From one kind of workshop to another… at the weekend I went to a writer’s workshop at Southsea Library run by Zella Compton and William Sutton. The workshop, entitled Epic Fairy Tales and Mysteries at Our Own Doors, was part of a project called Portsmouth Fairy Tales, which involves 11 local writers, including Zella and Will.
On such a lovely sunny day I think they were quite surprised that a good number of us turned up, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I first met Will at the launch of his book Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square last summer, and have been delighted by his energy, creativity and kindness ever since.
The workshop began with a few warm-up exercises, including what I have termed the paper-throwing game. We were each given a sheet of paper with one sentence typed upon it, then had to write just one sentence in response. We then scrunched it up into a ball and threw it (nicely!) at another member of the group, who opened it, smoothed out the creases and wrote another sentence. This went on a few more times then we all opened out the sheet of paper we were left with, now containing four sentences, and were invited to read them if we wanted to. There were some quiet poetic combinations, just going to show how you can create something from just a single sentence – a useful thing to remember when staring at that daunting blank page.
We then got down to business with a brilliant little worksheet from Zella (see picture). It was to help us plan our epic fairy tale, and it gave us a list of protagonist names, settings, villains and magic objects to choose from. The idea was to just give it a go and see what we ended up with, spending no more than five or so minutes on the worksheet. Down the right-hand side was a column for us to briefly plan the start, middle and end.
Once upon a time I would have spent far too long deliberating over my hero’s name, and worrying whether I had got everything ‘right’, but the more you practise letting go the easier it becomes. All these improv workshops, acting exercises and the writer’s group I went to – all activities and environments that require the ability to be spontaneous and go with the flow – have helped me reach this more creative state of mind.
On the back of the worksheet or in our notebooks we chose either our hero/heroine or villain, then answered several questions about them from Zella. Again, this wasn’t a case of leisurely pondering over each minute detail, but about putting pen to paper and getting an answer down, often the first thing that popped into our heads. This produced some pleasantly surprising results, with many of us discovering hobbies and characteristics we didn’t originally realise your characters had. The questions ranged from what is their favourite hobby (spear-throwing for my heroine, Faith), to what is underneath their bed (a rottweiler), and my personal favourite, what are they most ashamed of (apparently Faith has a third nipple!). It was a quick, incredibly productive exercise and great fun.
We finished the workshop by starting to write our story not at the beginning, but at the point of climax where the main action happens (in my case, Faith kills her evil twin sister with a spear). Hard-working writers need brain fuel, and Will kindly supplied this in the form of home-made brownies, which I must say were bloomin delicious. It took all my willpower to stop myself having more than one!
After 20 minutes of writing Zella and Will drew the workshop to a close and we said our goodbyes before heading back out into the sun. I may have missed two hours of tanning time, but it was well worth it, and if these guys run another workshop any time soon, I’m there!!
You can download the Portsmouth Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups ebook here (priced £3.97 on Amazon).