It is nice to walk into this particular workshop on a cold morning because there is a real living wood fire to welcome you, comfortable seating and a view over the valley in which Bath is situated. Today, the view was mainly of mist but a very high quality mist because it’s Bath.
This was a private workshop so for reasons of confidentiality I cannot name names and so I will mainly focus on telling you what I wrote and what I got out of it. There were eight of us altogether sat round a large table and this is absolutely right for me. I find that up to about 10 people you have a cohesive unit. Above this level, the dynamics change and the psychology becomes more like that of a crowd. I find myself slipping into the background whereas I can relate to a small group where everyone has a go at reading their work. It has the family feel.
The theme of today’s workshop was “Home”. We were invited to give our memories. I related a time in my early life when I lived in a garret or attic with four other people. One was an encyclopaedia salesman, one was a fence erector called Hammer and another one a bon viveur who insisted on bringing his girlfriend back from time to time and locking the door of a bedroom. I had to learn the hard way to live in intimate circumstances and one thing I soon came to realise was that I did not like it one little bit.
We eventually all drifted apart in our various ways without resentment but I always remember being the one left to do the washing up in the morning and contemplating an impossibly small sink containing mountains of takeaway food remnants and dirty plates. All I had to heat the water was a gas ascot which proved temperamental at the best of times. Needless to say, the flat had no central heating. The front door had been kicked in more than once by someone who forgot their keys and returned home late and drunk.
Others at the workshop recall that living on their own for the first time gave them a sense of freedom which they had not experienced before; another person who had been in the same home for 40 years watched an oak tree in their garden grow and grow by the year.
We discussed what it meant to have a home. I commented that the really advanced souls carry their home around with them rather like a tortoise carries its shell. I reported that when I stay in a hotel I do not feel at home until I have laid out all my toiletries and clothes in a certain order. Other people had very strong memories when children had fruit trees in their garden producing an accompanying sense of privacy and innocence which allowed them to let their imagination run free in a private almost a secret place.
We were then asked to say a number of words that we associated with home. I being me decided to rebel, as I normally do, and did a word association exercise which I eventually realised made up an ideal verbal test for a budding actor who has to get into the spirit of every word. To read the following meaningfully is actually quite difficult because you have to live the part, several parts actually, mainly consisting of one word. Every word is important and must be given the space due to it with the right tone of voice.
Try it sometime.
Here was my list:
HOME homely > homeo> homeostasis > stasis > jump > shock > trauma > need for security > aloneness > black sheep > misunderstood > withdrawal > more stasis > sleep > dreams > nightmares > another day cycling to school > alienation. * stasis = a period or state of inactivity or equilibrium.
I realise that this pretty much summed up my teenage years. I made no particular effort with this exercise and just let the images and feelings roll on one by one. I think this is the best way of preventing the left brain from interfering with its so-called rational thought which is actually a big handicap on most occasions.
We discussed many techniques and technicalities of writing and declaiming including the difficulty of proofreading something you have written; the need to rehearse what you’re going to read beforehand and get in the part; the need to pause between paragraphs when there is a new theme; in general the need to avoid reading whatever the material is in a mechanical way like reading a shopping list. In other words to read with the heart.
We did not discuss whether you should stand or sit if declaiming anything, the use of the breath and the importance of preparation. I have always been told that declaiming or singing should start at the bottom of the stomach or as a lady friend of mine so tactfully said ‘you sing from your fanny upwards’.
We were then asked to write a story about an imaginary house, its occupants, what they did, the comings and goings, and who visited. When my turn came to read, I told everyone that I was able to write only a short story in the time allowed because if I wrote fast I cannot read my writing.
Here is my effort:
There were two of us. We had been introduced only minutes before. Our home room was bathed in a dark, almost metallic blue. It was completely silent. We could even hear our hearts beat. We stared into the distance, sightlessly.
Outside there were no features save a myriad of stars. They did not twinkle as there was no atmosphere which produces turbulence rather like the mirages on the road on a hot day.
Ten years, we were told on the telescreen, 10 years of just being, of existing, in an environment where nothing changes. Character training, they told us. I turned towards my companion. The radio chips that had been implanted in our necks allowed us some freedom but reptilian thoughts, anything resembling rebellion, was not permitted.
Our thought circuits have been enhanced and amplified. Because of this, our thought is simultaneous. We act as one yet we are separate. After the initial phrase we will forget what “time” is and go into long-term hibernation.
I wanted the audience to do the work. I wanted to figure out gradually that we are not talking about normal people on planet Earth but people elsewhere on some unknown mission where they clearly did not know what was going to happen to them and were almost deceived into being in the situation that they were. This is dystopian indeed. I think there is a very valuable role of science-fiction which is to make people think and be less complacent about the conditions under which they live noting that robotisation and trans-humanism is already being spoken about more and more.
The workshop is always three hours from 10 AM to 1 PM. The time flies because we are working all the time and we enjoy each other’s company. There is quite a lot of banter and teasing but all done in a good spirit. I’m the only male person but being with a lot of women together doesn’t bother me at all but I must say if I had a real choice there would be another man there. For some reason creative writing appeals more to women. I have absolutely no idea why and frankly I don’t care so long as I get on with them. They can be old, young, of a certain age, male, female, trans etc. and you either get on with them or you don’t.