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Some moving writing at the Oldie Writing Course

Just returned from another  writing workshop with The Oldie magazine.  This one was on writing memoir and biography.  There is always something special about these events – partly because Oldie readers are a delightful combination of eccentricity, intelligence and warmth, and partly because every now and then one of them comes up with a stunning piece of writing.

My first workshop dealt with aspects of character.  Its not just people that have characters, of course, places do too, and not just places, but eras. In writing our memoirs we are transporting our readers into a time, and into places, that may have changed dramatically over the past 40, 50, 60 years.  If my young were teleported back to my childhood, they would think they’d landed on a different planet.  So we looked at ways of conveying the atmosphere of time and place, and there were some wonderful pieces of writing from the group.  Some funny, one or two extremely moving.

Two questions instantly spring to mind when writing about our own family and friends.  How much of the truth do I reveal and whose truth do I reveal – mine, or theirs?  So in the second workshop we looked at, not just the way we see ourselves as characters on the page – which is what we become in an autobiography – but also how we get under the skin of the people we know well – family, friends, colleagues. We need to let their character unfold and develop as the narrative progresses. This has to be done layer by layer, as carefully as if we’re writing fiction, if we are to convey the complexities and paradox that make up the human personality, and indeed, our own lives.

The day is always a combination of practical help, interactive analysis and writing.  We usually have a session with a literary agent as well – this time it was the famous Caroline Dawney of United Artists.  Jeremy Lewis, deputy editor of The Oldie, was, as always, hugely entertaining as he talked about writing biography.  Best selling travel writer Sara Wheeler ran a workshop on structure: pace, plot and narrative, and, for the first time, we included a session on e-books.  This was run by Roz Morris, who really knows her stuff.  Do visit her website.

It can be tough, sitting in a room full of strangers and being asked to write on the spot, but initial trepidation soon gives way to a collective sense of creativity and fun. So if you haven’t tried a workshop yet – give it a go.

The other great thing about the Oldie workshops, apart from the people, is the really delicious finger buffets!

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