Damn fine words – writing workshop with Matt Harvey at the Swindon Festival of Literature

17 May
Writing workshop with Matt Harvey

Writing workshop with Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey’s writing workshop yesterday was a lesson, not just in writing, but how to run a writing course. We had three and a half hours to learn. I felt sympathy for Matt when we introduced ourselves, a proper mixed ability class.

There were published poets and Karen, a novelist with an agent. There were also people who hadn’t written since school; for Lucy that was twenty years ago. That’s one diverse crowd to cater for in a single workshop.

But the great thing about writing is that a person becomes a writer when they write. Whatever inspires a person – with a pen, pencil or finger to put it to paper or electronic device and create words – is job done. So – everyone armed with the same tools of a blank page, a writing implement, a brain, imagination and enthusiasm to write – Matt brought his skills to the table. Respect, attention, genuine enthusiasm, identifying the gems. There was no criticism but we learned all the same.

Favourite stimulus that worked for him were recommended rather than enforced – if we wanted to go our own way, well we were still writing, weren’t we? We heard openers to novels, completed poems, development of existing characters, flash fiction, inner thoughts, motivations and, above all, some damn fine words.

He kicked off with three times three minute exercises, described as ‘high pressure, low expectations’. We wrote single nouns on ten scraps of paper which were shuffled in a Lower Shaw Farm-style rustic basket. We picked out five from the word raffle. He used the example ‘armpit’ and gave us the beginning of our first sentences: ‘I remember my first…armpit…’; ‘Sometimes,…an armpit…’; ‘Appallingly,..an/the armpit…’

We were introduced to Kennings – a two-word compressed metaphor – and rifted on one of our random nouns. We were encouraged to think of an object that had no monetary value but was, nether the less, precious to us. We were asked to complete: ‘I am a part of…’ – what made us who we are.

Ordinary objects were simultaneously transformed into cornerstones of history and playgrounds. We heard of childhood bedrooms, coal mining politics, fictional countries, awful grandmothers, loved grandparents, silent grandfathers, treasured tat bought by now grown-up adored children, council estate garden wire fences, adult aspiration, first heartbreak, Terry Pratchett-channelling. All had our own ideas and felt comfortable drawing on our personal experiences.

The biggest reminder for me was that writing can be written in 15 minutes or even three minutes. With handy stimulus, words can be plucked from the imagination almost without thinking of it. With practice, it becomes a natural physical process; a creative reaction between eyes and fingers.

So here’s a couple of mine, unedited, as written yesterday. The first is a Kennings poem; the second is a starter word/random noun. Both were completed in three mins.

Guess the Noun Sun-obscurer Light-obliterator Bad-news cancer-bearer Comedy-shaper Poor sight-maker Movement-copier Flat floor-dancer Children-scarer Shape-outliner

Appallingly, the Boot… Appallingly, the boot didn’t want to walk or run. It just sat there, glued to the floor, glaring at me. “I won’t give you a name,” I scolded. It pursed its laces. “Or I might name you: ‘little shit’, ‘dirty shoe’! Hah! See if you like that. Or, or – what about ‘smelly sock’? No! I’ll put on a smelly sock – one I’ve worn for a week and left at the bottom of the laundry bin, see if you like that!” The boot clearly knew these were empty threats. I was very fastidious with my cleaning. I had no smelly socks. Its leather was all tense and rigid. Then it relaxed. “Oh you haven’t fallen asleep again!? Damn you!” I knew I’d gone too far. The boot always fell asleep when it was stressed. I stroked it. “I’m sorry, boot. If you move I promise I’ll give you a good polish later.” It opened an eyelet. I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere without a polish right now.

Matt Harvey was a judge at Friday 15 May’s Think Slam at Swindon Arts Centre, leader of Saturday’s workshop at Lower Shaw Farm and treated us to his fun poetry at Saturday’s Swindon Festival of Literature Finale at Swindon Town Hall (Swindon Dance). Words by Louisa Davison.

One Response to “Damn fine words – writing workshop with Matt Harvey at the Swindon Festival of Literature”

  1. Linda Lee 18th May 2015 at 8:32 am #

    Sounds inspiring. Wish I had been there. Linda

    Date: Sun, 17 May 2015 16:12:47 +0000 To: singhappy@hotmail.co.uk

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