Full-day creative writing workshops in July and August
Summer Saturdays, 10am – 4pm
Upper Wolvercote (North Oxford). There's free parking, a great bus route (#6), and beautiful canal-side walking routes.
The workshops start at £65 each; the more you book, the less you pay per workshop.
1 workshop £65 each
2 workshops £60 each
3+ workshops £55 each
Email me with any questions.
This is the long list of 14 possible workshops, in detail — your votes decide which 5 of these workshops will run this summer. They're divided into 8 new workshops and 6 old favourites.
Discover the importance of a sense of place, explore description in novels, choose engaging locations, and write active description
The feeling of a novel's place is one of the things that with us most strongly, and most novels are actually about 50% description, if you count it all up, but writing description is something many people struggle with. Unlike other kinds of writing (dialogue, action, exposition) it's something we rarely do in the rest of life, so we don't develop the skill. But if you want your story to come to life in the reader's mind, description is what does that.
Move your characters and the reader easily in time & place, and deal deftly with exposition and back story
Orientating the reader is one of those invisible skills - if it's done well in a story, you'd never notice it. When it's done badly, you're suddenly flipping backwards in the book looking for a character thinking "Who the hell is this, again...?" Or flicking pages back and forth, trying to work out whether you've jumped in time or are still in the same place. Or counting the lines of dialogue to work out on earth is speaking.
This workshop looks at a range of ways to orientate the reader: reminding them who characters are, reminding them of the core tension of each story strand when you're weaving multiple threads together, moving your characters in time and place so the reader knows when / where they are without long journey descriptions, dealing with flashbacks elegantly, and exposition for back story and the details of your novel's world.
Do you use “I” or “he” / “she”? Explore the different effects in published work and play with your own writing.
For many writers, their choice of person or tense is simply a matter of personal preference or the habits of their genre - literary fiction tends to use present tense a lot, genre fiction tends to use past tense more, and so on. Moving beyond your automatic habits can open up new vistas in your writing, though. As well as the aesthetic effects of each choice, there are practical implications of what each one allows you to do or stops you from doing in your writing. This workshop explores choice of tense and choice of person in a range of published work, to study the different effects, and allows you to explore what changing the tense or person does to your own writing - how the change feels, and also how what you write next changes when you change the tense or person. As well as the practical and aesthetic effects, it also looks at a few common misconceptions.
Create some raw material, dig into the craft side of poetic techniques, structures, and patterns, to turn it into poetry
Writing poetry can also transform your prose, by heightening your awarenss of the musicality of language, how economical you can be with words, and how much a precisely chosen image or turn of phrase can do. In this workshop, we'll start off by creating some raw material to play with, dig into the craft side. We'll explore the natural music of English, a range of poetic forms to play with, tangible imagery, and playing with meaning, and use all those to turn your initial raw material into poetry.
For fantasy / scifi, invent convincing bits of languages for your world and play with its names, idioms, and proverbs
Despite Tolkien, you really DON'T need to invent entire languages and alphabets for every culture in your world - but you might want some convincing snippets, so your characters can throw out a phrase like "Valar morghulis", and you probably need some names for people and places, which should also match any snippets of their language, linguistically. Instead of you spending years retraining in linguistics to get it right, I teach you a range of handy shortcuts, to create names and snatches of language that follow actual linguistic rules.
There's more to your world's language than inventing snippets of Foreign, though, and names of plants, animals, etc, don't need to be invented words. We'll look at different ways to play with making up common names, for your existing flora and fauna or as a way of inventing new ones. We'll also look at your world's idiom - the figures of speech, the metaphors and proverbs which characters from your world would use.
Once your first draft is done, what do you do? Practical tips on how to redraft, refine, and edit your story or novel
Knowing the future stages of drafting makes writing your first draft much easier - you can relax into it, not worry about it, tell yourself "I'll fix it later", and you know you will. Taking a short story through the complete process can also shed a lot of light on your novel's process. We'll start by exploring the different stages of writing, to get a good overview, then look at the principles and possible approaches for evaluating your draft, redrafting parts of scenes, and cutting it down. We'll then look at how to edit your own work: ways to do it and specific things to look for, so your work is polished and ready to send out.
How to present your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, write synopses and cover letters, and get published
If you want to get published, don't let your writing live in your hard drive gathering virtual dust - send it out. The first short story I had published was one I'd written 10 years before. So why didn't I send it out? I didn't know if it was good enough - but that's the editor's call, not mine. I didn't know I was "allowed" - well, I'm here to tell you that you ARE allowed. And I didn't know how. So that's what we'll cover.
Getting your writing ready and submitting it for publication can feel scary, but it's really just a question of admin. Once your writing is polished (that's the workshop on Beyond First Draft), you need to give yourself the best chance and make the editor's or agent's life easy. We'll look at professional layout for fiction, how to find places to send your writing (markets for short stories; finding agents for novels), how to follow submission guidelines, and how to write a synopsis and a good cover letter.
