Friday, October 28, 2011

Festival Season

Two weeks and two festivals. The first was the Biggar Little Festival where I returned to Brownsbank Cottage, last home to Christopher Grieve (poet Hugh MacDiarmid) and his wife Valda Trevlyn. I was writer in residence there for three years from 2002 -5 and despite an absence of six years, I felt immediately at home in its two tiny rooms with condensation clouded windows and the idiosyncratic collections of books, trinkets, pipes and wally dogs.

I ran a workshop at the cottage with the group pictured above, and decided to invite close attention to objects. NAWE (National Association of Writers in Education) recently ran a 'Writing on Location' project in which writers worked with the collections of various writers' houses, now museums. I decided to try out some of the activities described in NAWE magazine's issue 54, in particular an activity Mario Petrucci ran at the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

First of all we each chose an object and wrote a quick list of its features - observable or known. With a trip to Cornwall coming up, it was Valda's Cornish flag that immediately grabbed my attention. I'd always been drawn to the melancholy of her separation from her beloved homeland. So my list went something like:

black with a white cross

pinned to the blue door with rusty drawing pins

faded by sun

it came here with Valda, the nationalist


Then we made a list of those abstract words for emotion or concept that often haunt our writing and obscure or flatten meaning: beauty, hope, fear, etc.

The trick was then to see what happened if we matched the abstract words with the concrete description. The result was sometimes curious, accidental and intuitive. For example, my object resonated well with 'ageing' and also 'homesickness'.

'Homesickness is a sun-faded flag that was black, and is now greying, with a white cross. It's been pinned to a door six hundred miles from its homeland for the last fifty years.'

Later that day I was reading in the delightful intimacy of the Atkinson Pryce Bookshop.

The next stop was the Dundee Literary Festival where I was reading with Meaghan Delahunt. It was wonderful to be part of an excellent programme of novelists, poets, life writers, who attracted good audiences right through from 9am! Particularly striking was the session with Sarah Gabriel who has written lyrically and bravely about a battle with cancer and how it led her to unlock the memory of her own mother in 'Eating Pomegranates'.

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