Free Creative Writing Workshops

Fundamental Conduit - Live Music meets Spoken Word

#FundamentalConduit #PerformancePoetry #SpokenWord #LiveMusic

Thrive for Life

We have two upcoming Free Creative Writing Workshops led by Billie Lamont for all levels of experience or none.  I have listed the details below.  The first hour of each evening will be a workshop and the second hour will be a performance rehearsal.

Session 1 – 1st April – 1 hour 7pm – 8pm
Introducing the idea of reflective writing based on participant’s experiences.
Looking at examples of reflective writing, we’ll then run one or two short exercises to introduce ideas
Participants will have the chance to write their own personal piece which they can finish in their own time.

Session 2 – 8th April – 1 Hour 7pm – 8pm
looking at where poetry is found in everyday life.
Reading one or two poems aloud around the group
Discussion on what the participants think about poetry.
Time for participants to write their own poetry and share with the…

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On Writing Groups and Performance Collectives(2)

Fundamental Conduit  is a performance collective based in the the town of Paisley in the west of Scotland . The brainchild of Gwen Mckerrell a writer, qualified counsellor and decade-long veteran of the Glasgow and Paisley spoken word scenes, the group developed from a series of writer’s workshops in a paisley church.

Gwen McKerrell - Fundamental Conduit founder member

Gwen Mckerrell, founder of performance poetry group Fundamental Conduit

Originally looking to find a way to “…increase the audience for Performance Poetry and Spoken Word events…’ Gwen set up the writing group Paisley Pen and Paper which she scheduled to run once a fortnight at the nearby St Matthews Church. With this clear and simple goal in mind, she scheduled each session as a workshop looking at a particular aspect of writing and waited for the writers to come.

The workshops went well with steady numbers and with Gwen being a therapist advocating a therapeutic approach to writing, a number of mental health issues were covered. Then, with the help of community music student Chiara Pacitti, a number of workshops were scheduled to run as songwriting sessions. The idea was for the  participants to create  material that could  be crafted into songs with the help of musicians contracted-in, and that this would lead ultimately to live performances. Participants were encouraged to perform their work in the form of a spoken word piece and eventually the writing workshops became more of a performance rehearsal space. In May 2018 Fundamental Conduit took part in a number of live performances during Renfrewshire Mental Health Festival. The group have also performed at Glasgow’s Project Cafe/Tell it Slant monthly event .

Fundamental Conduit cover a lot of topics in their performances. The writer/performers  are local but there’s a diversity within the styles and subject matter under discussion that adds to the overall element of performance.  Bawdy limericks might be followed by  humorous reflections on the nature of existence which could in turn be followed by a full-throated rendition of a love song and so on, you get the picture.  Topics tackled by  group members range from bigotry and sectarianism to loneliness, depression, faraway forgotten wars as well as more immediate tales of drunkenness, drunken sex, and bad takeaway food. Sometimes you really do need to be there.

Fundamental Conduit meet fortnightly at St Matthews Church on Mondays from 7-9pm Next meeting will be Monday April 1. Fundamental Conduit will perform at Renfrewshire Mental Health Festival in May 2019 – more information soon

On Writing Groups and Performance Collectives

Across the UK, the evidence is overwhelming that spoken word and performance poetry are flourishing against a background of austerity and savage cuts to arts and community budgets. Witness the popularity of Roundhouse events.

In Glasgow alone, the number of poetry open mics, slams, and spoken word nights that run weekly and fortnightly is impressive and growing. To judge whether these nights are popular with the locals and visitors, witness the guides offered in Glasgow Living and Glasgow West End or a recent Herald article that places Scotland currently within a ‘Golden Age’ of poetry. That many UK universites now offer Masters Programmes in Creative Writing, including Glasgow University which offers no less than 5 such programmes, is perhaps another indication of the health of the literary scene nationally and locally.

 

 

 

 

Feeding these nights, besides the MLitt students and many brave and seasoned individuals, are a growing number of writers groups and performance collectives. Some of these are relatively new, while others are now well-established on the Scottish literary scene. All, it might be argued, possess an energy and a collective spirit that has, perhaps, been lacking somewhat in the past. This in turn, may have grown out of the massive disappointment and anger felt by many Scots following the 2014 Independence Referendum. Then, of course, there was Brexit. It might be argued that the need for stronger individual, and a stronger collective voice for Scots has never been more pressing. Whatever is behind the growth of literary an performance collectives, it is a trend to be welcomed. After all, hasn’t Writing long been lamented as a grim and lonely business? For the bleary writer struggling post-1 am with that idea or scene that seemed so clear to you two and a half hours ago, the question,

What’s in it for me? 

is a good one.  In this writer’s opinion the answer would be

A heck of a lot.

You’ll gain the company of fellow writers and the opportunity to share ideas with them. This is something every writer needs to do regularly to help sustain through those bleak, post-1 am moments at the keyboard.

You’ll get the chance to participate in activities such as workshops and mentoring that will help you develop as a writer. Workshops are great for getting the creative juices flowing and helping you begin or develop scenes. Informal mentoring can work well within group settings as most tend to have a mix of people at different stages in their writing journeys. Just getting the chance to observe a more accomplished writer or performer at work can teach a beginner so much.

You’ll gain confidence in your writing and in yourself as a writer. Being part of any group helps ‘normalise’ the shared activity. The more grounded you are in your practice the more confident and open you become to exploration and experimentation in your work.

If you join a performance group you’ll also have opportunities to work on your performing skills. Rehearsals might seem daunting at first, but remind yourself you are allowed to sit and observe until you feel ready to step up to the mike. Eventually you’ll perform your work in a professional venue

So if you’re thinking of heading off to a festive Spoken Word do, like Tinsel Tales or The Christmas Speakeasy, make a note to yourself to chat to some of the writers and performers about their work when you get there and ask about any groups they might know of or recommend. Then follow-up in your new year’s resolutions. What have you got to lose?

 

Poetry Form and function

 

 

 

A fellow blogger asked me to post on their poetry site which specializes in the ghazal form and has a big following in India. Beside being intrigued by the thriving mainstream use of poetic form I was also inspired and spurred into action, attempting to write my own ghazal but I have to say, it’s not for beginners.

So how does poetic form help the writer to gain attention and connect with people so they want to read or listen to your message? Does the use of a particular structural poetic form such as ghazal, sestina, ballad or Octava Rima  give the writer added reassurance or even inspiration that a framework for their thoughts already exists to display them more advantageously?

It should if we bear in mind that when we browse online or pick up a book we are looking for certain specifics. If the file or cover says ‘short stories’, we expect to read a collection of short stories; if we look for Sci-Fi or Horror we expect likewise – we understand, even feel comforted by the conventions of the genre and expect nothing less than to have them writ or spoken loud as we carry out our reading journey. Poetry and forms of poetry should be likewise but they’re not. At least in the UK they’re not.

Part of the issue here is that poetry in the UK for whatever historic reasons tends to be lumped in with literary types of writing which as we all know are genre-less (except they’re not) so poetry it seems never gets any further categorised than that. What if we had stores with bookcases filled with epics and ghazals and all sorts of other genre poetry? It seems more likely to happen in India  than here but there is always hope.

Form exists to help our words to soar above the reader like a banner on a kite enticing them to read on, a magic carpet ride viewed from below but promising opportunity to jump on – what will they make of it? Form is there for us to experiment with and enjoy. Please do so – and wish me luck with my ghazal!

 

Poetry: rules and reasons

So, what is poetry and why do some of us feel the urge to write it? The first part of that question can be answered easily and succinctly by a simple definition along the lines of

poetry 

ˈpəʊɪtri/

noun

  1. literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.

    “he felt a desire to investigate through poetry the subjects of pain and death”

synonyms:

poems, verse, verses, versification, metrical composition, rhythmical composition,rhymes, rhyming, balladry

If I were asked to create a set of rules for poetry, it’d be something like this

Poetry,

written or spoken,

must contain words

that hit hard.

Like a rock to the cheek

when you weren’t looking –

your eyes on the sky

and the heavens passing.

Metre should be applied

to augment mood,

sextameter, pentameter,

uttered or transcribed

in iambic  -or even,

every once in a while –

prosaic manner.

Metaphor should be powerful –

a Tyrannosaurus Rex of meaning

with widening jaws that threaten to engulf you

but similes, weak as the tea at your local Tesco caff,

work when heart-rending or touching,

like an abandoned baby blanket

forgotten on the kerbside.

Sounds are important;

the soothing siblance of s,

the amplification of rhyme, alliteration,

the assurance of assonance

and repetition,

not to mention setting up a rhythm

to get the whole show going.

Poetry shouldn’t try to be too clever –

its themes

should be universal and accessible to all –

but it should still be clever enough

to layer words to effect

that each and every one of their meanings

cannot fail to be understood.

Poetry should be a thing of beauty,

a work of art,

a song from the heart

to the heart of another.

Everybody has poetry

inside themselves

somewhere.

Okay, so that’s not a set of rules by the conventional list method, but I have to admit that, apart from the one I do for the shopping, lists are not something I’m very good at. I’ve tried throughout my life but I either become distracted by something much more interesting (i.e. anything),  or I fall into a kind of witless stupor where about 15 0r 20 minutes pass and I find  myself no further on with my list. And while I’m fairly gutted about my inability to make lists, I’ve learned over the years to compensate for this shortcoming with diagrams and spidergrams (Instagram could also be a pretty useful tool), mind maps, and post-it notes inside my handbag to remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing, when, and why I’m doing it. Keeping a journal also helps as do any large-scale visual planning aids like wall charts and even a humble calendar.  But I digress, what I’m pointing out is that I’m quite heavily visual and I find poetry very visual in both its construction and its effects.

