‘Creative WHAT?’ – The different reactions I get from saying I’m a Creative Writing student

As the second term of my MA Creative Writing comes to an end, the boot camp element of our learning experience has been completed and we’re pretty much off on our own now, intermittent workshops and tutorials along the way. At this point, being part of a writers’ community is an undeniable and wonderful part of my life, which most of my friends and family know and accept. But it’s quite funny what sort of diverse reactions you can still get from saying you are on a creative writing course to other people. Apart from encouraging words of support, which I of course appreciate very much, there are several types which I’d like to describe here quickly:

  1. The ‘Creative WHAT?’-type
    More common among non-British or non-native English speakers, mostly because the concept of creative writing as something to learn in an academic setting, is often unheard of abroad. The “what?” can range from neutral ignorance to a derisive judgment that clearly in their eyes, creative writing cannot be considered a subject to study. We’re not naïve/stupid enough to believe we can be taught how to be a best-selling authors, but there’s still a lot in the art of writing that can be taught, much like even the best musicians or artists are not only born with a natural talent but have been taught along the way to grow that talent. Equally, if you’re absolute rubbish, throwing money into courses will only get you that far and we know that too.
  2. The ‘Are you writing about ME??’ paranoia-type
    Prevalent especially among my work colleagues, there seems to be some deep-rooted fear/paranoia that we must be writing about the people around us. To that I’d like to say, 1. Seriously, I have more interesting things going on in my life and 2. I did say CREATIVE writing, right? Although for some characters/scenes/ideas, I may draw from real life experiences, fiction is fiction because it’s fiction. Get it? So, while I might concede that some things are drawn from reality, a reason why I like writing is that writing can go beyond reality, bending time and space, allowing for anything to happen on a piece of paper.
  3. The ‘Oh, I’ve got a great story you can write about!’-type
    In stark contrast to the previous type, this one WANTS us to write about them and then goes into great detail about their story idea. You can tell us your idea and I really don’t mind. The more I know about the world, the more material I have. But do bear in mind that someone who has decided to become a writer hasn’t done so because he has one idea he wants to write about. Most of us just want to write A LOT and have loads of ideas and if anything, are struggling to choose what to write about within that. Still, thank you for any of your suggestions.
  4. The ‘So, are you going to be the next Man Booker Prize/Nobel Prize in Literature winner?’-type
    This can come in various tones from absolute sarcastic joke to naïve belief that this can just be done like that. To those that joke, I’d like to say, why not? It could be! More likely me than you, who is not writing, right? And to those that believe it’s possible, I thank you for that belief in me but I’d also like you to understand that it’s not that easy. Just like you could be an office worker who never gets promoted, we could be writers who never get published. The spectrum is large and while most of us wouldn’t say no to a prize, we’re equally happy to accept that we can be writers (even good writers!) without that.
  5. The ‘I always wanted to write too!’-type
    Well, go on! Write! You can write for yourself or join a group and if you choose the latter, there are endless opportunities from short one-day courses, through to regular creative writing groups and university-certified courses like mine. I encourage anyone who ever thought to write, to write!

Anyone wants to share their experiences? Write me! 🙂

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A Tale for the Time Being – bending time and space

How often does it happen that the narrator’s great-uncle died in the same way as your own, sharing the same ideals? My great-uncle was a Sky Soldier (a Kamikaze pilot) too who was a pacifist at heart and was forced to die for his country just like Nao’s great-uncle, Hiroki #1 as she calls him. My great-uncle was a student of German studies and kept a German book  with him until the very end. And like the secret diary Nao discovers, the book which contained his handwritten notes was salvaged later and returned to his sister in the 1970s. I only learnt about this last detail now asking my mother more about him, after reading Ozeki’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel “A Tale for the Time Being.”


For the past ten years, whenever anyone asked me whether I had a favourite book, I said Goethe’s Faust. That’s because at some point in time when I was perhaps eighteen that might have been true but mostly because I really didn’t have a favourite anymore. I could also never truly identify with a character in a novel nor share their cultural values. This all changed when I read “A Tale for the Time Being.”

Everything Ozeki writes about Japan is so true, so real (no matter how disturbing and unreal it may sound in a Westener’s eyes) and a reflection of contemporary Japan while incorporating the traditional values, all from the viewpoint of a true 帰国子女 (Japanese returnee students). I’ve never been bullied in the way Nao has been, nor did I have any other painful experiences but having lost my father at a young age, I once attempted to integrate into Japanese society as a high school student… And failed miserably. I loved the details, the stories within the stories (like the former soldier who donated money to save whales) and wondered which details were based on the author’s own life and which weren’t but that’s always the secret of a writer. In a way, I wish it would all be true because the world would be a wonderful place if it were so magical.

 

Summarizing the story, telling you Ruth in British Columbia discovers a lunchbox washed up on the shore that contains the diary of a 16-year-old suicidal girl, Nao Yasutani, living in Tokyo, and gradually gets sucked into her life, does this book no justice at all. Reading precisely this sort of plot summary is what put me off this book in the first place. What this story really does is effortlessly bend time and place, and in the process create a magical world, where everything is somehow connected and anything is possible. The reader becomes the writer, the reality fiction and vice versa. 

 

I’m not religious nor do I believe in many things, but I do believe in some sort of destiny (like the one that brought my pet garden snails, my turtles and my dog into my life) where we’re all connected and can’t help but believe I was meant to read this book. I always had a totally unfounded negative bias towards English-writing Japanese authors and I would have never read this one if it wasn’t for Philip Palmer, who in one workshop on alternative worlds in my MA Creative Writing, couldn’t stop praising this book. 

 

Do you feel like I’ve told you absolutely nothing at this point? Then, there’s only one thing I can tell you now: read this book.

A Wrong Proposal

They are sitting in a French restaurant just off Spitalfield, the one where they went for their first date ever. She never really liked it but still hasn’t gotten around to telling him, the romantic that he is, attaching special significance to it. Frankly she doesn’t care enough anyway, given he is footing the bill. He had suggested having dinner here last night and Christine had found it odd, knowing you had to book this popular place weeks in advance, especially a quiet corner spot like this one. He has to be up to something. Maybe he has something to confess, she thinks. She observes him. He looks nervous, sweat pearls building up on his forehead. So revolting, she thinks. Christine hates sweat.

She doesn’t see his left hand holding on tightly to the little dark red box deforming his jacket pocket, the treasure worth multiple months of his salary that he’s been holding on to for weeks now in anticipation. He had considered the champagne glass ploy, but once saw an episode of “Two and a Half Men” where the unsuspecting girlfriend ends up swallowing the surprise and decided to play it safe. Despite having visualized the moment over and over again, now that he’s here, his mind is a blank canvass. He tells himself all he needs to do is say four little words and go down on one knee without breaking his trousers.

“Would you like some wine tonight with your dinner? Shall I call the sommelier.” The waiter says after having taken the order, but George, his eyes burning holes into the menu doesn’t hear a word. She looks at him, giving off a mental sigh.

“George, do you want any wine? George?” Christine almost shouts pushing the menu forward and down.

“Huh?” George says, his face finally revealed to her again.

“Do you want some wine the waiter asked. I’ll take a glass but if you’re drinking too we can get a bottle.” Christine says, mild impatience in her tone. He is so distracted, what is going on, she wonders.

“Yes yes… Let’s have some wine…” The waiter walks off. His fingers are getting sticky and he starts rotating the box between his fingers. Closing his eyes, the smell of fresh bread left on the table fills his nostrils and he lets his mind wander through time to their first night here. She was so beautiful. She is so beautiful. And soon she’ll be all his.

The sommelier asks the usual questions; what are they having, fish or meat, do they have any preference on region and so on. George answers, his voice so weak, almost a whisper. What is the matter with him? Doesn’t he want to be here? After all it was his idea and she has better things to do than sit at a table with a man who doesn’t appreciate her presence. If he has something to say, he should spill it out soon, she thinks. Short-tempered as she is, she is boiling inside and lets her anger be reflected by picking the most expensive wine on the list, despite her having no idea what it is. Something from France with a high price tag, that’s all she needs to know at that moment. This time she gives off an audible sigh.

He winces at the price but tells himself there’s nothing that can be too much for this special day. He looks at her and for a brief moment he thinks she might be annoyed but can’t fathom why and instead dismisses it, deciding he must be imagining.

As the sommelier walks off, George suddenly shouts out much louder than normally acceptable in a restaurant. “Wait! Before the wine, could you bring us some Champagne?” After all these years, he doesn’t even know she hates Champagne. What is she doing with this man who clearly isn’t listening to her.

