Here’s something I wrote for the Unthank School of Writing blog about the range of student writing projects that made up my last online workshop…
My latest online workshop cycle finished last month. It’ll start again in September, so for August I’m not teaching. This is a long break for me and already I miss it. You know how it is with writer’s groups; you’re not just working each week, you’re catching up with friends – friends who get you, all united by the common goal of finishing a book. I usually try to post something when a course finishes, and after Zoe’s generous praise I decided to add a few words of my own in praise of the group – the gang, my students and my friends – just to give anyone thinking about joining us an idea of the sheer range of projects we work on.
This was a full workshop. There were ten students, which is pretty much our maximum before starting a new group. You don’t really want more people than this because of the reading involved. (Each week, half of the group submit 2,000 words of a work-in-progress which the rest of us read and comment on.) This was my second workshop of the year, and there was a perfect split between new and returning students. Five had carried straight on from the last workshop – two of them being veterans of several of our other courses and mentoring services – and five were joining us for the first time. I might be wrong on the numbers, but I think three or four members had published previously, from mainstream through independent to academic, while workshop projects ranged from just starting to quite complete manuscripts under revision. The warmth and synergy were wonderful, with returning students taking the lead in first week submissions, after which the group cohered very quickly, the way they always do, with writers at various stages in their creative journeys supporting and motivating each other. It was also lovely to watch a lot of firm friendships forming, and we’re now all still chattering away on social media.
The projects were, as ever, fascinating, which is one of the reasons I love this job. (I have a lot more freedom as a teacher now than I ever did in a university.) Obviously, I can’t go into detail, but I would like to give an idea of the creative diversity. Two of our returning students were working on extremely powerful life-writing projects, the subjects of which are downright humbling: one is the creative non-fiction ‘bio novel’ of a child refugee from India, the other is a memoir based around the author’s father, who was a Holocaust survivor who left behind unpublished poems and a fragment of autobiography. There was also an epic historical novel set during the Great War inspired by family history; three literary novels dealing with different aspects of trauma and redemption (one of them drawing on real life experience); a thriller set in Italy, the second in an on-going series of detective novels; a meticulously researched historical biography of an Austro-Hungarian royal; a collection of short stories based around the same character, an enigmatic legal ‘fixer’; and a complex love story applying and subverting the form of the telenovela (again, against the backdrop of war, in this case the breakup of Yugoslavia), and which was shortlisted for the National Novel Writing Prize while the workshop was running.
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