Sometimes it can feel like the world is geared to the education of the young. Which is great. If anything we need more opportunities for some of the youngsters out there, those who have a taller mountain to climb because they weren’t born into a family that owned a chalet near the summit. That’s why I support the charity Arts Emergency. At only a few years old they are already punching way above their weight, opening up opportunities to kids from under-privileged backgrounds, to give them the support and encouragement they need to pursue studies, and subsequently careers, in the Arts. You can find out more information about these wonderful people here, particularly if you have the luxury of being able to give: http://www.arts-emergency.org/
However, I digress, you see sometimes, as an emerging writer over a certain age (that age being 30, which I am well over, I have only vague memories of 30), it can be frustrating that many of the opportunities out there have an upper age limit (normally 30, sometimes even lower). I can understand it, a lot of the future talent will come from the younger generation, but it can feel like those that are looking to explore their writing at an older age are excluded. The good news is that if you’re based in London (not all of the below are London based, but there is a heavy skew because this list is formed by my own experience, and I shop local) there are learning opportunities out there for you that aren’t age limited. Now most of them come at a price, but for the higher priced courses there are often grants available for those struggling financially, so it is still worth looking into even if you are cash strapped.
One of things I’ve learned through these courses, workshops and talks, is that writers are very generous with their knowledge. It really is amazing, as a community, how much they are willing to pass on from their experience. In the past few years, I’ve had the privilege to learn from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Marina Warner, Emma Jane Unsworth, Stephen May, Mark Gatiss, Max Porter, Meera Syal, Kate Mosse, David Mitchell, Sebastian Faulks, Howard Jacobson, Lionel Shriver, Kamila Shamsie, Ben Aaronovitch, Tessa Hadley, Stella Duffy, Nigel Planer, Eleanor Catton and the list could go on.
Now some of these were talks, and if you keep your finger on the pulse of the literary festivals happening all around the UK, you’ll no doubt have a longer and more impressive list than mine. However, many of these were workshops, where you really got a good few hours quality learning time with the writer (or in some cases the luxury of a full week). Here are some of my top tips for places to join/follow on twitter/ explore the brochure/check out the website (delete as applicable). It is not an exhaustive list, but I’m happy to recommend any of the below based on my own experiences of them.
Sources of general writing inspiration and knowledge
- Word Factory: focused very much on short stories, however their workshops are often useful to those who might also be writing longer-form work. Their recent workshop on “How to write a synopsis” run by Marina Warner was brilliant. With the new year, they are now open to members again. Please note they have a limited number of member spots available, so once they’re full they’re full. The good news is that you don’t have to be a member to book their workshops, although membership does come with a nice discount and early booking privileges (there is no way I would have got tickets to the Neil Gaiman workshop without my membership, mainly because public booking opened while I was having far too much fun in New Orleans). They also have an apprentice scheme, which would see you mentored by an established writer for 6 months. The deadline to apply is 22nd January, so there is still time if you are interested, it is free except for an admin fee. You can find out more about the Word Factory generally here: http://www.thewordfactory.tv/site/ and specifically about their Apprentice scheme here: http://www.thewordfactory.tv/site/apprenticeship-application-2017/
- Royal Society of Literature: they host some great talks, often in conjunction with other organisations. Plus they do workshops. I got to spend a morning with Howard Jacobson talking about writing comic novels, suffice it to say, it was a morning well spent. Again, membership comes with benefits but a lot of their events are accessible even if you don’t join (at a fee). I actually think the membership fee was a great investment for me, as I went to a lot of talks and could often bring a plus 1 at a reduced rate. I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Alan Ayckbourn speak in May. You can find out more here: http://rsliterature.org/
- Reluctant to share this one as you may nab all the tickets, but @rooftopbookclub is a great account to follow if you’re on twitter. They host inspiring events with writers talking about their new books. There is a ticket price to get in, but they offer great value for what you pay in the form of food, drink and quality speakers. Am waiting for the latest bookclub to be announced… *drums fingers on desk*
- Words Away are the new kids on the block, I went to their first salon last year and loved it. Diary clashes have limited my opportunities to go to more since but fingers crossed I’ll have better luck in the latter half of 2017. They host salons in a lovely venue in Vauxhall (leave room in your belly for their cakes, trust me they’re worth the calories). They will also be hosting a retreat this year and have big plans for the future. You can find out more, book for their salons, learn about their retreat etc.. here: http://www.wordsaway.info/
- Arvon Foundation: residential writing courses in various locations across the country. I’ve been to several and am going back this Summer for more learning and inspiration. With the range of courses available there really is something for everyone. Well worth checking out if you’re invested enough in your writing to take a week’s holiday to focus on it. There are grants available for those that can’t afford the fee, I know several successful recipients of a grant so it is well worth applying if you qualify. I support them as an organisation because access to this kind of education should not be limited to those with high disposable incomes. You can find out more about them and their online brochure here: http://www.arvon.org/
Arvon Foundation – Lumb Bank – the dining table, great place to eat and workshop – not at the same time
- Hampstead Theatre is hosting a festival this February. Some of the talks have already sold out, but still lots of interesting stuff available. Not just theatre based, all forms of writing are pretty well covered: https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/the-festival/
For budding playwrights:
As a functioning theatre addict, playwriting has a growing appeal for me. Right now I’m in the midst of editing my first novel, but I’m gearing up to learn more about writing for the theatre. It’s good to have variety in one’s life. Anyway, here are some things worth checking out:
- Soho Theatre Writer’s Lab (27+): the Soho do a lot of great courses for young people. Yay young people, but they do also do this one course for us oldies. It is very popular, runs for a year, comes at a price (£150 but again grants available) and there is no guarantee you’ll be selected. BUT I’m giving you loads of advanced warning so you can prepare a blinding monologue for when applications open again in July. I like to make life harder for myself by giving myself more competition. The Writers’ Lab (27+) runs from October. More info here: http://www.sohotheatre.com/young-people/soho-young-company/writers-lab-27/
- Follow @arionprods on twitter. It is through them that I got to enjoy a Q&A with Mark Gatiss. They do a lot for actors, but it is worth keeping track of what they have on as there is the occasional gem for us writers. The prices are reasonable and they help fund future Arion productions, so you can feel good about where the money goes.
- The St James Theatre used to do some great half day workshops in their studio of a weekend. However, it has changed ownership and is changing its name to The Other Palace (why oh why the silly name? I keep having to google it as my brain refuses to remember it). So it is a case of watch this space to see if they plan to continue providing those when they re-open. Keeping my fingers crossed.
I know there must be lots missing from the above list, which goes to show there are lots of sources of learning and inspiration even for old fart writers like me. If you know of other great places to hone your writing craft who don’t discriminate against oldies, please let me know in the comments. I’m always open to finding new places to learn, if only to stop me drowning in my own novel. If the above is useful to just one person, my work here is done.
Write on my lovelies