The sommelier complies and a few moments later, the champagne appears. Now or never, George thinks.

George raises his glass, readying his left hand. “Darling, there is something I need to tell you…” He says. Here it comes, she thinks. Her brain cells are in overdrive, playing out every scenario there is, more for entertainment than because she really cares. Did he cheat on her? Did he lose his job? Or is he gay? No, He definitely isn’t gay. But then again maybe his high sex drive is just an act to overcompensate for the fact that he really is. Maybe he cheated on her with a man at work and lost his job, now that would be funny, she thinks.

Her trail of thoughts is shattered by a woman’s scream on the other table.

“Oh my god, oh my god, this can’t be happening!”

They both turn to see a man down on one knee extending a blindingly sparkling item. It’s bigger than his, George thinks panicking. The woman is almost in tears. While his voice is too quiet to be heard, her “Yes! Of course, yes!” is more than audible.

Christine rolls her eyes in disgust at this pathetic public display of wanna-be relationship. She leans over and whispers to him. “Proposing in a restaurant, isn’t that so lame.”

George drops back the little box in his pocket. Not today.

 

The Letter and the Speech (or Documents of a Twisted Personality)

I sit, the blank digital page of the screen shining against me in the dark, take a sip of water and sigh. Looking down, looking up again, I finally take my fingers to the keyboard.

For those who don’t already know me, I am Allison and the Maid of Honour today. Claudia and I know each other for fourteen years now and I am touched to be standing here today on one of the most special days of her life. This wedding is double special for me as the groom has grown over the past year to become a very close friend of mine too.

I have known Claudia from just about the age where boys started to play any role and have accompanied her through all her ups and downs, loves and heartbreaks. There are many funny memories I cannot share in this censored environment. Instead I’d like to focus today on clearly the only one relationship that ever mattered.

When it comes to Sandeep and Claudia’s relationship, I had a front row seat in the movie theatre premiere, having been there from the earliest days. I remember Sandeep’s fierce courtship and Claudia’s denial, hesitant to lose a wonderful friendship. But it’s perhaps just that hesitance that made this relationship even greater when she finally gave in. Because when that first kiss was shared on our living room couch, it wasn’t just a steamy moment but a sweet promise of all that would eventually come.

There are two key moments I remember thereafter:

February 2013, the visit to Singapore

The day you, Claudia, came back from visiting Singapore and Sandeep’s family for the first time officially as his girlfriend. You were all smiles telling me how much you loved it there, how wonderful his mother was, taking you in her arms like you were her own daughter. I never told you this, but that day I cried alone in my room, in happiness and sadness. Happiness because I knew you had finally found the one. Sadness because I knew that it was the end of an era for you and me.

June 2013, the proposal preparation

When Sandeep messaged me asking me to meet him in the nearby pub in the City, I knew it was serious. I didn’t dare say anything but already knew what he was going to ask.

“I want to steal your roommate from you,” he said half asking as if requiring my permission. From this day on, I spoke to Sandeep almost every day, planning the proposal, collaborating on secretly measuring Claudia’s ring size, discussing when and where the proposal was to take place, even suggesting he should practice going down on one knee, making sure his trousers don’t crack. The highlight of it all was that I was allowed to be a part of that very special moment, right there in that romantic setting of their favourite French restaurant where Sandeep was so nervous he couldn’t get the ring out, while Claudia was gasping and in tears.

Another fourteen months have passed since that special night. Although you are husband and wife for the first time today, I know your hearts and souls have merged already long ago.

Now, I invite you all to stand and raise your glasses in a toast to Claudia and Sandeep, wishing them ever-lasting love and happiness in their new life. To new beginnings!

I put my fingers to rest. I read over the draft and save it as “Claudia_wedding_speech.doc.” I open a fresh page, sigh once more and type away again.

Dear Claudia,

I know this must be coming as a shock to you but I cannot hold it any longer. Today, I am writing you to request terminating our friendship. We know each other for over a decade and have been sharing a flat for half of that time and so it may seem irrational of me to request such a sudden end.

But truth be told, for the longest time, ours was a marriage of convenience, me having a two bedroom flat and you being a clean person to live with. When you started to refer to me as your ‘best friend’ or ‘soul sister,’ I was taken aback. To me, you were nothing more than a person who lived in the same square-foot space who paid me regularly. And yet, like a weak-willed man giving in to an overbearing girlfriend, I gave in to your neediness and have a couple of years ago even decided to upgrade your status in my mind and call you a friend.

