Sunday, October 12, 2008
'What is this celebration?' asked a fascinated (and jealous-looking) woman outside Shakespeare and Company late yesterday afternoon.
We do know, folks, that we're privileged. It was the end of a really great day on the Faber Academy course. That morning the first thing we'd done with Tobias was talk about our experiences of the exercise the day before (and I confessed my inadequacy – only to have it pointed out that in the telling I had already begun writing the story I thought was out of my reach). Next, we moved onto dialogue and Tobias came up with some great exercises, one of which involved us in drama-school type antics and considerable hilarity.
In the afternoon Jeanette came and blew us away all over again. Writing is a physical activity , she told us; good writing is founded on the muscularity of verbs, a point which she rightly said is far too little acknowledged or discussed. We looked at the use of verbs in the startlingly muscular beginning of her novel Lighthousekeeping and an RS Thomas poem, both of which she had by heart. (Learn stuff by heart, she told us, keep it inside you, physically, because we live in a precarious age, books can disappear but no one can take away the texts written in your heart and which can spark your own writing.) Be true to yourself and your writing but work hard to find the words to release it. Most important writing, she felt, comes from our deepest wounds. And then she stopped and gave us a telling-off for an attitude she’d sensed in the group: never apologize for your writing.
Jeanette famously doesn’t believe in teaching creative writing. In that single hour she taught us loads.
And then she whipped out champagne. And since today had turned out to be the birthday of one of our group - blogger Laura Elkin - Faber's Patrick had bought a cake, and we went outside into the summery afternoon and had the party which made our passer-by so curious.
And it wasn't the end of it. When the champagne was done, we walked up to Montparnasse for a group meal, and I'm telling you, people were a little slow-moving to start with this morning...
But then we did something which has turned out to be some people's favourite thing on the course: we went down to the fiction shelves and picked out good and bad first lines and then spent time discussing them (and sometimes killing ourselves laughing). Now everyone is working on an exercise based on a poem or preparing for the readings with which the course will end this afternoon.
Here is the birthday girl Lauren:
And here is Sylvia Whitman, daughter of George who in 1951 took up the Shakespeare and Company baton from originator Sylvia Beach. Sylvia now runs the bookshop and has worked hard to make our residency there so very enjoyable: