As the snowflakes continue, already the leaflets for courses on far-flung islands (expensive flights; no Ryanair stops) are coming, slipped inside poetry and writing magazines. Those photographs of sunsets on the terrace show glossy intellectuals, sitting at their wineglass-strewn afterdinner tables, tanned, sun-glassed and designer-clad. You don’t meet these people at the local writers’ group.There is even a larger than usual number of men.
It’s the price, stupid. Adding up the course fees, flight, accommodation, eating out, and ‘terrace fees’ – all taking the cheapest options,- will leave just £50 pounds change out of a thousand-pound-note.
And it’s usually in Greece. Well, on an island. Just as well – insulated from the social debris on the mainland, people sleeping in the streets or queueing up for food handouts and having a miserable time of it with violent crime, social unrest and ant-riot squads.(Ironically, Cambodia has been rehabilitated and is also a writing locale.)
Other places are suitably remote and are in the Spanish or Scottish mountains, or Andalucia. Or surrounded by woods or grapevines or hills – seclusion is all.
No, the course attendees will be surrounded with liberating energy and boundless positivity. As the sun sets upon the Aegean Sea ‘You will be inspired.’
-By what? Scenery of rippling hills, white brand new hotels and flats, obedient locals who are there to serve you. All antiseptic and scenic.
While the writers are ‘pushing their work against boundaries and taking their writing to new and surprising places’… Well? What is this landscape going to give to stimulate brand new ideas?
There is nothing to give impetus. Any writer who needs these luxury surroundings before they can produce a couple of thousand words is kidding themself. Real life is waiting back there, after the return flight, where your real vocabulary awaits – right there, where you left it at the end of your street.
Writing comes from difficulty, not pleasure. The words grow, contrast, gallop when the writer is immersed in surroundings that don’t give an easy day. The ordinary is the universal – and so I posit (lovely word!) Urban Industrial Northern England Writing Holidays.
Decaying terrace houses, shuttered shops, immigrants,underpasses, no-go areas, flyovers and motorways that strip areas of their identity. People with strange local accents, local cakes and pies that have different names. Closed shops. Bus stops. Churches. Problem areas. Getting lost.Local papers. It’s all Foreign, but in English!
You would be sent out with notebooks to write descriptions of a typical street, a cafe, two people talking, an average house, a block of flats, a park. You would be advised to buy the local paper and develop two of its reports into longer pieces, developing the characters and adding the new setting that you noticed the day before.
The next day, you’ll combine those two pieces into a longer piece.Some local history* will enliven your stories too, as background material.
*Keep away from any museums or art galleries unless it rains.There’s enough ekphrasis going on, whether from paintings or objects. There is also the leaning on already famous writers – this is leading to an increasingly constipated or inbred (or both) writing scene.
Language is modified by its environment. These writing holidays can only unpack what you brought with you, especially if you are marooned on an island. We are not in Shakespeare’s Tempest territory here, but it would certainly make a good setting for the odd murder mystery.
Meanwhile, wandering through your northern town – Blackpool (out of season) would be perfect; followed by Middlesborough, Stoke-on -Trent, Warrington, Blackburn etc etc, you will pick up new word usages which can enliven your next writing. Listen to local radio, go off and pretend you are lost (you probably are) and ask at least three people for directions.Loiter in a cafe and listen to people talking. Go into an estate agent and get some leaflets. Wander round any industrial or trade parks. Read the small ads in shop windows. Buy a map for interesting street names to use. You get the drift…
From all this you would have learned about 25 new words or sayings. You’ll have explored and met new people. And from the B&B, boarding house or guesthouse (and just think what goldmines they have been for authors –The Lonely Passion of Miss Judith Hearne, Hotel du Lac, Separate Tables and many others) you will have a stock of characters to observe.
No expensive flights or accommodation, and you are supporting local trade. No passport and you already speak the language, with an easy journey back home whenever needed.No lolling on the beach applying sun-barrier cream is necessary. No new designer clothes – you need to be inconspicuous.
And, from the above, perhaps no expensive tutor is really needed either.Copies of Writer’s Forum and Writing Magazine can give all the guidance necessary, plus of course, the biggest dictionary you can stuff into your suitcase.
Naturally, there is always going to be an exception to any rule.For the urban-inclined, there’s the Complete Creative Writing Course, held at The Groucho Club, Soho, right in the middle of London and no passport needed.