Wild writing

18 May
Isn't Lower Shaw Farm pretty?

Isn’t Lower Shaw Farm pretty? Photo (C) Festival Chronicle.

Us chroniclers love an event leader who gives good quote.

Bridget Holding’s workshop was one of well-honed analogies, thoughtful phrases and stimulating prompts.

Her writing hook is wild. “Nature is a brilliant resource – it’s very living, it helps writing to become alive. It grounds ourselves,” said Bridget. And ‘new’ nature writing is very now – such as Amy Liptrot and The Outrun, as featured earlier in the Swindon Festival of Literature.

She explained what she meant: ‘writing is like tracking a wild animal’. An animal exists in its environment; it uses its senses. It has a physical bodily reaction with broad body sensations which intensify into emotions. Emotion is there to deal with a threat, leading to action. This will create powerful writing, lighting up the brain’s neurons, helping the reader live in your world, not simply look at it.

It’s another way of explaining that well-used but important advice, ‘showing not telling’ – don’t tell your reader your character is sad, show the situation and the physical reaction and your reader will feel the character’s sadness. “Let the reader work out what’s happening; we don’t need to feed them like little children.”

Bridget explained that writers use cliches when they are disconnected with their work or struggling to find a way in. Tension and anxiety separate us from our writing and our readers but, having said that, we shouldn’t write only when relaxed; the act of writing can dissolve tension and visibly improve as we write our way into confidence.

We should beware of boring verbs propped up with adjectives and adverbs, she advised, and the most interesting words are of movement – reading needs to be a big emotional rollercoaster.

In fact, there’s no such thing as too much emotion in writing. It only feels like melodrama when there’s big unexplained jumps between emotions.

Bridget gave us three prompts.

The first was a description using all the senses. We were in the right place: Lower Shaw Farm has warm sunshine with a brisk breeze, fragrant and earthy wildlife all around, a tasty writers’ lunch and a very vocal cockerel.

The second was to describe how it felt in our body to be ‘here’. I wrote about falling off my high heels the night before.

And the third – an incident, event, action with strong emotion. ‘Don’t write about your biggest trauma,’ said Bridget, ‘we haven’t the time to de-traumatise you!’ This is a temptation as Bridget is also a psychotherapist, which for her must be be rich in research. Three of the pieces we shared were about fear, one of the strongest emotions.

She wrapped up the workshop with a spot of troubleshooting. Participant Jill wants to write a book about ‘Mr Swindon’ aka David Murray John, town clerk until 1974, philanthropist and Swindon champion. She has a box of notes but needs pointers to get it going. “A big non-fiction project can easily be overwhelmed by research, until you become frozen with fear,” Bridget said. “Break the process down into little chunks. Give it some structure.”

Both non-fiction and fiction can benefit from splitting the story into acts and defining the lead character. What do they want? What do they do to get it? What/who gets in the way? Do they succeed or fail? What is at stake for the character?

But most of all, she said, ‘writing begins with living.’

The Wild Writing Workshop with Bridget Holding took place at Lower Shaw Farm, 14 May 2016, as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature. Bridget also leads writers’ retreats in southern France.

Chronicle written by Louisa Davison.

Louisa Davison is the founder of Festival Chronicle and is also known as Agent Louisa of Secret Agent Marketing.

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