Yesterday, I stopped for a latte at F*ckoffee, a cafe, on hip and happening Bermondsey Street. They even gave me a loyalty card and stamped it. Surrounded by young urban types I cast an eye over the Mavis Gallant story, The Ice Wagon Going Down The Street, from her Paris Stories collection. I'd read the story earlier as prep for a short story masterclass run by the Word Factory, with the brilliant writer, Tessa Hadley. It's a dense, skilfully written story and I was glad of the chance to look at it again before the class. Fully caffeinated, I pocketed my loyalty card, gathered up Mavis Gallant and made my way down the street to the Arts Bermondsey Project Space.
In addition to being a novelist and short story writer, Tessa Hadley is also a creative writing professor at Bath Spa University. Tessa explained that she likes to read a few lines of certain favourite writers to trigger that impulse to write; "...to build a bridge across the threshold into writing." This idea really appealed to me. I loved the seminar/workshop feel of the day. It took me back to my happy MA days at Goldsmiths but made all the better by the sheer luxury of having an entire day to explore the complex relationship between reading and writing. Mixing the analytical with the practical, there was much focused group discussion on the how's and why's of Gallant's skilled technique with opportunities to put our discoveries into practice.
We broke for lunch and some of us found ourselves, by accident, in the coolest gastro-pub in Bermondsey. Hemmed in on all sides by affluent, attractive people, I wondered if I might, at long last acquire hipness by osmosis. Maybe this is why I ordered a crab risotto. I soon wished I'd ordered a focaccia-to-go from F*ckoffee because lunch took nearly an hour to arrive, by which time everyone, including our teacher was due back at the venue.
Luckily we made it back just in time, well fed and ready to go again. I enjoyed the group work, it gave us a chance to get to know each other though the story. And the writing prompts, inspired by Gallant's technique and Tessa's inspired guidance, have provided a new set of skills to take home to experiment with. The afternoon ended with everyone reading some of the day's efforts.
This is my third Word Factory outing, having enjoyed their Neil Gaiman and Tobias Wolff events last year. If you're interested in short stories, great writing and writers, it's worth checking out their website for upcoming events and resources.
Meanwhile, I'm very much looking forward to our next Words Away Salon on Monday 20th February. Emma Darwin and I will be talking, Publicity For Writers: How To Get It and How To Survive It with our guest, author and former publicist, Ruth Ware. Come along and join us at The Tea House Theatre, for tea, cake or something stronger with lots of writing chat by the fire. Hope to see you then.