Listening to the writer

I am loving my creative writing course at university! I have encountered a few problems when it comes to having ideas mid-lecture. My laptop being a ten minute walk and an awkward lecture-room shuffle through the seats away. This means that the ideas must be pinned down by mental ninjas that live in my brain, their job: ‘To keep ideas inside the mind long enough that the writer can- “Oh shiny thing!” – what was the idea again?’ This can get a little infuriating at times but for the most part my writing is doing better than ever.

My absolute favourite part of the creative writing course comes every other Thursday, under the title of a plenary session. The lecturers have used it to bring in published writers, allowing them to hurl their writing at us and for us to hurl questions back at them. Such fun has never been seen.

Tonight’s lecture was graced with the presence of the wonderful Tania Hershman who wrote ‘The White Road and Other Stories’ and ‘My Mother Was An Upright Piano’. The reading she gave were from ‘My Mother Was An Upright Piano’ and were absolutely fantastic, not only for the imagery she employs but the power and misdirection conveyed in such short pieces of writing.

She was a prepared speaker, and she wasn’t about to let us sit in the audience and fall asleep due to the after five slump. (Her reference to the complete lack of energy that accompanies later lectures.)

We played word cricket.


I was. I’m not now, but I was.

Word cricket, as it turns out, is a writing exercise where you are given the first sentence of a story.

“No one realised it till afterwards…”

And then you have to start writing for ten minutes, without stopping.

However! Here is the bit that turns it into ‘word cricket’. During the rest of those ten minutes we had a word thrown at us, and we had to catch it. So really it turned into word catch more than word cricket…


So you have your starting sentence and then nine words to catch and bat into your story. Oh look, I did make it into cricket!

Her main piece of advice was to let go of making any sense, and once we started reading them out it became clear, they did make sense, they were just wonderfully weird.

We have cats eating pickled eggs, which turned into rats, we had werewolves in the pantry who tore off heads when searching for a midnight snack among the teabags! That does all make sense doesn’t it?

Anyway, the exercise was only a small part of the evening’s lecture and I’m sure the rest will have more appeal that the random ramblings of my writing class.

As a writer of short-stories we were told that she rarely knows where he longer stories will end up, she doesn’t revise how you’re ‘supposed’ to, and everyone she’s spoken to has a different technique about re-working their writing.

One of her first pieces, ‘The White Road’, was condemned by her writer’s workshop, and a tutor at an American writer’s workshop told her that no-one would read past the first paragraph. She didn’t aim to writer for any sort of length, she’s published flash fiction, for her there are no rules to writing, only what she feels is right.

She has freedom in her writing.

I came out of the lecture rather distracted. All at once my own writing seemed so much more achievable, and the problems with my collection of short stories had resolved themselves as I sat their trying to listen and ignore the character hammering against the inside of my skull.

My inspiration has dreadful manners.

Overall I was deeply impressed, and my copy of her collection, ‘My Mother Was An Upright Piano’ is now on order. The point was crystal clear, write how you believe you should write, and while listening to the advice of others bear in mind that they could be wrong. No one can really ever be an expert in writing.

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