A bit of Beckett and Burgess

‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ – Samuel Beckett

Rather fittingly, this quote began the second of the creative writing classes I took last autumn at Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart with writer Damian Gorman. I say fittingly, as I just recently booked a ticket to hear Winona Ryder read some of Beckett’s work at the upcoming Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival.

I was also delighted today to receive some of Beckett’s work, courtesy of Ulster Scots writer Wilson Burgess, who very kindly passed on some of the literature he has accumulated over the years to further my own literary education. I have only read a few of Beckett’s poem’s in an Irish poetry anthology I have lurking at home, so I will be poring over this and more later! John Hewitt was also spotted in the bag so I’m looking forward to reading more of his work as well, given my recent trip to Armagh at the John Hewitt International Summer School.

Anyway, back to the writing class, which saw us discuss the thoughts behind what we write and how we present it to others. Things to consider:

  • Do I like it?
  • Is this as simple as I can make it?
  • Falling in step with someone you don’t know
  • Presenting all your ideas up front is not such a good idea
  • What could resonate in any human heart…?

We also talked about avoiding the overuse of familiar phrases – we all know what a cliche is and that we should try to avoid them but sometimes they do sneak in! Precision in writing is also a key element – the names of characters for example, should say a good bit about the type of people those characters are and ‘fit’ them.

“See everything but don’t tell us everything,” we were told. “Tell us just the significant detail – that this was more than itself.”

As with any good class, we also had the chance to do some writing exercises to put all this into practice, which included telling a child how to tie their shoelaces – not as easy as it sounds!

To ‘the starting point’ then and the first note of your writing when composing a story – the all-important ‘hook’. The advice given to us was to think on it whilst doing other things, which I would admit to doing anyway when walking my dog, and once the first note is hit, the rest will follow (that’s the hope anyway!). If we reposition ourselves and put ourselves into somebody else’s shoes then the story will flow more naturally. This reminds me of what the novelist Gavin Corbett said at the JHISS – find a voice that fits and then the writing will come more easily.

We subsequently experimented with this by working with a partner to write a piece of dialogue between two people reuniting at a school reunion after 25 years. With this, we noted that of course you don’t have to ‘start at the start’ – start at your start – where you want the action to begin e.g. in the middle of an argument perhaps. The idea being – begin with energy.

All of this discussion was in preparation for our next class, which would address dialogue in writing in more detail, but we’ll come back to that next week I think! In the meantime… ImageI had the pleasure of Wilson Burgess’ company again today for a catch-up over some coffee and cake. Wilson will be reading at Poetry Corner at this weekend’s Stendhal Festival in Limavady (August 16/17), along with others from the Derry Writers Group and the Flowerfield and Jane Ross Writers – worth looking in on if anyone’s up that way.

My previous meeting with Wilson saw the exchange of a bit of reading for Reuben (that would be my little cocker spaniel, who has appeared once or twice on here!) – a very tongue-in-cheek book detailing some rather random things you can do with your dog over the year! He gave it a nibble (Reuben that is), so we’ll see how it goes and possibly report back with a picture!

Today however, our catch-up was a little more literary and I’m sure that my future posts will incorporate some of my thoughts on the new reading material I’ll be taking home this evening.

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