Weekly Creative Writing Workshops
This is the archive blog of the Claremont Creative Writing group. There's lots of writing below to enjoy. The new Blog, which is more Blog-like, can be found here: Claremont Creative Writing Blog
2011 and Before...
Over the Summer, each week the writing group are using a different theme as inspiration for warm ups, activities and writing techniques to produce original creative writing. The poems and short stories below were on the theme of 'Unpoetic Words and Non-Story Themes'. Each person wrote a poem using words drawn from a hat, words other group members thought would be seen as unlikely in a poem, or that a critical eye might see as inappropriate. Writers then invented short stories, working with a 'boring' subject given to them at random by another member. The results are striking and pleasurable.
The Art Gallery Rules by Stanley Mitchell
The reason there are no animals in Art Galleries is they are not let in, which is just another example of animal oppression. When I tried to take my dog, Charlie, to the National Gallery I was immediately flung out by an attendant, and Charlie is as gentle as you could wish, a harmless Scots terrier. Actually, there was more to it than that, because Charlie has a strong aesthetic sense, and was, if I may put it this way, incensed by the attendant's reaction and called for the Director. Of course, he could only bark, so I interpreted, Let him see the Director.
"There's no need to see the Director," barked the attendant (obviously, Charlie's temper was catching). "I know the rules."
"What rules?" I asked.
"Animals aren't allowed in the gallery."
"Why not?" I persisted.
The attendant drew a heavy breath and became quite unpleasant.
"Use your head!" he barked again. "He may scratch the pictures, and I've seen dogs go barking mad if they find a dog in a picture."
By now an inquisitive crowd had gathered around us.
"What a lovely dog you've got," opined one elderly woman in a veil which prevented her from seeing properly. I explained the situation to her. The attendant sought to disperse the crowd, as he seethed to me: "Take the bloody thing to Crufts."
I wasn't having this, Charlie hated Crufts, but he was too mild to retaliate. Instead I stood in for him. I knelt down and bit the attendant's ankle. Shrieks came from the attendant and the crowd.
"He's a madman," someone shouted.
The attendant, grabbing his ankle, and gurgling in his throat, pressed the beeper on his monitor.
"If I go rabid," he glared at me, "you'll pay for it!"
Meanwhile, Charlie had wandered off on his own and was patiently surveying the pictures in an adjacent gallery. An official followed him around on tiptoe. Every time Charlie stopped before a picture and growled or barked, the official stopped behind him, whispering to himself and perhaps to the dog: "Yes, you've got it quite right."
In the end, the official couldn't contain himself, ushered the dog out of the gallery into his office.
"Look, look," he said. "You're an amazing dog. Not many of my colleagues understand paintings as well as you. Tell me, how did you learn?"
Unfortunately, he could not get very far with the dog's barking, though Charlie understood him. Charlie thought he'd better get back to his master.
Nike, Lawnmower, Lasagne by Barbara Hooker
In my Nike trainers
I went out to mow the lawn
It was a lovely sunny day
and my shorts were very worn.
But it didn't really matter
they covered what they should
and as i pushed the lawnmower
I really felt quite good.
When I'd finished I went indoors
and opened up the freezer
Lasagne for one was calling me
so I sat and had a breather,
while waiting for the ping
to say that lunch was ready
and sipped a glass of chilled rose
and watched news on the telly.
Poem by Shareen Rouvray
You, and your obnoxious possessions,
With your harled, ipod brain,
Me, with my obsessive cleanliness,
Wanting to flush you down the drain,
Still we nod and smile contentedly,
To the sound of Crosby, Stills and Nash,
And we still dress quite presentable,
As we smile a pre-nuptial flash.
Building a Sandcastle by Sabine Trumpa
Dad's helping me to make a sandcastle. By the way, I'm Jonathan and I had quite a bit of convincing and manipulating to do to get dad to come with me to the beach. I know that he always has to overcome something inside him to come down to my level - to just play and have fun. But I know it's good for him, even if he doesn't. Like now - he wants to organise everything, sort of make a plan where the towers are and the gardens. I just want to start and go from there, it's more exciting not to know what comes out of it. And - he suddenly lets go and does it my way - good on him. He can be terribly complicated, really fussy when playing actually is so much fun. Slowly he gets really involved and comes up with some great ideas.
Now he's with me and I love it.
