Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Art meet life. Life, this is art.

Today I have started work on my conference paper for this year's Great Writing conference at Bangor. I plan to look at the way in which fiction writing and life-writing cross over and interact.

The paper was inspired by my first experience of teaching Life Writing, which was this year at Edge Hill University. I had previously taught elements of it in Adult Ed writing courses, and done some 'Reminiscence' writing with older people for Stockport Education Authority, but had never taught it at HE level before. It was a steep learning curve, but one I enjoyed immensely.

I discovered that there were a host of problems with teaching life-writing, as it is not something that students normally do once they are past the age of 11 and no longer writing 'What I did on my holidays'-style essays. One is getting them away from exactly that juvenile style of "We went here, then we did this, then we did that, etc." auto-biographic writing. Another is to get them to write about a more interesting topic than just a holiday or a party but to deal with something more emotional, more personal, and more involved. Lastly there is the whole problem of how much they are allowed to bend the truth to fit the art.

Over the course of the year I devised a range of exercises which allowed the students to stretch themselves in all these areas, and many of them rose to the challenge and will feature in my paper. Some of the exercises were invented during my drive to the University to teach the class, and then were later quoted back to me by the students as being incredibly useful.

In my other job, I was also still teaching fiction writing. However, my experience teaching life-writing made me realise that I could use the same exercises to fix a whole different range of problems in fiction writing: lack of realism, lack of emotional involvement, poor dialogue. So I did.

All of which has made for a fascinating year in my teaching career, but also a great topic for a paper. Now, all I have to do is finish writing it.

And all you have to do is decide whether any of the above tale actually happened, or did I make it all up?

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