A couple of weeks ago Rachel Cusk wrote a piece in the The Guardian in which she examined the question of whether creative writing can be taught. It’s a thought-provoking read. If you missed it, here it is: www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/18/in-praise-creative-writing-course
I enjoyed many of the ideas in this article, including the observation that although writing is a solitary activity, many writers and students of creative writing draw support and inspiration from groups, classes and workshops; the communal experience. Last week I began a four week residency at Surbiton Library in Kingston. It’s a follow up to a similar short course I facilitated last autumn, in a partnership between Kingston Museums and Libraries, Kingston Adult College and Kingston Carers, with funding from Arts Council England. Kingston Carers provides services for people who are full time carers for someone at home. Their idea was to provide some creative activities, including a creative writing group, to offer respite and an opportunity for the carers to do something creative for themselves. The autumn sessions were greatly enjoyed, so we are doing it again, this time without the Arts Council, but with a similar group, many of whom have returned for more. Last week, while snow still lay on the ground, I invited them to start writing by using a prompt from a short piece by one of my favourite writers, the Orkney Bard George Mackay Brown. He wrote each week in the local newspaper, The Orkadian, and in January 1972 he wrote a sort of prose poem in the form of a list, each line beginning ‘January is the month…’ If you can get hold of a copy of his collection Letters from Hamnavoe (2002, Steve Savage Publishers, London, 51), you can read it too. We took this as our starting point, reading each of George’s lines in a round. I invited each member of the group to write their own list, in a five minute sprint write. We shared these ‘Quaker style’, sitting in silence until someone felt the moment was right to share one of their lines, listening to each other and reading further lines in response until everyone had finished. We meet again tomorrow and as part of my preparation I have just spent a happy hour writing up the results of our group January poem, choosing where to break the line or tweak a syllable for the sake of sound or meter. I shall take our poem back to the group tomorrow and invite them to polish it further, negotiating the final editing of their own and others’ lines. There is a delicate but necessary balance between writing together and writing alone.