Time flies and soon we have to go home, mum's cooking Sunday roast. The castle is an ongoing project, it looks great. Maybe it's still there when we come back another time and we could add stables.
Marzipan by Halit Derwent
My pharmacist said "How are you today?"
My eyes were on the shelves.
I noticed marzipan that I should taste.
My prescription was ready.
I had a comfortable feeling
when I had eaten the sweet,
I thought marzipan
was as good as medicine.
Cleaning the House by Rita Crick
Friday was house cleaning day so when everybody else was at work or school everything was cleaned and polished. The only other creature in the house was the cat: as the cleaning progressed from room to room the last one would be the downstairs bathroom. When Jean went to clean the bathroom she found a strange noise coming from behind the bath, where there was a space between the bath and the outside wall.
Looking into the noise, much to Jean's surprise there was a litter of fluffy, soft, black kittens and the cat looking pleased with itself, making contented purring noises.
Shortbread by Mabel Crook
I smacked on my mascara
it looked like a tumour
matching my ingredients
with the condiments
which I was assembling.
Spring Term 2011: The Tower of Babel: About the Project
We began by looking closely at Breughel’s 'Tower of Babel', individually and as a group. When we mined our responses to the painting, we found a treasure of themes. We also discovered a great range of technical skills in the painting that were relevant to how we write. Our twelve week project was called ‘Confounding the Language’, and the themes and skills that kept recurring were ultimately about the complexity of creating a shared world through writing - however fantastical, zany or even realistic those written worlds might be.
In our blog, you'll find a small selection, made by group members, of some of those themes and work written for them. We celebrate the variety of beliefs, be they religious, political or otherwise, and the unique imaginations and voices of the writers.
Spring Term 2011: The Tower of Babel
What we do in workshops
You’ll have a good idea from the writings in the blog about the variety of responses there are to a theme relating to Breugel's Tower of Babel, and the breadth of styles and subjects that can come from them. In our workshop on 'Movement', in week eight, for example, we started from being aware of changes in our own movement: as we went through the seemingly straightforward actions of first going up to Breughel’s painting on the wall, then looking at the painting, and lastly returning to our seats. We noticed the shifts in our balance, weight, energy and pace. There was a lot to it and - just like in our bodies - in writing, balance, weight, energy and pace all change. Next, we read a fairly long poem by Elizabeth Bishop. While one person read to themselves, silently, in their head, their partner watched them, finding out, as a writer, how this reader moved as they followed a poem. The reader also noticed how they felt, physically. It was quite an unexpected experience. Finally, we got round to writing, armed with biscuits and cups of tea. How did we create the sense of movement with our words? Could we affect how our readers moved or felt physically? What did fictional characters’ movements and actions tell us about them? You may wonder: how did the theme of movement come about in the first place, from a still image? Looking at Breughel’s painting, we kept seeing things move: the tower erupting, the boats in the bottom right, the animated conversation in the bottom left. We decided ‘movement’ was important, then we explored together what this had to do with creative writing.
Babel Babble by Hanja Kochansky
And God came down to crush our ambition
Of touching Heaven.
And the Tower of Babel was shattered,
And, shoulders slouching, we shoved off
In our different directions,
Babbling into incommunication.
And chaos reigned, and a sixth sense was created,
Which is nonsense.
So I ask myself,
Why did God do this?
Not that I'm critical of God's pronouncements,
As I'm one who believes in that wise maxim:
Let go and let God.
But I was just wondering
What is to be learned about the destruction
Of an immense Stairway to Paradise?
Possibly the message is
That it can't be be reached by climbing on bricks,
I babble to myself in an eruption of creativity,
Enjoying Paradise Now.
Listen Without Judgement by Heather Otway
Listen, without judgement,
to the sorrows of a shattered mind.
Reason is beyond reach
as stress has tortured a fragile soul,
once full of hope for a better future
depending on each doing their best
for a social state that caters to all,
within Nye Bevan's National Health Service,
What has happened to that dream?
When did it start to fail?
Did it ever work at all?
When the country was in chaos
where families were ripped apart by war!
When was the war to end all wars?
When people, arm in arm,
together shed tears, of joy and relief,
as amnesty was declared throughout the world.
How then, within the lifespan of a soldier,
had it erupted into a more scientific assault
on the civilian population?
Listen without judgement
how in ancient times they fought in far flung fields.
