Tag Archives: Charroux litfest

A Date with Kate

Today’s question is: do writing workshops qualify as procrastination?

You have 4 hours to answer. Sorry, I’m in exam mode (and I recently discovered the strikeout button on WordPress. It’s even more fun than brackets, which were my previous faves).

Yes, I’m in exam mode. Not for myself, but for my daughter: someone has to think about the Big Bac. All she seems to say is, “T’inquiète,” (don’t worry) as she heads off to another overnight party.

Meanwhile, I’m studying. Which is interesting, actually. I’m studying what I’m going to be teaching / have been teaching this year in the various workshops I’ve been invited to lead.

“What? Shouldn’t you know it all if you’re teaching it?”

(Someone always asks an awkward question)

Early on in my part-time work as an English TEFL teacher, I realised that teaching is all about learning. At work, I know what the correct answer is. But as a teacher you have to explain why it’s the correct answer. So I spent my early teaching years studying the rules of English while simultaneously teaching it – and repeating, “I’m not sure why that’s the right answer, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”

Writing is similar: you read a story and know it is good. If you’ve got oodles of raw talent, you may even write a good story. But why does a particular story work? What techniques has the writer used? That’s where writing craft guides, workshops and courses can help.

I spent years poring over writing books and experimenting with techniques, often with my amazing writing group of the early 2000s, Lumineuse. For the last few years I’ve been concentrating on writing novels, so it wasn’t until I was asked to lead a workshop last year that I returned to my creative writing guides.

Once I opened them, the memories surged back. I rediscovered concepts I’d struggled to understand before. This time, with ten more years’ writing experience, they made much more sense. I could think of my own examples to the models they presented.

I bought a couple more guides – just in case a modern technique had been discovered.

I read them. (It hadn’t).

I re-read my old guides. I took notes. I put on my wetsuit and surfed writing blogs such as Emma Darwin’s excellent This Itch of Writing.

Writing? Ha, who needs to make the effort of writing when you can spend your time learning about how you should be writing instead? It’s much less painful. More inspiring. And, yes, it makes sense. If you read enough about the craft, surely you’ll absorb the information and the literary bestseller will flow from your keyboard?

Procrastination warning bells jangled.

I sighed, closed my guides and went back to the blank screen and the infinite possibilities of the keyboard.

Then, a few weeks ago, my date with Kate appeared on the “God, it’s in 3 weeks’ time” horizon.

Kate is on the far left. You might also spot Kate Mosse, Isabel Ashdown, Jacqui Lofthouse, Elizabeth Haynes, Alison Morton and Christine Colette.

Kate Rose – co-founder of the Charroux literary festival, workshop leader, Bookish Lunches organiser and poet extraordinaire – had invited me to do a session as part of her Meraki writing business. She holds monthly writing events so that us poor English writers in France aren’t so isolated.

I’d chosen to talk about how to take a character and write a story based on him/her. I wanted to explore this because I regularly see beautiful writing and great characters, but it’s much more unusual to see a story that works well.

I looked at my pile of writing guides and my pages of notes.

I looked at the document on my computer: the final scene of my current novel…

A week later, I guzzled a glass of champagne to celebrate the end of my first draft, and set to work preparing the workshop ‘From Character to Story’.

When I go to a workshop, I like the leader to present some kind of theory, and then for us to do exercises based on that theory. So this is what I planned.

I soon discovered that preparing a workshop is like editing a novel draft. I had to cut, cut, cut. There was so much I could do, but I wanted the participants to take away a concept that would make them think about how to approach a story.

My final plan was ambitious. I know from giving talks about writing and from my English teaching lessons that you always need more time than you think. I was in danger of rushing through the concepts. I would have to be strict with timing. I would have to take a whip and punish anyone who asked too many questions.

(I love strikethrough)

The day of the workshop arrived.

I wasn’t ill. My car started. No aliens whisked me away to another planet during my journey to Champagne-Mouton.

There was no escape.

I switched from writer to teacher mode, and the workshop began.

It was fun to meet everyone, hear about their writing projects and listen to their story scenes. Many thanks to Kate, who was a brilliant host and kept participants supplied with drinks and a delicious lunch – as well as following the workshop. The attendees were generous with their feedback, so I hope everyone learnt something useful.

Oh, and in answer to the exam question: workshops are not only a great place to learn about writing, they’re also an ideal opportunity to chat with other writers and shape your work. That’s certainly not procrastination, is it?


