Facilitator’s Notes : Workshop 5th February 2015

travelling the write way

The facilitator asked members to place a comma in the line:

God rest ye merry gentlemen, and the following responses were given –
god rest, ye merry gentlemen
god rest ye, merry gentlemen

but the correct answer is:

god rest ye merry, gentlemen (ie; sleep contented)

each different placement of the comma lends a different meaning*
*Please consider this, as we will discuss this further next time, to illustrate the importance of precise punctuation.

The main topic of the workshop was to write about a HOUSE (not a home).
We discussed, therefore, the difference between a house and a home, and the facilitator then asked members to offer alternative words for house. Some answers seemed more applicable to home than to house and I have placed these in the right hand column.

• a colloquial word used by one member that refers to a a first home for newly weds when they have become ‘hitched’.

One member referred to cave dwellings of Cappadocia which, whilst homes for some, are not houses in the conventional sense, being carved out of a soft lava.
Interestingly, in the various written exercises, some members referred to two or three storey buildings. The facilitator referred to The Tower Of Song by Leonard Cohen as being about a house with many stories !

“Tower Of Song”
Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song
I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song

I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
They tied me to this table right here
In the Tower of Song

So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll
I’m very sorry, baby, doesn’t look like me at all
I’m standing by the window where the light is strong
Ah they don’t let a woman kill you
Not in the Tower of Song

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices
In the Tower of Song

I see you standing on the other side
I don’t know how the river got so wide
I loved you baby, way back when
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
But I feel so close to everything that we lost
We’ll never have to lose it again

Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
There moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song

Yeah my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song

Writers need to know the ‘geography’ of their locations as well as they know their way around their own house in the dark. Therefore the facilitator set the exercise of;

“Write ten lines describing the journey from your ‘fridge to the sofa in pitch darkness.”

We then held a read around of several pieces with a critique being offered by the facilitator. In future workshops, members will be requested to critique each other’s readings, finding the positives and offering only constructive criticisms. Listening and reading are two of the most important tools in the writer’s box.

The facilitator then demonstrated the round the clock technique:


At midnight an empty house is silent
at three in the morning an empty house hears caterwauling
at six in the morning an empty house is awakeninW
at nine in the morning an empty house watches the town awaken
at noon an empty house is sunlit
at three in the afternoon an empty house sees kids leaving school
at six in the afternoon an empty house sees homecoming workers
at nine o clock at night an empty house feels abandoned
at midnight an empty house is silent

Please note: the ‘clock poem’ above can be used to describe locations and/or characters and, if applied as a regular check throughout your text, will help you as a writer come to really know (and therefore understand and empathise with) your buildings and your baddies and your goodies and their geography !

In the second writing exercise the facilitator asked members to:

“Write ten lines about the emotions whilst undertaking that short journey in the dark.”

This, too, produced excellent descriptive works and the facilitator pointed out how, whatever exercise is set or whatever title is given, a group of writers will always produce a range of qualities in the collected works. Here we had humour, raw emotion and bitter memories, fear and confidence to identify only four emotions out of a plethora presented.

Interestingly, one member lent her human emotions to the house by saying
‘the house felt desolate’ which might have been true of the house, but a more accurate way of expressing this might have been to say “the house, to me, felt desolate.”

Almost every piece read out had at least one memorable sentence or phrase and members should get into the habit of reading each paragraph back when written. By identifying your strongest sentence before you proceed to your next paragraph, you will find that, in time, you will raise all your work to the level of excellence of your best sentences. The facilitator suggested a check list to be applied to each page, or even paragraph, as completed (see following page).

Given the tragic brutality that had occurred in Paris the previous day, the facilitator encouraged a ‘debate’ about the responsibilities of a writer and the importance of the freedom to write. It was stated by members, and generally agreed, that freedom of speech (and writing) is important in a civilised society. By quoting a former mentor at his university, the facilitator pointed out that opinions need to be supported by argument and evidence to support the opinion.

One member, when asked, described free verse as ‘unedited thought’. Members may wish to consider if this is true, and consider when the writer actually should impose the editing process on written work.

This debate led the facilitator to set a final writing exercise:-

Write up to ten lines under the title of Free Verse Again; this produced thoughtful, and thought-provoking, work. After this exercise a member requested a check list guide to help monitor on-going writing.
CHECK LIST FOR ON-GOING WRITING. Apply after each paragraph or page.

1 check that you can still answer what your book/story is about, and that it is still clear to the reader.

2 check that your plot makes sense. Create your plot outline before you start, then trust your characters, and their respective moral compasses, to make that plot come about.

3 check that the viewpoint of the book remains the same lie that you are still speaking and addressing your reader from your original perspective of first or third person, or author or narrator or character

4 check that your characters remain distinctive and distinguishable and true to their character.

5 check that your settings are vivid. Think how we described a house as compared to a home and then think about town and country, past and present, etc., and make sure the settings are accurate.

6 check that your style remains consistent. Make sentences clear and concise; short for action, longer for description, and check that you are avoiding repletion of words or phrases or clichés.

7 check your pace, and acquire the skills to speed up and slow down that pace. Remember that, just as your character might need to catch his breath after being chased across a field so, too, might your reader need to catch their breath after reading about it.

8 check for the what now factor. Is there an element of suspense and/or continuity to persuade your reader to read on?

9 Check that your attitude to writing, and your self-awareness of yourself as a writer is always constant but never in the way. When we are tired we don’t write as vibrantly, and too often the sentences become more mundane. Check for your most impressive sentence in each piece and edit to bring the rest of the piece up to that standard.

10 Look at and read your words aloud so that you can see and hear where risks may be taken. I have told the story before of how I wrote about a group of mining wives I saw in a photograph of them at the pit head waiting for news of their trapped husbands that they were ‘caught in the grip of a camera’s eye.’ I was actually very proud of that line, given that grip was a named part of a movie camera and a camera has an eye, and that ‘caught’ echoed trapped, etc., etc.,………….but, gradually, with all the poignancy of that story and its pathos, the line became ‘caught in the grip of a camera sigh’ and remains the best line I have ever constructed. (Note that word constructed !)

However, over the course of the next twelve months we will also hold short clinics on highlighted topics such as those in the ten tips above:

story and what it is about
first or third person
author’s voice
narrator’s voice
character’s voice
what now
attitude to writing

The facilitator then set the (voluntary) homework exercise:-

Write a piece of prose of circa 750 words, or a poem of no more than thirty lines, on the subject of :


The action of suppressing something such as an activity or publication.
“the heavy-handed suppression of political dissent”
synonyms: subduing, defeat, conquering, vanquishing, repression, crushing, quelling, quashing, squashing, stamping out, crackdown, clampdown, cowing, prevention, extinction;

Homework: “Suppression”:
to norman.warwick@ntlworld.com by no later than Sunday 1st Feb please
(see earlier)

The subject of our Thursday February 5th workshop at 2.00 pm will be HOME
“Home to me is anywhere you are.” © Tom Paxton

Workshop closed

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