Only the valiant soldiers volunteered
to give their bodies for the peace,
while among them were conscripted men,
who were wrenched away from their chosen paths of peace,
to a war they did not want or understand.
Most religions condemn violence,
except to defend their own faith?
If it is wrong to kill our brothers and sisters in peacetime,
in order to maintain the peace,
how can we turn on a sixpence,
to overthrow an unknown obsessive dictator
from another time or place?
To listen without judgement?
Who can be above judgement?
Where is the reason?
Could a psychiatrist help the peace congresses
to assess the state of mind
of the aggressive oppressors from past and present
who whisk us into frenzies
with their effervescent energies?
Could we have stopped these men
from following their convictions:
Alexander the Great
Marco Polo from the silk route
or Clive from India
Mahatma Ghandi, the pacifist,
Martin Luther King who had his dream,
Che Guevara, revolutionary.
An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
Is to listen without judgement
to suspend reality,
to allow someone to spill out
all their sorrows and their pain,
telling of a secret, silent incident,
committed far away from the light of day?
Peace makers show us another way
and perhaps the answer is to
listen without judgement.
Who can say?
My House by Hanja Kochansky
I built myself a house once. A small one-room house with a slanting roof made of old terracotta tiles which turned rose in the setting sun. It was a peasant like house a bit like the house in a child’s drawing.
That was when I was living in the commune in Sardinia, in the mid-seventies, and the children were small.
At first we lived in a red VW bus on an upper field overlooking the glimmering green lake. That’s when the mice ate all the silks and satins I had brought with me from London. (Now, what on earth had I been thinking of when I packed my bags to go live on a field?)
It was August and it was terribly hot and I soon moved us out of the bus and into a cave down by the lake.
Living al fresco, as it were, makes for a lot of physical work. Clearing the land; tending the vegetable garden which got watered with buckets brought up from the lake; or milking the cow; or gathering wood to make the fire to cook -- all had us busy.
We had constructed an outdoor kitchen amongst several massive rocks facing the lake. An old wooden cupboard, rescued from a dump, was wedged in a niche between robust stones; a slab of pink marble picked up in a field made a Carrara work surface; and a pit built from bricks and cement and covered with a grate served as our cooker.
As the seasons changed, the lake, which in the summer only the best swimmers had been able to cross, receded dramatically to finally become a thin, ochre-tinted river snaking its way into the far distance.
The river-lake was now too chilly for bathing; our hands became red from laundering our clothes in it. Travellers who had camped under trees and in tents took off for warmer climes.
It was decided we should move to the village. I wanted to stay on as I was interested in experiencing a whole year out of doors, but the kids cried: “No way mom!” in unison.
As soon as the weather permitted we moved back to the land and the building of the main house continued. But I did not want to live in the crowded and yet far-from-finished house, so instead I made a huge straw bed near two tall oak trees, facing the Mountain of the Two Peaks. As the sun rose over it to announce the Technicolor dawn the trill of songbirds was our bugle call. At night there was no shortage of falling stars for making wishes on.
At times George and Martha, the two sheep, joined me and the children to sleep at the foot of our bed. In case of rain -- and it did sometimes pour – I pulled a large plastic tarpaulin over us like a tent.
In May of 1976 I decided to build myself a house before it got cold again.
Wanting to distance myself from the main compound I thought of building on the highest southern plane which looked over the entire, immense area, where on a clear day, you could see forever.
Waiting some distance below my chosen site for a couple of friends who had offered to help me clear the plot, I was leaning against a juniper tree in front of a massive slab of rock. “Build your house here,” I heard the juniper clearly counsel. Startled, I looked at the surrounding ring of huge stones that formed a perfect circle that embraced a small terrain lush with tall grass and wild flowers and knew this was my place.
To build a house one has to first mark out the foundation, then a trench gets dug which in turn is filled with broken down rocks on which cement gets poured. And then one begins piling brick upon brick, and finally comes the placing of the roof. This, in my case, consisted of the old tiles I had found in a derelict farm house.
As I was building my house on the field it was growing inside of me.
Colour by Barbara Hooker
Rising up from the shore
the Tower of Babel provides
a contrast of colours from sandstone
topped off with a dome of red ochre.
The people all spoke with one tongue
when the work on the tower began
but God, when he saw it, decided
they needed to be divided.
He gave groups different languages
and sent them on their way
to inhabit the world, the advantage
to set up their tribes their way.