Kate Rose
Kate is a writer, poet and creative writing coach. She lives and works in South West France. She is co founder of the bi-annual Charroux Literary Festival, attracting international bestselling authors and poets. She has been published in a range of magazines and anthologies. Through her business, Meraki, she offers one to one coaching and writers workshops.

She would love to hear from you and can be contacted at:

katerosewriting@gmail   @katerosewriting
Www.facebook.com/meraki      Www.charrouxlitfest.com

Oranges and LemnS (for the Belles of St Clemns)

I can hear you festival-goers from St.Clémentin groaning at my blog post title. For the unlucky readers and writers who weren’t able to come this year’s literary festival, some explanation may be necessary.

Who planted the seeds on my bike?

Who planted the seeds on my bike?

The LemnS bit is easy. Olympics (and a long list of other awards) poet Lemn Sissay, the festival’s keynote speaker, wowed everyone with his unique performance. His choice of clothing – a slick grey suit with fluorescent green trainers – was only the tiniest hint of the paradox to come.

It’s not every day that a performance combines first class stand-up comedy with heart-rending poetry. His desperate themes delivered in dramatic poses and followed up by boyish grins and jokes were a see-saw of emotions. The image of him hanging over a cliff face, clutching a branch, is engraved in my memory. What a man of contrasts! His name, although he pronounces it as ‘Lem’, sounds more like ‘lemon’ in Ethiopian. It means ‘why’. Surely that shows a poetic destiny?

After we’d lived his poetry and sympathised with his answers to Roisin McAuley‘s astute questions, we plundered the festival bookshop for his books.

The ‘Belles’ part is fairly easy too – these are the lovely ladies present at the festival: the readers, writers, speakers, helpers and, of course, the belle organiser Jocelyn Simms. Perhaps I should also mention the beaux men, headed by Gordon Simms and followed closely by John Hudson (see my blog post about him here), Roger Elkin, Ian Mathie, Gavin Bowd, Peter Hoskins and all the others I didn’t manage to see.

During the festival, Gordon kindly announced my publication deal with Impress Books, which led to an invitation for me to lead a workshop at the Charroux litfest in 2017 and lots of congratulations from my supportive fellow readers and writers.

There seem to be two kinds of writer: those who tell stories about their exceptional life experiences, and those who use their language skills and imagination to invent or retell stories. At St.Clémentin you could find both. Ian Mathie kept a full room of spectators spellbound with his tales of living in a mud hut in Africa for forty years. And Clare LeMay gave us a fascinating insight into the skills of an audio describer for theatre, film and art galleries.

We were spoilt for choice of practical workshops for poetry, play and prose writing. Alison Morton, of Roma Nova fame, doled out generous helpings of tips for self-publishing. And, as it’s a bilingual festival, different translators talked about what it’s like to inhabit two languages. Ed Briggs, notably, pleasured her audience with her poetic essay on English and French words – which Katherine Gallagher advised her to take to Bloodaxe.

Yes, yes, we get the point, I hear you say. We’ll make sure we come to the 2018 edition. But what about the ‘Oranges’ in the title?

Patricia Duncker

Patricia Duncker speaking at St.Clémentin

Orange is a reference to Patricia Duncker and her infectious, grounded energy – and I don’t mean the colour she was wearing. Patricia’s literary knowledge, technical craft and analytical skills qualify her as an intellectual. But she’s not a whimsical ‘wrrrrriter’ (as she says with a flourish of her hand and rolling of ‘r’s).

Her bold opinions and her passion for literature inspired us all and made us laugh. Those lucky enough to participate in her workshop (Me! Me!) had a thorough dousing in beginnings, structure, double narrators and genre. She also lavished advice on us concerning the challenges we face in our own work.

She is a writer who truly knows what she’s talking about, both in English and French literature. I can understand why Michèle Roberts, when she was a judge for the 2010 Orange prize, argued in favour of long-listing Patricia’s novel ‘The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge’.

Ha! There you are: the oranges. It took a little research…but you’ll find the reference here, in the article Michèle wrote for the Independent in June 2010.

So the festival is over for another two years. I look through the programme of the 70 events which took place over three days and wish I could go back and attend all those I missed. Perhaps I could have squeezed in a few more – but then I wouldn’t have met the other literary lovers and discussed reading and writing with them over tea, cake, aperitifs, picnics, lunch…

Bravo and many thanks, once again, to the Simms, to their host of helpers, to the speakers and to the enthusiastic public. I’m sure there will be some official photos on the St.Clémentin website in the weeks to come.