Bernard MacLaverty's Writing Workshop for My Favourite Place

Bernard MacLaverty
Category: Reading

We recently launched our writing workshops which are running all around the country as part of My Favourite Place. We kicked off with a workshop at North Edinburgh Arts on the 12th June, with acclaimed writer Bernard MacLaverty, and the series will continue nationwide. S

Emily Dodd, Edinburgh-based writer and blogger at Aunty Emily, went along to our first workshop. Here’s what she thought of the day:

When I heard that My Favourite Place was running free writing workshops with internationally renowned authors, I thought, ‘what a rare and wonderful thing?!’ I booked onto the first free workshop at North Edinburgh Arts with Bernard MacLaverty. I enjoyed the workshop. Bernard spent time getting to know us and reading examples from his novels. He also had some great advice…

Bernard’s Top Tips:

Start by saying ”today I give myself permission to write badly”. If you try to write a masterpiece it’s hard to write anything at all. If you give yourself permission to write badly it’s easy to write and you never know, a masterpiece might come somewhere along the way.

Write to show and not tell. You could write ‘Mary was in love with the boy next door’, that’s telling. But to show would be to say ‘Mary waited by the curtains looking at the red door as it opened…’ and so on.

When I work with teenagers they all want to write something that astounds you, something to change the world but actually I just want them to tell me about their Granny or a place or something someone said.

Our Task

Bernard had planned to get us to write a postcard from a favourite place. Beginners are encouraged to go to these workshops but since we were all professional writers he set us a different task. We had to describe a room from childhood using the five senses and in the third person. A show and not tell exercise.

We had just ten minutes to write it and I gave myself permission to write badly. Here’s what I wrote:

She swept the smooth wooden floor of the caravan with her socks, sliding and sweeping. More fun than a broom, not conventional sweeping. This was dangerous. One slide too far and you’re on the floor. She perfected the motion, sweeping the dust of last night’s fire, of today’s food. Up and down and around and back. Up and down and around and back. Sweeping it into a small, fluffy pile. She took a dust pan and swept it up. There wasn’t a bin so she found a bag and tipped it all in.

We read our paragraphs to Bernard and the rest of the group for feedback. Here’s what people said about my paragraph:

  • It pinged a memory and is likely to do so with others (Bernard talked about how he used to polish the floor with his socks as a child)
  • I think someone is about to come to the caravan or something is about to happen, there’s suspense building, it’s exciting…
  • It seems to be a short story already, keep going and make it into one
  • It reminds me of a description from Hemingway about a fish (but it wasn’t really about a fish) is this really about sweeping?
  • What was she avoiding? What was coming next? What was she really thinking?
  • The repeated phrase worked because it showed the repetitive nature of the task

I’d strayed a little from the brief, earlier in the workshop I’d been thinking about Skye as a favourite place. It’s unbelievably beautiful and was somewhere I stayed earlier this year. Here’s a picture I took on a bike ride with my mobile:

When asked to describe a room from childhood I didn’t really want to leave the beautiful island in my imagination and so I described where I stayed on Skye instead. The rest of the group didn’t know that when I read my paragraph.

The best thing about the workshop was it made me want to write. I had loads of ideas and was poised with my pen raring to go while the task was being discussed. I think that’s what these workshops are all about, meeting great people, being inspired and putting pen to paper.

Do you have a favourite place? Then why not get involved in the campaign! Book onto a My Favourite Place writing workshop here, or read about other people’s favourite places here for inspiration. Then, submit your piece of writing, before the 31st August, here.

If you want to more about Emily, why not check her out on Twitter, or on her blog?

Thanks to Emily for allowing us to use this post.