But is everything better in essence?
There still remain some who exist
to make others’ lives not their own,
outcasts with no future or present.
The Naked Truth by Hanja Kochansky
Because the Emperor had no clothes on, but no one would admit to it, he felt very powerful. As powerful as the colour purple, the colour of royalty and the church. The colour he believed his robes were made of.
Because he had power, which actually he didn’t have in the true sense of the word, but only believed he had, he made rules – lots of rules.
One of his ‘lots’ of rules was to do with his subject’s clothing, and he imposed different colours on different factions of society.
The despised poor, despised because they were a burden on his state, always begging for alms, and pretty useless really, were to be clad in tatters made of brown sacking. This would distinguish them as the untouchables.
Little girls were to wear pink, because he liked little girls and the sight of them tickled him pink.
Those directly below him, his accomplices -- his family, the smug, idle rich and sycophantic friends were to wear orange. Orange was a colour inferior to purple, a little weak, but sunny enough to keep them hopping.
The rest, those insignificants who came in between, because in-between is definitely of no significance at all, were the greenies. They were useful enough, they paid their taxes without protesting, but they were envious of those above them, and as we know, green is the colour of jealousy.
And as for that boy, that unspeakable, evil boy who had dared question the authenticity of his royal outfit, well he would wear red and black.
And so it came to pass that red and black became the colour of anarchy, and it was precisely this that ousted the powerful palace. Which gave the Emperor the blues.
Telling More Than One Story at Once
Tourists in Vienna by Rita Crick
The tourists looking at the picture of the Tower of Babel have different impressions. One looks and thinks: ‘I wonder if there were Daleks around at the time this painting was being worked at.’ The second tourist looks at the painting and thinks the painter has seen the Coliseum in Rome with all those arches. Tourist number three sees the unfinished tower as either still being constructed or perhaps destroyed. The fourth thinks: ‘What a waste of space, think how much this land is valued at and what a chance to make as much money as possible if it were developed and how many other buildings could be put up in this area.’ These are the thoughts that have gone through different people’s minds as they look at this picture.
Changes in Language Over Time
[more to come]
The Aftermath by Barbara Hooker
There once was a tower in Babel
built to the glory of God
where everyone spoke in one tongue
and all thought the same of the job.
But God decided to stop the rot
and the language of groups was changed,
they left the tower behind them
and the start of our world began.
Has it made a difference,
the forming of peoples and lands?
There are still those who want to impose
their opinions on all those around
and the babble, like Babel, continues
to hamper the freedom of man.
[more to come]
[more to come]
The Relationship Between Humans and Nature
'Growth' by Rita Crick
When you look out into a well-kept garden you see all the different kinds of flowers - and maybe weeds. In the spring there will be a collection of small but still colourful flowers, such as snowdrops, primroses, daffodils and the pretty Christmas roses still blooming. As summer comes, the flowers grow taller and still more colourful. Could they be hollyhocks, lupins, lily of the valley and the most wonderful roses? With so much colour it is difficult to decide which you like best. Autumn brings just as much colour but there are more bush-like types of plants, such as asters, Japanese daisies and chrythansemum and Michael daisies. In Winter then it is the time of the evergreens, which look more like trees: the holly and the ivy and the white berries of the mistletoe. So that reminds you of perhaps an orchestra, like the London Symphony with all the different players and the different instruments which will produce all sorts of different sounds that suggest different colours. Wonder if you took the LSO to play in a garden, would the flowers think they were the instruments in the orchestra? Think of the clarinet as a lupin. The lilies could be the trumpets, sunflowers for the cymbals and for the drum kit, the mushrooms. Would all the plants think they are wonderful and grow maybe another sixinches? Or would they wilt and shrink after the music has stopped?
The Bird by Mabel Crook
Many years ago, my daughter was in the playground when a little bird fell out of the tree. She picked it up and brought it home to me. I went to the library to find out about it, as my daughter was crying, Please don't let it die!
It was a greefinch and I had to find some seed for it. We had a big garden then, and the time of year was September, so plenty of little seeds.
I dipped a match stick in egg, then the seeds, so the little bird could eat, and survive. My daughter kept the bird in her bedroom and it started to fly around.
One evening, while she was doing her homework, the bird walked all over it leaving its marks on the paper and elsewhere. It was time to open the window. It flew off.
[more to come]