Practical tips on Microsoft Word for writing, from jumping around the book to Jedi-level find-and-replace to managing versions
I'm a massive geek so you don't have to be - but oh, I can make your life so much easier! You can keep your whole novel in one document and jump easily around from chapter to chapter, or to that pivotal scene you to refer back to - no digging through multiple chapter documents. Your layout can sort itself out automatically, no remembering to press tab, or going to change every chapter heading individually. You can manage your different versions easily, and colour-code so you never end up working on the wrong version by mistake. You can use find-and-replace at Jedi level, so hunting for repetitions when you're editing is a breeze. You can switch an entire scene into italics, without losing the bits that were in italics and now need not to be. You can turn your screen into a peaceful, quiet working space, so nothing distracts you from your story. You can even - if we're going Yoda level - build nifty little macros that do repetitive things for you. You're the writer: let the machine do the machine-work for you, and set yourself free to just think about the writing.
Playful challenging activities based on top research to create new ideas and explore the creative process
Creativity can feel magical and maddening: sometimes it all just sometimes it's like getting blood from a stone, and who knows why, or what to do about it? And what do you do when your creative well runs dry? Using creative activities and writing prompts, we'll explore some of the key aspects of the creative process: the different kinds of thinking we need; process versus product driven approaches; increasing your reservoirs of inspiration; the importance of play; and how to escape your brain's habits and reach for more original ideas. All the activities draw on solid research from neurology, psychology, and adult play: creativity is magic, and this is our spell book. Throughout the day, you'll be generating ideas, playing with different approaches, and writing multiple short pieces, with the opportunity to extend one or more of these at the end. You'll leave with a variety of newly developed story ideas to explore and a deeper understanding of how to support and enjoy your creativity.
Explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters to take home with you
It's an easy mistake to make all your characters too similar, especially the positive characters. When you're creating a "villain", you can gleefully invent all sorts of unusual traits. When you're writing a positive character, you can often end up making them just "normal" - ie not characterised, undifferentiated, or a cast of clones of yourself. This workshop uses a variety of approaches to help you invent characters who are most definitely NOT like you - and more than that, to sympathise with and understand them. You'll invent or develop multiple new characters in the workshop, and also gain insight into some of your own traits, to make sure those aren't replicated across all your future characters.
Writing with fresh angles, new voices, unusual points of view, experimental structures and different styles
In writing, it's easy to rest on what we're already good at and what we've done before, and define ourselves as "that kind" of writer. But this can mean we pull back from ideas or scenes that take us beyond that, which limits our stories. To expand our repertoires, we need a safe space of freedom to experiment with new approaches. In this workshop, we explore fresh angles in four main areas: new voices, unusual points of view, experimental structures, and different styles. We'll look at examples of published work, from literary fiction to genre novels, to see how it can be used and to inspire you. You'll also try out the different approaches with creative activities, using either your own work in progress or ideas created in the class. You'll leave with multiple short pieces of new writing, new ideas for stories or for your existing story, and a widened range of possibilites to draw on.
Everything from developing your characters’ voices and natural speech to layout and seamless attribution
Dialogue plays a central role in making a story come alive: it creates immediacy and intimacy, roots the story in real time, and builds strong characterisation, as well as carrying the story forward. This workshop covers multiple aspects of writing dialogue: striking the balance between actual versus "natural" speech; developing characters' voices; balancing both of those with writing snappy or powerful lines; its purpose in the story; common errors to avoid; ways of attributing speech; and the descriptions and actions that go around it. It also covers practical approaches for how to go about the actual writing, and the nuts and bolts of layout and punctuation. You'll leave with several pieces of writing exploring characters' voices (using new characters or ones from your work in progress), new dialogue, useful strategies for the writing process, and a clear grasp of the practicalities.
Explore magical realism’s features, whip up reams of ideas, and start writing your own magical realist pieces
Like fairytales for grown-ups, anything's possible in magical realism. From its Latin American roots to its wider use, magical realism is a uniquely rich, fantastical, and free genre to play in. This workshop introduces the background and principal features of magical realism, through eight novels. We'll then generate masses of ideas, with an extensive, varied (and colourful) menu of activities, and explore settings. In the afternoon, you'll draw on your ideas with a menu of writing activities and start turning one or more of them into more developed magical-realist stories. You'll leave with heaps of ideas, several pieces of writing, 8 new activities for generating multiple ideas, and 6 new activities for whisking ideas into stories - and, of course, a new genre to play with, whether you write within the genre or use its sense of freedom to expand your other writing.
Develop your idea and central narrative tension, layer the plot, and strengthen the tension and stakes
Whether you free-draft and then rework your story or plan it and then write, at some point you need to step back and treat your story at the macro level, as a plot. Traditional "plot structures" - the W, the Mountain, the 5-Act Structure, etc - aren't very helpful: most are too simplistic to be any use at all; some encourage bad structure (a great wodge of exposition before the "inciting incident"?); and the more practical Hero's Journey is dangerously overused, leading to predictable stories. Rather than mapping stories onto a set pattern, this workshop explores the principles behind good plotting. Using your own story or a new idea from within the class, you'll go through a process of plotting the story while learning various techniques and principles. We start with the essential ingredients of a plot and develop multiple plot layers. Building on those, we'll develop the central plot question, the stakes (personal, public, or both), the obstacles (internal, external, or both), and motivation. Finally, we'll work through how to arrange the events to make the story more gripping, and create a plot map. You'll leave with a new story or your existing story substantially expanded, with multiple events and layers, meaningful stakes, and strong tension, all mapped out in order - ready for you to redraft your story or start writing.
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