Learning the Craft at the Edinburgh Book Festival

15 08 2011
Learning the Craft at the Edinburgh Book Festival
Image: EIBF

The weather held from Saturday, and yesterday we enjoyed a splendid day at the Edinburgh Book Festival. The sun shone for the most part, helping to bring out the crowds and pack out Charlotte Square for a second day.

Not for me, though, as I had booked myself into one of the new day-long creative writing courses: How to Write a Book.

I’ve attended workshops in the past, but over the past couple of years have become disillusioned with the repetitive nature of them, and lack of time available to really get into the meat of the subjects matter. So I was delighted when the book festival programmers announced this series of full-on day courses.

I wasn’t let down.

Caroline Dunford, a journalist, author, psychotherapist, playwright, and occasional voice actor, has been running classes like this for many years. Her experience was telling and her light-hearted and humorous approach had everyone who signed up feeling at ease immediately, with pens out ready to go.

The fact she was suffering from pneumonia and had only been released from hospital on the Saturday, should reveal her character perfectly—bless you, Caroline, for being there for us.

We were guided through two main topics: characterisation in the morning followed by structure in the afternoon. We were given exercises in visualisation and we worked through all sorts of exercises, learning tips and ideas for creating stories and characters. In the afternoon, we worked through deep structure techniques required to build a novel; conflicts, reversals, climaxes, everything a writer needs to know and be good at to make a story work.

I’d gone into the course thinking I might use it to kick start an unfinished novel from years ago, but after our visualisation and idea formation exercises, I came up with an initial story and built from there during the day as we worked through the tasks. As a pleasant result, I now have the formation of an idea for a new novel.

But what I really got out of this course, and what I came away feeling most happy about, was that for many of the novels I have written in the past but have not yet sold, I can see clearly and positively WHY they haven’t sold. I can firmly point to specifics in each book (and I was noting this down during the day) and say exactly what it is that is stopping the books being picked up. Conversely, I can see in the books that I’ve written and but HAVE sold (Hunting Jack and Stella) why it is they work.

Thank you Caroline for giving me this clarity. For any writers reading this who have been asking themselves why a book they’ve written is still unsold, or why they feel a manuscript they are working on doesn’t feel like it’s working, get yourself onto a Caroline Dunford creative writing course, and do it sharpish.

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