Life Writing at Oxford Uni

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This weekend I ran a course on Life Writing for Creative Writing students at Oxford Uni.

We talked a lot about Tipping Points: times in your life when something happens that seems to condense and shift you somewhere new. The group were so full of ideas and stories, describing inner and outer transformations that happened even in the most unlikely places. What a LIFT!

 

A Sense of Place

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This week I delivered a workshop at the IDLER ACADEMY.

We looked at examples from fiction and non-fiction to explore the kinds of techniques writers use to create a sense of place and setting. We also talked about the different places that are meaningful to us – and asked what leads us to develop our own sense of a place.

In a series of short exercises we played around with this through writing. We shifted perspectives, inhabiting new and even non-human characters and forms, exploring how different bodies feel and relate in different settings. One participant wrote from the perspective of a painting in a busy coffee shop; another wrote about the journey of a crate of oranges. It freed us up to change our perspectives in this way, and we found that the objects we might commonly overlook often had a lot to say.

Wodewoses

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This is a Wodewose.

Wodewoses were creatures of the Middle Ages – mythical ‘wild men’ who lived in the border zones between society and the natural world. Half creature and half man, they changed a bit each time a story was told, according to the storyteller’s own desires and fears.

Over the next few months we’re going to be thinking about these ‘border zones’ – liminal places, in and around the city – and looking at the kinds of mythical creatures that might still be in existence today. We’ll be pulling these apart, getting inside them, and telling some stories of our own.

Story threads

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This week we began by spreading a jumble of pictures out across the floor, and selecting a handful that interested us. We each then took a piece of string – a ‘thread’ – and stuck the pictures to it, before sitting down to write a story that moved from one end to the other.

When two or three people chose the same image our threads collided – and by the end of the class we had made a whole web of intersecting stories along the wall.

 

Mushrooms

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Sylvia Plath’s poem about Mushrooms only mentions them in the title; the poem itself describes noses and fists, eyeless and earless. Plath used Mushrooms as a metaphor to talk about something that was important to her; the downtrodden in society. As we read the poem we’re thinking of mushrooms, but we’re also feeling how they ‘widen the crannies, shoulder through holes’; and this leads us to link them with our experiences of other things. We tried writing poems using Plath’s technique of describing something without naming it. Then we played a game, reading out the poems and seeing if we could guess the object being described. There were trees, a leaf. An air conditioning unit, and a table. There were also some exciting metaphors coming through.

Five Senses

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This week we each chose one of the five senses, and wrote our most pressing memories of it at age 5, 15, 25 and now. Here’s an extract from a great piece one member wrote about Taste:

I have moved again. This time the foster family is orderly compared with the last one, with its multitude of children. In these new and quieter surroundings I find for the first time an eagerness to get out of bed. Lime jam on toast. It is a wonderful experience, attacking all of the tastebuds at once. The dry crispiness of the wholemeal toast, the salty butter melting gently and of course the lime jam with its sweet yet bitter taste.