I write poetry. I used to admit this rarely and – even then – only within the safe confines of writers’ – or the even safer, poetry writers’ groups where I felt I would be less likely to be judged for my predilection.  I say less likely because even poetry writers treat other poetry writers as something to be viewed with suspicion. Why wouldn’t they?  They know exactly the kind of things that go on in the minds of people like them. The endless, obsessive, and overstimulated types of observation and evaluation that go on, topped-up with caffeine and creative urges slooshing around, determined to be released in a frantic splash across the page that results in some kind of snapshot, merging sensory memory with imagination. Which brings us to the second part of the question: why?

I haven’t yet come across anybody who writes poetry because it makes them any money. Most of us do it for the love of its creation, and/or re-creation on page, stage or podcast. For the likes of me who still takes fright at the sight of a microphone, the fact I can create some kind of structured narrative about something that has affected me feels good. I know it’s cliche but it really is a cathartic process –  a sense of release, even some kind of healing in letting the words fall out of your head and onto the page. For me, the initial process is probably akin to a jigsaw puzzle – except you’re moving words instead of pieces around the page. Sensory events are a big stimulus – be it an image or  activity, a song or piece of music, or just something somebody says. It’s the emotion that accompanies the stimuli  – whether it’s the smell of bread on warm air wafting from a street vent, a finger pricked by a thorn or the taste of a forgotten childhood sweet – that provides the trigger.

Publication is a goal for most writers, as is the recognition and respect of others, but these aren’t the driving forces for those I’ve met. It’s back to that idea of the jigsaw puzzle. For most writers, especially the poets, the reward is in the problem solving activity that both defines the problem as it stands and creates the answer within the poem itself. It’s a bit magical or alchemical, but that’s my ‘why’. What’s yours?

This text passed as 100% plagaiarism-free on http://smallseotools.com/plagiarism-checker/

From Plagiarism to Paragon: keeping it fresh

So how did you come to be somebody who writes? Was there some key incident in childhood that sparked a love of capturing events on paper? Can you recall your first experience of the process that brought the words out of your head and onto the page?

Mine was probably Mrs Shields: a frosty nightmare in pale tweed and frightening horn-rims who hated any noise – including pencils dropping, and the voices of small children in her classroom. Surprisingly, it was the harsh and hostile Mrs Shields who awarded me my first ever silver star for managing to finish a piece of writing in class – a significant event given I had struggled with written classwork up to that point. Also, equally significant, Mrs Shields had smiled when she read my story out to class – a heady sensation for a child used to irritation and chastisement.

Mrs Shields wasn’t big on self-expression or the creative arts although she did sometimes let kids who finished their work quickly do stuff like that while the rest of us caught up or, worse, ploughed their way through an unending list of red-penned corrections on the pages of their jotter. For whatever reason (it may have been school inspectors who have often been the reason teachers who run like clockwork suddenly (and somewhat shockingly for their pupils) break the most rigidly dry and dull schedules with the kind of fun assignments, hitherto unimagined and wholly unexplored by the majority of their charges.

Anyway, this particular day the entire class was asked to write a story about what we’d done over the weekend and, since my family didn’t do anything particularly exciting most weekends, I probably panicked initially until I recalled a trip taken shortly before, all the way up to Loch Ness with my dad’s elder brother; a man who tended to turn up every so often out of the blue with my aunt and their three boys -who were all fairly close in ages with me and my sister – in tow.

The four-hour drive northward from Glasgow with my uncle Tommy white-knuckling it along single track road most of the way, while the adults chattered and we kids carried on and sang songs in the back of the blue and white VW Camper became extremely vivid in my recall – how could this scenario, I wondered, fail to reek of excitement and possibility, even to Mrs Shields? And somewhere in my attempt to recount the sheer enjoyability of it all, something almost equally exciting happened and I started to enjoy myself again even while I was struggling for the words to describe where we went and what we did. It wasn’t just the recollection of events, or their subsequent embellishment that seemed tantalisingly close to lying, it was the sheer joy of committing it from memory to the page me got into the flow zone. True, I also got the unexpected smile and the silver star for my efforts (she only gave out two of these per day) which forged an early connection in my mind between writing and some level of reward. I’m not saying this equation has always held up, but it’s done so enough to keep me ploughing on and stay interested in the creative process that lies behind the writing.

