Saturday, 4 April 2009

Barnsley and Beyond

Recent blog silence is down to a busy few weeks. I've been buzzing between Swadlincote (Pingle School Young Writers, aka The Alliterative Allsorts), Lea Primary School, Chesterfield, Holmewood and Matlock. I've even been over the border - with the dynamic Barnsley Writers (some of their 20-strong group are in the pic).

Couple of weeks ago I was on the Jerwood Aldeburgh 'To & From a First Collection' course. Brilliant bunch of poets including Helen Mort whose one-woman show A Pint for the Ghost will be touring haunted locations later this year, accompanied by the ghosts of Derbyshire and South Yorkshire...

Other news: If you like poems in your Inbox, the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre will send you one a week, from presses in UK & Ireland.

If you're at the stage of putting together a poetry pamphlet check out the Templar Pamphlet & Book Competition, closing date 30th April 2009. Based in Bakewell, Templar also run the Derwent Poetry Festival.


Vasiliki said...

Hi River, it was great meeting you and I really enjoyed your workshop. Aside for all the useful and challenging things you had us do I got some surprise benefits from your session. Here's my blogpost from

I turned up for our weekly workshop last Thursday feeling a bit apprehensive because there is always an element of the unknown with visiting experts and of course River's thing is poetry- and mine isn't.

It turned out to be a great workshop. River had us challenged from the moment we got started, with a variety of short exercises that kept us writing and thinking all the time. Here are some of the things she asked us to do:

1. A piece of freewriting beginning with the words....'I remember...'

2. One life- six words. Sum up a life in six words. Here are some examples:
Big mouth, small brain - big noise. (by David)
Alpacas are not my only hobby. (by Averil)

We looked at some examples of poetry and used them as models. But -luckily for me- I didn't have to write poetry. We were free to write in prose or to push the boundaries and write outside the box.

One of the best things that came out of River's visit was the distinction between 'additive writers' and 'subtractive writers'. Now, I've always been taught that it is not good to add to your writing. So when I say to people that I am editing and my word count is growing they tend to get upset with me and say, 'But when you're editing you should be cutting back!' Or they look at me with raised eyebrows as if I'm an oddity. It's true that I do cut back. All those horrible bits of overwriting go, along with the tautology and the repetition and all the other rubbish that needs to get pruned but I might add whole scenes, or patches of dialogue, an extra kiss, etc. Because of this I've always felt as if the way I write is unwriterly. Wrong somehow.

Of course it's easy to say that you should do whatever works for you and that it is different for everyone but the belief that what I was doing wasn't 'proper' editing always lurked at the back of my mind and gave me GUILT.

What River helped me do when she explained the distinction between additive and subtractive writing is free me to be me. I shouldn't need it I know, but what can I say- it helped.

I finally have a label. I belong! I am an additive writer. That means that I start with a framework and gradually build on it.

A subtractive writer, Brian for example, starts by writing tons and tons and then cutting back everything superfluous until they're happy with the end product.

Of course this wasn't the aim of the workshop but it is a very good surprise outcome and one I will always remember. Thank you River!

Helen Mort said...

Hi River,
Thanks for the link, very much appreciated indeed! Glad to hear you've been out and about in Barnsley. It's a Tuscan hill village, remember??
Helen x