Continue reading “The Letter and the Speech (or Documents of a Twisted Personality)”

If you’re interested…

Dear cherished followers of my little musings,

I should apologise for my lack of recent updates… And this update isn’t really an update… But more a notification…
Should any one of you be interested to see some of my more creative side, please check out the new blog I have just started as part of my New Year’s resolution to dedicate more time to creative writing.

I just finished an experimental short story called “The Ken Doll.” For anyone who’s got a few minutes to spare, this is an easily digestible (maybe less so for the men out there) quick tube ride read.

I will of course continue my explorations of London here, so stay tuned!

A happy 2014 everyone! x

 

The Ken Doll (or The Curious Case of the Shrinking Tool)

He closed his eyes and rubbed it, conjuring the images from last night, that blond nymph sensually moaning on top of him. Then, he rapidly took out his tape measure, holding it from the base on the inner side right up to the tip where the hole was, like the NHS site had suggested, using the same method as in the past few weeks. 12.9 centimetres. There was no denial, it was smaller.  He didn’t keep records initially because really, it couldn’t be true. But 12.9 cm? Since those silly teenage days, where hidden in the family bathroom he’d quietly measured himself, he always had at least 15.0 cm, if not 16.5 cm on a good day, well above average. 

***

He recalled that ominous Thursday walking into the bar; no wingman, no friends, just tired of everyone. Worn down by a long week that only resulted in a major deal falling through at the last minute, a good fuck was in order. The rooftop lounge turning into a club with the view of St. Paul’s cathedral wide in front of him was one of his favourites. He had avoided this place for a while; too many familiar faces. But today it felt just right. Sitting at the long sleek black counter and having ordered his one drink for the night, a Campari with orange, like a predator he slowly let his eyes glide through the room scoping for his perfect prey, simultaneously confirming that he was at the upper end of the male contenders here.  

He had a shortlist of three: the petite Asian peeking at him through her colourful drink; the tall blond conquering the dance floor reminding him a bit too much of Jenny from last week, though he couldn’t deny her nice figure underlined by the white tube dress clearly here to be stripped; finally the brunette sitting at a table with a group of friends, the desperate girls night out, every single one of them screaming for a guy to rescue her. He was satisfied with the diversity he had picked. Too many men just stuck to one type until every single replacement just looked like a bad xerox of the last one. Where was the fun in that? 

Suddenly like lightening she caught his eye. Sitting on a bar stool at the end of the counter, her red lips sipping on a martini were so sensual, her appearance was surreal. Her hazelnut wavy hair was draping her beautiful shoulders remaining free above a red velvet dress smoothly flowing over her expressive curves. She distinctly reminded him of the first woman he ever considered sexy: Jessica Rabbit. 

Turn around, so I can see your face. Just in that moment, she swirled around on her seat to face him, her emerald eyes emitting a mysterious spark. His shortlist was long lost by now and the winner was clear.  

He wasted no time to close the deal and walked right up to her, her eyes fixated on him. He wasn’t too surprised. He was a good looking fellow after all, tall and well-built from his regular gym workouts at the craziest hours of the day, his square jaw with just the right amount of dark stubble to look manly and not rogue. His tailored grey suit accentuated his features, while his Tag Heuer Carrera watch was an easy item to communicate his financial standing without being blatantly obvious like the sad men with their overdone gold Rolex bling, bigger than their wrist (and any other part of their body).

“I see you’re having a martini. They do have a killer mojito here. Would you like to try one?” He said now leaning in right next to her. 

“I’d never say no to a free drink,” she said, putting hers to the side. 

Jackpot! “My name is Ken.” Always a monosyllabic strong name. He extended his hand. 

“Annika. Pleasure.” She said.

Continue reading “The Ken Doll (or The Curious Case of the Shrinking Tool)”

New Year’s resolution 2014: a commitment to writing

At what point does a fuzzy reflection turn into a defined ambition?

Around this time a year ago, I started my first creative writing course at City University. The poster I saw every day walking up Barbican station to my job in the London finance world, had gradually burnt itself into my mind until one not so busy day, I browsed and search, eventually finding myself drawn to “Creative Writing.”

From the deepest dark caves of my memory, a childhood self (a little girl always thought to be a boy by others) beckoned me, pushing me to remember the first answer I ever gave to the question “What do you want to become when you grow up?” A writer.

