My writing career really began at Chez Castillon in the idyllic Bordeaux region of France, last October. In May of 2013, I stumbled upon a place that offered residential writing courses. I recognised the name Jane Wenham-Jones as being the tutor of a course called, ‘Wanna be a Writer?’ The answer to that was, YES! And that was that.
I emailed the hosts Janie and Mickey of Chez Castillon and paid my deposit. In the meantime, I completed ‘Becoming a Successful Writer’ course with writing magazine. I had to do something to fill the months and be proactive in honing my writing skills.
When October arrived, I hopped on a plane and set off on my big adventure. I was extremely nervous and called my husband umpteenth times for reassurance. He said he would come and get me if things didn’t turn out. But I had nothing to worry about at all.
Janie opened the large blue door to her lovely home and welcomed me like an old friend. The nervousness dissipated immediately. A couple of hours later, after having consumed a few glasses of wine, a group of people I recognised by face gathered in the kitchen. I was knocked for six and had another slurp of wine to calm the nerves. Jane Wenham-Jones, Katy Ffforde, Judy Astley, Catherine Jones (Kate Lace) and Jo Thomas stood in front of me. I was totally in awe at being in the presence of such brilliant writers. Obviously they were on a writing retreat and didn’t attend the course. But the support they offered to us newbies was amazing. I have never met such a lovely group of ladies.
The course was amazing and Jane was the perfect tutor. She gave me confidence, extremely useful advice and tips and guided my writing in the write direction. I have never looked back since. I will forever remember Jane as being my first teaching guru and forever love her for setting me off on my career.
Using my Senses
When I was teaching, a fundamental approach to most subjects was to explore the five traditional senses of perception. They form the foundation of exploration and help to extend our knowledge and understanding of the world. What do you see? What can you hear? How does it feel? What does it smell like? What does it taste like? From an early age, we are introduced and taught about the human body and the ability it has to create unique experiences. As a writer, the senses, if pushed beyond the passive boundaries, can enhance our creativity to higher levels, which in turn transports our readers to exciting places. Virginia Woolf summed this up perfectly: When the shrivelled skin of the ordinary is stuffed out with meaning, it satisfies the senses amazingly.
When I first started writing short stories, the ideas didn’t come in abundance and quite frankly I have wasted hours just staring at a blank page. I had to train my mind to think more creatively. I didn’t find it easy to sit in a café and be proactive, when all I was used to doing was sitting there with my Latté, relaxed and switched off. But with practice, I have found that tapping into my senses during these relaxing times, acts as a stimulant for future writing projects. In order to enhance my imagination, I have tried to explore and develop my creativity by asking the question, “what isn’t?” rather than “what is?”
Just last week, I was sitting in my regular hangout drinking my umpteenth Milchkaffee, and noticed a couple eating lunch. The woman was constantly on her phone and didn’t speak to her husband (I noted the wedding bands) for the duration of their meal. After having a silent rant about her poor behaviour and feeling sorry for the man, I bought my senses into play. Who was on the other end of the phone? What couldn’t I hear? How was the husband feeling? What did their home-life look like? It was never ending. My brain wouldn’t switch off from exploring the possibilities of the story behind the couple. I scribbled down copious notes and after they left, I paid the waitress (20€ just for coffee!) and set off home to write the story, recalling the sounds, smells, sights, feelings that set the scene. Obviously, the only taste I had in my mouth was that of coffee. So, I set the story in a coffee shop that belonged to the couple.
I still have a lot to learn but tapping into my senses has certainly helped in stimulating my imagination and there are fewer hours spent staring at a blank page.