idea before sleeping which sows the seed. During the night the idea sprouts and starts to blossom once my pen hits paper.
It’s was then time for practical work. I always get a bit apprehensive at this point. What happens if I can’t do it? Silent panic stirs within me. Umi announces that she would like us to do a piece of writing about a familiar place—
but wait for it…
‘Write it as a blind person,’ use all senses except sight. Have you ever tried this? It’s really hard to write without using sight but it makes you concentrate on the other senses. It was fun and I relaxed because I had a subject to write about. I turned to one of my favourite places, a park close to my home.
Write about a familiar place without using sight senses. (A first draft without edits.)
I strolled along the crunching footpath; my nose itched as I took in the fragrance of spring flowers. Children shrieked with laughter whilst lads roared ‘goal.’ Something pounded at my knees. I bent down to lift it up and threw it back into the field.
‘Thank you,’ returned the yells.
Heat from the sun forced my cardigan off my shoulders. Raindrop Prelude echoed in my ears. Chopin’s storm was a complete contrast to now, it was so still with no sign of breeze. The taste of pineapple swilled around my mouth and quenched my thirst.
By doing this exercise I am homing in on the conscious, concentrating on senses other than sight. This has taught me to make sure I make use of all senses and not just sight when writing in future. Why not have a go yourself?
Following completion of the task, it was time to take turns reading out our work. Nowadays this isn’t an issue for me but I remember when I first started creative writing with the Open University that I sat silent and just listened to the other students because I was too scared to join in.
Oops, I got so engrossed in writing this blog that I almost burnt tonight’s dinner, Spinach Lasagne. Phew, thank goodness it was only almost.
Back to Prose Fiction Session…
The next exercise was to ‘describe a character waking up, they don’t know where they are and it’s pitch black. What do they do next? The idea here is to create tension and a hook. Well that was eerie, as quite often the way with prompts my writing turns dark. Maybe I should give up writing family saga novels and start writing horror. Food for thought.
Describe a character waking up – they don’t know who they are – It’s Pitch Black – What do they do next? (again unedited)
I opened my eyes but all I see is black and hear a trickling sound. A cold drip hits my forehead. My arms are tied? My head throbs.
‘Where am I?’ I shout but no one comes.
Something scratches the walls. My God what is it? And what’s that running up my legs? I can’t lift up to see or shake it off. It’s so black and chilled. I want to go home.
A door slams. Heavy footsteps crunch towards me…
This exercise brings home that I need to make sure that I leave the reader with a hook to make sure they turn over the page. I aim to end each chapter of my novel with a bit of tension to keep the reader interested.
The final exercise was a choice. We could either ‘describe a room where the occupant of the room is absent.’ Or the other option was to write a journal entry for the day’s session. I chose the first option:
Describe a room where the occupant of the room is absent. (unedited)
The rich plum drapes hung down from the pelmet, brushing the skirting boards. My fingers sank into plush fabric. You don’t see curtains like this anymore…
I perched on the bed. Softness of the matching eiderdown beckoned me to lie down, the pillow hugged my head. The sun reflected on a glass box on the dressing table. Curiosity got the better of me. I rolled off the bed and lifted the lid on the box. A ballerina danced as Brahms Lullaby played.
I gazed into the triple vanity mirror but didn’t recognise the face that stared back. My eyes were drawn to the oil portrait on the wall. I stared back into the glass. The faces matched. I touched my face, my skin was smooth. I ran my fingers through my hair; it was still short and spiky. This mirror lied. Here in front of me was a woman with lines on her face mapping her years. Her faded, almost grey hair, snatched back in a bun.
Who owned this room? How did I get here? Had the woman in the glass, stolen my soul?
And that was the end of the exercises. Here’s a breakdown of what we covered during the session.
What we covered:
(Supplied by Umi)
- Finding the balance between control and allowing your writing to flow. Balancing the conscious and unconscious processes.
- Creating a world for your story – geography, rules, social mores and attitudes, way people speak.
- Building tension and suspense – how to keep the reader hooked.
- Using the senses.
Not bad for the first session, eh?
And that was the end of the first seminar. I enjoyed meeting a new tutor and students as well as old friends from last year.
I had a good journey home with only a few minutes to wait for the train. It was pouring with rain by the time I reached my destination so I shot up my umbrella and started to power walk, arriving home wet, cold and hungry.
The day wasn’t over, I had reading group. Here, we discussed Colm Tóibín’s novel Brooklyn, a much lighter read than Doris Lessing’s.