November 27th, 2010 | Category: workshops

This week I took a two-part writing workshop with a group of year 8 students at Carey. Their teacher (hello Mr Mason) and I decided it would be interesting to focus on the idea of ‘place’, following on from their elective study area ‘Backpacking with Books’.

We looked at short excerpts by some fantastic writers, from Chekhov to John Green & David Levithan, and how they evoke a sense of place. We looked at some strategies for the toolbox that can be used when writing descriptive prose. And then the years 8s wrote, using some of these strategies. Workshop writing is more about process than product, but some really beautiful work came out of the exercises we did.

So I asked the group if I could share some of their work, and here are some snippets from an exercise in which each student had an envelope containing four random words they had to incorporate into five fast minutes of writing:

‘The feathers she wore hung lifelessly upon her body as she waited. She wore them like a coat, to keep out the chill, to keep out the loneliness.’

‘The air smelt of eucalyptus – the scent coming from the tree hovering over my head.’

‘His brat of a daughter had called the river a ‘dangerous, uncontrollable wreck’, but she is blind to the truth. The river caresses tenderly.’

‘The whole city goes quiet and all I can hear is a song, a song that I have never heard before.’

”Where is she?’ We sprint around the dusty carpark near the beach… It’s new year’s, and Elly has disappeared.’

‘The soft tapping of the rain was rhythm on the hard tin roof. I closed my eyes and surrendered to my thoughts.’

‘I roll onto my side – my nose is filled with the smell of freshly cut grass. I lift my hand and notice it has already started to bruise.’

‘She was leaving at the end of this year. She was going to fly away to a new world, using her wings, her feathers and her spirit.’

‘Underneath the railway line that goes over town, between the housing commission and the local hangout for drug abusers and graffiti artists, there is a house.’

‘In the fridge was a mouldy sandwich. It was covered in slime and had green things growing out of it, but I had to eat it.’

‘Tears begin rolling down his cheek as they keep pushing and kicking him. They all make him look so tiny, like an ant. The view from where I stand is horrific.’

I could go on – there was so much fantastic writing. And I can see the use of things we discussed such as specific detail, interesting word combinations, metaphors and similes, remembering the senses – and the idea that ‘place’ is never neutral – it is always described from a particular perspective or point of view.

Because I knew they were about to be released for fresh air and food, and I could see they had stamina, we also talked about the notion of ‘suspension of disbelief’, and how important it is to invite a reader into a world that feels real. (That doesn’t mean it has to be realistic, but we need to ‘believe’ in it.)

We ran out of time before I could do the last exercise which was to respond to fortune cookie messages. So the students took a cookie on the way out, and I took the leftovers home.

I had to eat three (okay, four) cookies before I got a fortune I liked: it says ‘You are original and creative’, and that is the message I would like to send to the year 8 workshop students!

14 responses to “workshop”

  1. Amra Pajalic says:

    What a great exercise and such beautiful writing. I just read your book on the weekend and it was an amazing read. Did a blog mention about it. Looking forward to catching up somewhere around the traps.

  2. Robyn Bavati says:

    Just saw this post now. What a fabulous workshop, and well done to those students who produced such wonderful writing.

    • fiona says:

      Robyn, they were terrific – and particularly given the time of year, when everyone is probably a wee bit weary…

  3. Melanie G says:

    Hi there Fiona,

    On behalf of Mr Mason’s Backpacking with books class, I would just like to say thanks for coming in and helping us expand on our writing skills, it was a heap of fun!

    We are all currently on our school holidays and so I thought I might pop by your website and see what you had written about us and was very happy to see that the first quote mentioned was mine!

    So I was wondering whether or not you could send me my full story as I remember having a plan for it and wanting to expand on the idea. The only line I remember from it was the last “…The bird was me…”.

    Thanks again for coming in and sharing you’re writing knowledge with us,


  4. DoctorDi says:

    Wow – what a fantastically talented bunch of kids, Fiona. It’s quite awe-inspiring to think these gems have come from 13 year olds.

    • fiona says:

      Isn’t it! I’m so impressed that you are out and about on some blog-visits, Di, given the demands of your new constant companion.

  5. Mr Mason says:

    Thanks for visiting us, Fiona. Melanie, I’d love to see the rest of your story

  6. Nomes says:

    This sounds so inspiring and fantastic. I only attended two author visits in all my years of schooling (!) but I vividly remember them both. Authors were HUGE celebrities to me as a kid (they still are 🙂 – and I love the vibe you show here – making writing fun and simple and with such original and awesome results.

    Love the fortune cookie touch!


    • fiona says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Nomes! I don’t think we had a single author visit when I was at school. It’s great being able to share some of the nuts and bolts of writing that can make it feel more accessible and fun.

  7. Kevin says:

    Hey fiona! I got your book at somerset college festival and now I’m a huge fan! I just wanted to say the workshop is great and sorry for commenting so late but tests and hw and assignments are keeping me busy lately. Just to finish I loved your book and I am advising my other friends to read it!

    • fiona says:

      Hi there, Kevin – I’m so glad you like the book, and that you dropped by to visit the blog. I had such a good time at Somerset, and so did all the other writers! You guys are really lucky to have a festival like that every year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *