The joy of a good writing course

I spent last week at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Flintshire on a short story course with Vanessa Gebbie, writer, poet and teacher.

First of all, I love Gladstone’s. I was there earlier on in the year on a writing scholarship, and fell in love with the atmosphere of peace, study, and hearts and minds at work. At the same time, the dining room, suitably called ‘Food for Thought’, not only serves delicious food, but is a lively hub of conversation. You might meet a writer focusing on the second draft of their novel, an academic working on their PhD, a theologian spending time in prayer and contemplation. Others stay there simply because it’s a lovely place to be.

Gladstone roomA glimpse of the beautiful Gladstone room

The second reason I wanted to go was because I’ve wanted to do something with Vanessa Gebbie for a long time. I bought the book Short Circuit, which Vanessa edited, some years ago. A selection of essays from various writers, it offers a wonderful guide to the art of the short story. Here’s a quote from one of the contributors, Alison Macleod … story writers in particular need to look at the ‘undersides’ of their characters’ lives; [understand] that stories are not sermons; that they can, if we risk it, open up to a brief view of life as it is truly lived; that in the small miracle of the hard-won epiphany, a story becomes big and resonant; that in stories, the taboo thing is often, finally, about life-force itself.

And the third reason was because after the long haul of the novel, I felt creatively wrung out. I couldn’t imagine I would ever think of a character or a story I wanted to write. And yet I wanted to, needed to write. I hoped a course would help, but it had to be a good one.

I wasn’t disappointed on any of those fronts. Gladstone’s was as beautiful as ever, despite unremitting grey clouds and at times torrential rain. Vanessa Gebbie proved to be an excellent tutor – insightful, generous and warm. We did loads of exercises, which was just what I needed. And from one – a very unlikely source – I think I’ve got a short story. When I thought about what I wanted to write, nothing came. But through the act of writing, a story emerged.

The experience proved yet again for me the truth of this quote from Picasso: Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.

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  1. Polly says:

    Glad you had a good break – ready for the launch? πŸ™‚

  2. So lovely to think of you at Gladstone again – did you have the same room or were you en suite this time πŸ˜‰ ? I’d love to go and stay there and do a course, I’m going to go and check out their website right now. Thinking of you and sending lots of positive vibes your way xxx

  3. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Polly. Launch? What launch?!

  4. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for your lovely comment, Jo. I had an en-suite this time, but it was nowhere near as nice as my previous room. Gladstone’s was just as wonderful though. I would recommend a course with Vanessa Gebbie if you get the chance – she’s excellent.

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