Friday, 7 March 2008

On the Bus with Brighton College

Last Thursday, and four hours spent with bright, buzzy, keen Lower Sixth Brighton College Creative Writers. Add a teacher who says 'There's a bus to Mileoak...' and V is off!

I sent in advance a suitable short story written a while back, not by me, set on a bus. A bus journey back though a life, revisiting relationships, with more than a little element of the surreal.

We didn't tell the students what was planned.

Initially, we plunged straight into a flash writing exercise, with words dropped in at random as they wrote... and as it always does, it produced some good work.

We talked about journeys being great structures for stories, for films. The Oddysey. Lord of the Rings ad inf.

Then we sprang the surprise, that we were off on the bus! And for the next hour and a half at least, the CW session was held on the top of the Number 1 to Mileoak.

We caught the bus outside the College. Each student was asked to sit apart from the rest... and to be observant, feeling the difference between images and sounds that jumped out at them, as opposed to the things that flashed past and didn't 'mean' something.

And we watched the passage of life outside and inside the bus.

To begin with, we were all 'aware' of the necessity to notice things. Trying to notice clever things, not mundane. But slowly, the soporific nature of public transport journeys took over, and the things we were seeing began to blur... but some jumped into focus. Lists were kept. Anything that seemed significant. A child glimpsed in a sandpit. A slipped tile on a roof. A frightened man on a mobile. A woman pushing a buggy over a road.

I was trying to illustrate that stories find the writer, not the other way round.

And the results were very good. For example: one student was so moved by a sequence of tiny events he saw outside a newsagent's. (I won't repeat them here... they are his...) that his voice shook when he described them to us later.

"When should I write this? I want to write it now..." and we were able to talk about not grabbing stories too fast, but the value of waiting and letting the mind do some of the work without us 'interfering' too much.

He'd find, on his list of seeming unconnected sights, that some held more significance than others. More potential links to the woman outside the shop...

They wrote sequences of 'characters' seen, lines of poetry linking sights to emotion. Shared their observations. Said they had changed the way they 'see' things. They were beginning to 'see' as writers. Fabulous!

Very buzzy. very exciting. A privilege to work with this group.

Reading back over, I haven't done the bus journey justice.


cherys said...

What a delicious post V.

We used to ride buses in CW classes at Middlesex - mainly to eavesdrop. i love your idea of letting the images come at you rather than seeking them - the resonant ones will emerge. Off to try it myself.


Vanessa G said...

Hi Susannah

A whole new use for the bus! I have to say it was a great experience. And I'd be interested to hear if images came 'at' you after a while, or whether you remained 'in charge'. It's often hard to drop being 'in charge', I find.


cherys said...

We focused on cadence of other people's language, to encourage students not to write all dialogue in a version of their own narrative voice. We didn't look at images at all. I've done image walks, but I love the idea of letting the images come to you rather than fussily seeking them out. And allowing the rhythm of the ride to bring the images forward. Something I'm very excited to try.

Can never relax when in charge. Being teech is creative but in a different way, I find.

Vanessa G said...

It was interesting... the event took on its own momentum, picked up speed and took my plans over.

So in terms of being 'in charge' as a teacher, I was not. And happy that it was so. I was guiding the process, sure. and keeping it on track. But we were really 'off piste' and creatively it was terrific.

By 'in charge' above, I meant more in the sense of being aware of the process and in charge of the thoughts, rather than being open and letting images hit you.

Being non-selective, I guess... but hyper-receptive. Does that make sense?