Arriving at The Grange in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight (pictured above), our writing base for the weekend, I feel nervous. Although I write regularly, the idea of sharing a piece of fiction with a room of strangers terrifies me. I’m here for Skyros’ ‘Stories of Your Life’ writing weekend with author and tutor Alison Habens (pictured below).
The course is an accessible route into writing, with mixed ages and experience. Alison leads a number of life-writing exercises, tailored to tease ideas from you, whether you want to write a memoir, play, novel or short story. One member of the group hopes to write her life story to pass on to her grandchildren and others are, like me, looking for creative writing inspiration.
We start with an exercise about our names – a good icebreaker. Alison encourages us to delve into the story of our name. How did we get our name? Was there an argument? Do we like our name? Does our name suit our character? Set in The Grange’s cosy lounge, the workshops are supportive, inspiring and (of course) I needn’t have felt nervous. That evening, I retreat to my room and scribble notes in my new journal. Alison’s energy and imagination are infectious.
The Grange is based in Shanklin’s Old Town with peaceful gardens and the beach a short stroll away – it’s an idyllic setting to switch off and dedicate time to your writing. The weekend continues with exercises and writing time. Alison encourages us to explore the timeline of our life, plotting the highs and lows on paper, but also engaging with forgotten memories. The exercises help you to trace back through your past – the scents, sounds and experiences. You’ll reconnect with places, dreams and memories to see how they could inspire a piece of creative writing.
Throughout the course Alison supports us with short pieces of writing and, although there is no pressure to do so, we also share work with the group – a great way to gather techniques and styles. Alison shares lots of advice and we discuss dialogue and how the arrangement of words can change the intention and tone of a character. Alison explains how to ‘show, not tell’ in your writing, how and when to use different tenses and ways to develop characters.
I leave the course feeling motivated and equipped to put pen to paper. My train home is delayed, but I don’t mind – I spend the time penning the first paragraphs of a novel. The course has been a welcome escape with time to write amongst likeminded people; inspiring, supportive and relaxing.
Words: Ellen Tout