Last Friday I went with a small group of students to Footscray Park campus if Victoria University, where they were to do writing workshops with people who are professional writers and also teach there.
I went to Fiction A with a student who was on her own - the others had all been allocated Fiction B. The tutor said that she expected teachers in the class to take part in the workshop, and she herself would be writing.
We started with two short stories which we then sat down in groups and discussed, using questions she had given to go with them. After reporting back to the group, we were given slips of paper pulled from a jar to get us started. She said she didn't mind if we swapped or even wrote our own stuff as long as we wrote something. I personally prefer to limit myself to what I have been given, so I stuck to what I had been given: Flinders Street Station at 2.00 am, a bright burst of light.
Here's what I wrote in the 15-20 minutes we were given:
I'd just missed the last train home. And the last tram. There were no Nightrider buses around and not much left in my wallet to pay for one of the cabs waiting at the taxi rank outside the station; I 'd spent it all at the fan auction that afternoon, buying an autographed photo of Harrison Ford. I had to have it! It was signed back in the seventies when he was young and gorgeous. If I'd gone to an auction in the US or bought it on eBay, it would have cost four or five times the price I'd paid.
The street wasn't empty; there was music coming from Young and Jackson's pub across the road and a few drunks staggering along. But I felt alone. Should I head back to the hotel and see if James would let me crash on his room floor? He'd say yes, but for the wrong reasons. Still, I couldn't stay here. There was always the hotel foyer if he was a pain.
Shivering in my Princess Leia costume, I sighed and started back up Swanston St. Started, but didn't get far. Something came out of the sky with a flash of light and landed in the middle of the tram tracks outside St Paul's. It was smaller than the smallest flying saucer I'd ever seen in any movie, about twice the size of a van. Nobody else even glanced at it. Hey, Melbourne!
Someone stepped out. He was shorter than me, much shorter. His skin was green and there was a comb on his head instead of hair, but otherwise, he could pass for a human male. Pulling something out of his pocket, he gestured at me. It was a flyer for Continuum 12, the science fiction convention I was attending.
"Mm?" he squeaked. "Ah, aah, mm?"
He was asking directions, I guessed. Stunned, I pointed towards the other end of Swanston Street.
"Thx!" he said.
"Uh, you're welcome."
As he started towards his tiny spaceship I called, "Wait! Can you give me a lift?"
He seemed to understand me, because he grinned and waved invitingly at the ship.
I climbed in beside him. It was squashy, but I couldn't help grinning myself. Wait till James saw me arrive!
Not brilliant, but hey, 15 minutes! I don't expect kids to do even this much. I think I can use these ideas in my own class. It will make them feel they have achieved something. Last semester's class was mainly students who love writing and do it in their own time. This term I have one of them back, but of the rest, one wants to learn how to finish a story to help with her literacy class, the rest aren't quite sure. It just seemed a nice thing to do. So their needs will be different. And this seems like a good way to get them going, because they won't be wanting to do their own stories to publish online.
After lunch - when I chatted with writer Michael Hyde, who was doing a life writing workshop in the afternoon - I went to a poetry workshop with another student who was on her own. It wouldn't have been my choice, but I wanted to keep her company and her face brightened when I told her I was going with her.
And in the end, it was good. The tutor was Sherryl Clarke, who visited our school last year, compliments of YABBA. She started it off with getting us to cut up bits of newspaper, choosing words which we then had to use in a poem. I ended up with a sales catalogue! Still, I had a go.
An open letter to a millionaire philanthropist (newspaper cutouts)
Please do more
To save the reef
From dynamite and mines.
Take action now!
40 per cent of marine species need you!
And talk about marine life NOW!
We finished with a poem using three words chosen at random from a pile everyone had created, with adjectives - say, turquoise rather than blue - nouns, senses. The deal was, you had to use each word at least three times in the poem. My words were shopping centre, japonica and taste. I suspect japonica was written by one of the other teachers! Still, I wrote my poem. Here it is:
The Senses of Home (take three words, shuffle around)
Exhausted by Boxing Day sales,
I sit in a cafe at the shopping centre food court,
Sipping, the taste of camellia leaves
On my tongue,
And think of the japonica waving
Outside the window of a home long gone,
Camellia Japonicas also grow in tubs
Everywhere in the shopping centre,
The smells from the food court,
The shopping centre bustle,
The smooth table under my hands,
Even the taste of the tea in my mouth,
Leaves of the camellia plant,
Or taste of chocolate mud cake
Cannot match the sight of flaming red japonica,
The sight that speaks of home.
And here's the one we had to do with no more than three lines:
I watch my class at work,
Promise of tomorrow.
Not bad, three poems in a session after having written none since university!
This session might also find its way into my Creative Writing classes...
So it was as much a professional development for me as for the students.