It’s always been my intention to write my own pieces of memoir as I teach. I think it’s important to be practicing the craft you are asking others to learn. So sometimes, when I am walking in the mornings, I start writing in my head…
In my teens I lived in a provincial town in Essex, grew my legs long and went to the youth club by the playing fields. I rolled over the waist of my school skirt in an attempt to fashion my individuality from its uniform, knee length hideousness. If I could get away with it I would wear my netball skirt. My nan once ran after me to tell me I’d forgotten to put a skirt on. An ordinary life, it may even have looked privileged on the outside.
And I was told by one of the therapists who parented me into an overdue adulthood during my thirties that my mother used the techniques of a torturer to keep me in line.
Now, what’s the next step for this piece? Which is the road I want to travel? Will I ever reveal the torture-techniques? I think I must. If you have a gun in the first paragraph, it has to go off by the end (reportedly, Chekov). But I don’t want to, not now, and for good reason.
I am pausing to have a think here because I want an approach that’s best for both the writer and the writing. I don’t want to to get lost in childhood horrors as I write. Writing asks for something more. Something bigger. I need to have worked things through in order to write them effectively for someone else to read.
In a writing class things often come up that we weren’t expecting. It probably wouldn’t be that stimulating if they didn’t. But I tell students early on why memoir writing cannot be therapy. Under the guidance of a therapist it can be, or with a self-help group who can witness what you write there is useful work to be done in writing for therapeutic purposes. But we don’t have a therapist in my group. It’s not what I do.
My job is to guide you through the writing, help you get better at saying what you want to, help you shape and express yourself fully for an audience, which can be small, or large. Your choice.
We are still on Zoom but there are advantages – such as being able to connect with people in different countries. The start date for the course is Wednesday 7th October. The first term of the course will run for eight weeks and cost £220. Second and third terms will run in 2021 but there is no obligation to sign up to those.
You will probably complete one shorter piece of memoir, or begin a longer piece during this course. You will be encouraged to experiment in order to find your subject or theme.
In each term there will be four instruction weeks and four workshop/reading aloud weeks. The instruction-week sessions will run for forty five minutes to one hour and the workshop- week sessions for approximately two hours.
The instruction weeks will give you examples of memoir writing, and you will learn some of the techniques of fiction that memoir writers employ. You’ll get exercises and then in the workshop weeks you will learn from the critique.
The course fee will include one 1:1 tutorial and the maximum class number will be eight people. If you are ready to commit now you can pay with PayPal.
Memoir Writing Course
Eight weeks of learning and encouragement with Dr Josie
if you are not a PayPal user or you would like to have a chat before you sign up, please fill out the form below.
NB: One of the eight places will be a scholarship. Please make a request for that place using the form below.
I am going to try to avoid words like ‘unprecedented’ or ‘extraordinary’ because none of them are true if you take a long view. But today here, now, as my cat and I sit in a very quiet room with the balcony door open in the sunshine, I have to admit this is a new one on me.
Luckily I have been working with Zoom for about a year already. The video conferencing platform has been ideal for writers groups. Last year I ran a workshop for novelists who were living in Belgium, London, Margate and Kerala. We met together on a Thursday afternoon for ten weeks. Apart from power cuts it worked really well.
Next week I am stating a memoirists’ course for the women in the block where I live. I have a flat in co-housing and normally the population here is out and about, very social both together and with lots of visitors. But we can’t do that and everyone needs something to do. So I’m offering writers meet-ups on the theme of life each week.
Another group I’m supporting on Zoom are PhD writers, all over Europe, who were unable to get back before lockdown for their writers’ retreat.
Keep in touch through the lockdown and stay well out there
The course now begins on 26th September with a small band of us writers who will be able to stay right at home and connect across the world. Miraculous!
There is a test session on 19th September at 9.30am. email Josie for the link. You need a computer but all you do is click… and arrive in a room with other writers. It’s a visual, virtual conference room so we will all be able to see as well as hear each other.
We will be a small group – 6 at most – and the idea is to play with ideas and build support for your precious work. The next stage of the journey, should you want to carry on may in longer courses later in the study-year where we will look at techniques for developing work.
Why is writing so difficult to get down to at times? In our groups you get the space for your work to breathe, whatever stage it’s at. Writers get inspiration, feedback from other practitioners on problematic areas… and discuss ideas which may still be tentative.
Using our long experience, we put the groups together carefully, to make the most of their potential for peer to peer help. In these writerly environments you find ways forward, bringing your work into existence. Sometimes we just write together. We have successfully mixed screenwriters, playwrights and memoirists with the core of novelists who make up our groups. We look at what stories have in common and, in our longer groups, we invite visiting specialists in these fields. You get the chance to hear other peoples’ work, and when you’re ready, read out your own. You also learn strategies for sustaining momentum and get at least one private block-busting session.
Small groups of writers, mostly novelists, serious about finishing a longer piece of work, who get together weekly in Central London (Tottenham Court Road). Next group begins September 2017.
Writing a long piece is arduous, and the momentum is more easily sustained when others commit to you and your work, and encourage you.
There is a taught aspect each week of the course. You learn in-depth about sentences, scenes, plot, pacing and rhythm, among other things. … and each week at least one member of the group reads their latest piece of work. So the combination of accountability and stimulation helps you stay with it.
On July 2nd, next Saturday Josie will be leading a writers’ workshop in the Ice House gallery Holland Park on the Storyteller’s voice.
Writers will get a chance to respond to the images around them painted by Alex Stewart and develop imaginative ideas about the Storyteller and other characters in their writing. There’ll be time to write and read to each other if you want to.
Creativity begins with…well a few days ago I would have just said said play… but it can also be the happiest response to uncertainty and drama. This workshop is intended to give adults the chance to play with ideas around images, and articulate what wants to be expressed in a narrative voice. It will inspire you if you’re a regular writer. But no writing experience is necessary.
It may be of particular interest if you are writing fiction and want to develop your understanding of how to use point of view.
In Publishers Weekly this morning I read that Amy Hempel, a creative writing tutor, always asks her students…
‘Why are you telling me this?’ Someone out there will be asking, and you better have a very compelling answer. Is this essential? Is this something only you can say—or only you can say it this way? Is this going to make anyone’s life better, or make anyone’s day better? And I don’t mean the writer’s day.”
Something like this makes me sit up and pay attention.
On Midsummer’s Day Josie ran a workshop at the Artisan Gallery with writers who gathered to respond in words to the Puca MacGuffin show by artists Elizabeth Porter and Alex Stewart.
Alex and Lizzie write: as children the toys we loved most were the ones with which we could make our own worlds. Using lead soldiers, puppets and stuffed toys, trains and cars strewn across a landscape of cushion and carpet.We’d both had Pollock’s theatres and wondered if we could make our own.
We wanted to give writers the kind of treat visual artists have when they go to museums and fill a sketchbook with ideas. So we developed a series of playful exercises to help writers bring the characters in Lizzi and Alex’s work alive and encourage tale-telling, tall or otherwise, in a group.
Writing in a gallery can free you from self-imposed rules. You can give characters who are absurd, magical or abstract to begin with their own logic. Anything can happen. When we respond to an artist’s work, fragments of stories arrive from our own depths, wearing new clothes. A line can indeed go for a walk, a colour can soak a paragraph.
And there is a long tradition of artists and writers using miniature theatre to develop ideas and speak the unspoken. Like fairy stories, or cartoons in the late 20th century, the tiny theatre is a form which became a children’s entertainment. But it has had a much wider audience throughout history. The French tradition of Guignol for instance, popular during the French Revolution, starred a kind of Everyman for whom nothing was sacred. Alfred Jarry and his contemporaries in the early twentieth century credited the birth of Ubu Roi to playing Guignol theatre as students.
The poetry and imaginative work that came out of the day inspired some of the participants to carry on writing and Pearse & Black looks forward to seeing where this goes.