Despite this ambition long forgotten, graduating in mathematics I scratched the larger field of writing once becoming a financial news correspondent in Tokyo for a a large US newswire, and left quickly ticking an imaginary box of accomplishment. But what if the dream could be revisited, not just lightly brushed but fully soaked?

And so, in January 2013, I found myself attending “An Approach to Creative Writing,” a handholding Kindergarten-like experience of the subject of writing gently told by an ever so patient and not too expectant Caroline Natzler. Not life-changing though mind-stimulating enough, after the 10 weeks experience, I joined yet another course, Katy Darby‘s “Novel Writing and Longer Works.” This course, just as the previous one, had no entry requirements and one of the more practical aspects for signing up was that it ran at the same time as the first course, making it easier to coordinate with my work colleagues. If the first was the Kindergarten version, this certainly had more of an A level feel to it, Katy Darby setting clear targets on what had to be produced: a 500 words synopsis to a novel idea and an up to 5000 words first chapter. It was a steep learning curve but at the end of the course, I found myself with exactly those two pieces, encouraged by the feedback and constructive criticism from my fellow students, workshopping writing for the first time.  (for more detail, see my older comment on these courses here)

Creative writing was gaining a new shape from a capricious evening activity in an attempt to wind down from work to a more defined hobby I wanted to share with the world. A very raw first chapter and an idea in hand, I applied and was accepted to the “UEA/Guardian Masterclass: How to complete a first draft of a novel.” Although just a number, the larger financial burden was a big step towards a committed relationship with writing.

With the course starting in September, I have since, apart from working on my novel, attempted to increase my writing output in any sort of form. “Just write!” was all I demanded from myself at first, creating a Twitter alter ego linking myself to all forms of writing related personalities and working on resurrecting my own blog from its comatose state, documenting my life in London.

Several months down the line and an entire year of writing to look back to, I’ve decided to step up my commitment another notch by creating yet another blog, this time dedicated to creative writing only. Why did it take me this long? (Or is it really that long?) It was the fear of the result possibly being an empty blog with nothing to say. Still, the ambition and commitment have triumphed and I’ll take the challenge to fill these virtual pages with something creative and meaningful.

So I thank all of you in advance, who are here to share this experience with me. x

Liar’s League – Creativity on the 2nd Tuesday

Expanding on my recently developed passion for creative writing, I had a new London experience yesterday going to Liar’s League, an event partially run by my last creative writing tutor, Katy Darby. No, Liar’s League is not some criminal association, but a themed monthly fiction night where selected short stories are read out by professional actors.

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Their motto is “Writers write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everybody wins.” And despite not being much of a performing arts lover myself (usually rather feeling like I just wasted a few hrs of my life knowing I’ll never get them back), I must admit I quite enjoyed this experience (apart from the food served…).

The themes are advertised in advance and writers who are interested send in their unpublished work between 800-2000 words related to the topic at hand by the given deadline to then be judged and chosen by the committee (care to give it a shot?).

There’s an unpublished longlist and shortlist, whereby writers receive some feedback on their work. Finally around 5-7 stories get picked for the night in question.

The event takes place at The Phoenix@37 Cavendish Square, conveniently located just 5 minutes from Oxford Circus. Doors open at 7pm and entry is £5, where you get stamped on your wrist. The evening starts more or less at 7.30pm.

The theme for my night was “Life & Limb” and contained 6 works in total spread over about two hours with a 15 minutes interval in between (with a book quiz and a chance to win one of three books! This time, three short story collections including a Granta edition on travel).

Surprisingly many stories involved falling. Maybe this is the typical risk situation people imagine? But the diversity in which the theme was treated was impressive, starting off with a rather comical punchy story, followed by two emotionally deeper stories of which the second was a very literally artistic piece. In the second half again we had a mix, finishing off with an extremely energetic story funnily treating the theme of sex.

Maybe it’s just my ignorance? But I was utterly surprised at the range of emotions and moods the actors displayed, giving the stories real life just by reading them out. I was initially disappointed, since I somehow thought it would involve actual acting out but really in the end the readings were nothing short of totally engrossing. It was just as much about the writing as the acting.

Anyone would have at least found one story to their liking and would have still found utmost respect for the creativity put on display here in all works by writers and actors alike.

So, unless you’ve got other plans, mark your calendar for the second Tuesday of the month and give it at least once a try!