The regular reader will know that, much to my surprise, I recently attended a summer school and, to my greater surprise, had a wonderful time. The days were long and full of poetry, prose, creativity and political discussion. We were fuelled by friendly chat, coffee and shortbread.
I attended my first ever creative writing classes, on memoir. I spoke. I wrote. I read aloud to the class. And to the whole summer school. Well, get me. Where did that confidence come from?
It came partly from the first lunchtime reading, where Carlo Gébler talked about his writing, his teaching, and a memoir from 2000. He said things about writing that I’d discovered for myself, from my limited experience. “I know that.” Validation.
Then there was Memoir Mentor– informative, supportive, and talking a lot of sense. Others in the group were Clever Classmate who helped translate a big idea into an image that made sense to me, my fellow Freshers who drank coffee (amongst other things) and helped my nerves, Poet Classmate and Save the Day Classmate who provided friendship, powerful writing and a sense of belonging.
The three workshops were an integral part of the summer school experience- thinking about our own writing, actually writing, support, and an opportunity to process some of our mental wanderings. They tell me I was bouncy and excited. I’ll never be an International Woman of Mystery: total strangers had me sussed in minutes.
Nobody will be surprised that I bought Gébler’s memoir Father and I. The opening lines are:
Bang in the middle of the 20th century my father took a wife who produced a son whom he called Karl.
Then he lost that wife, took a new wife, acquired a new son and he called me- Karl. (Carlo, as I now am, only came years later.)
Now, there’s an opening. From his talk, I’d known something of the story, and how he feels the past is always evolving, but I wasn’t prepared for the power of the prologue. Poor Spurs Fan had to listen to it, and then me raving about it for some time. (He will be relieved when the football -soccer, for the far away reader- season starts soon.)
Affirming the points from the talk, the memoir finishes with;
I have a narrative that makes some sort of sense of what happened.
You can’t change the past, but with understanding, you can sometimes draw the poison out of it.
The power of story telling, reinforced all week, by all the people, in all the stories.