The Creative Process Defined

J.P Guilford,(March 7, 1897 – November 26, 1987) an American psychologist, is one of the earliest to attempt to define the creative process and one of the leading exponents of factor analysis in the assessment of personality. He is well remembered for his psychometric studies of human intelligence and creativity. Guilford was an early proponent of the idea that intelligence is not a unitary concept and developed a strong interest in what he termed ‘divergent thinking’. He also designed numerous tests to measure creative thinking. Lubert states that Guilford’s (1950) address to the American Psychological Association and his subsequent work, refers to this creative process as the sequence of thoughts and actions that leads to novel, adaptive productions.

Lubert T. I., 2001. Models of the Creative Process: Past, Present and Future. Creativity Research Journal (volume 13 issue 3-4), (p295-308).

Mednick (1962) attributes the process to association of ideas and states his intentions to explore this terrain thus –

(a) First, we will define creative thinking in associative terms and indicate three ways in which creative solutions may be achieved—serendipity, similarity, and mediation, (b) This definition will allow us to deduce those individual difference variables which will facilitate creative performance, (c) Consideration of the definition of the creative process has suggested an operational statement of the definition in the form of a test. The test will be briefly described along with some preliminary research results. (d) The paper will conclude with a discussion of predictions regarding the influence of certain experimentally manipulable variables upon the creative process

Mednick S.A.,1962. The Associative Basis of the of the Creative Process. Psychological review, (Volume 69 number 3), (p230-232).

So what does being ‘creative’ involve? Am I now able to access the creative process more readily through understanding how it can come about? What is helpful about seeing the 8 steps of  this process mapped out before me? Can I turn my thoughts and actions into novel, adaptive productions? Um, sometimes. Can I predict future results based on current performance – well… What definitely does help is developing a set of habits that promote this process naturally or organically.

Getting out into nature for the intake (step1) – what I’d term activation – stage is one I’d recommend. There’s something extremely energising about the sights and sounds of the natural world as a kick starter most days. Even if you only take the dog for a walk across the green, take a notepad or voice recorder with you and find a place where you can sit for a few minutes in order to listen, and observe, and experience the environment around you, and then just cogitate (step 2) a bit before recording some of your thoughts .

On returning or resting from your sojourn you’ll no doubt want to brew or buy yourself a cup of coffee. I find this bit fairly crucial to my own creative process most of the time. A bar of chocolate can help too, or a bacon roll with brown sauce, but always the coffee. Once you have your preferred beverage in hand, it’s time to generate (step 3). Take out your notepad, dictaphone, camera or sketchbook and study whatever you captured during those moments where you paused. Did you note down anything about what you were thinking or feeling at that point? If so, how does that information tally with whatever else you have recorded? Think about this for ten or fifteen minutes; stare into space, do some boring and repetitive ask you’ve been putting off then go back to your notes or sketches and write down every idea that comes into your head. Don’t think about or censor them just get them down on paper and then start thinking who you can discuss these further with (hint – it’s quite often not your family or friends).

Discuss/debate (step 4) your ideas with those you see fit on and off line – writers’ groups are good for more the outlandish ones, chat forums for expertise in particular areas, random people on the bus for correlations between the weather and mood in general. Don’t think too deeply or specifically about any of these ideas yet, just keep batting them around for reactions and make some note of your own. At some particular point one or two particular ideas will come to the fore, fertilised by the group input and perhaps given some new twist – what the mathematician, Poincare, described as an evening when “ideas rose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked so to speak, making a stable combination.” This is where you can begin to incubate (step 5).

Once you have slept and dreamt and chewed on your ‘stable combination’ of ideas you can start to create – yahay! – (step 6) and then consolidate (step 7 – Activate) your work around your ideas, using the earlier steps in repetition as a means of continually building on your current set of ideas. Keep notes on how this works for you and where and when you need to do something that disrupts the process and starts another cycle such as celebrate! (stage 8).

But what about those times you’re stuck in the house or the office all day and require a different creative kick start? More about those next time – for now, good luck with keeping it flowing and keeping it fresh.

How to avoid plagiarism in your own work

How to avoid plagiarism in your own work

Earlier in the week I discussed the row over Melania Trump’s speech and the similarity of some content to the words of Michelle Obama eight years previously. Both sections highlighted specific values and attributes each of the women is said to consider important. How then did Melania Trump’s debut speech to such a major event end up being so poorly managed? Many have pointed the finger at lazy/inexperienced campaign staff who managed to ignore the first rule of credible journalism – either cite your sources or keep it strictly original. Indeed one of the Trump speechwriting team has duly owned up. So how can we avoid the many thorny issues surounding plagiarism in our own work from day to day?

Be aware of the rules. In Academia this is an issue you’ll be confronted with from the outset of your studies, a clear set of rules that you will be expected to adhere to at all times will be swiftly issued, and a sharp penalty incurred if you fail or forget to do so. Let’s review a few of these. The cardinal rules for written (or any format) submissions are:

1. Paraphrase! Paraphrase! Paraphrase!

If you use more than two consecutive words from somebody else’s work it’s considered plagiarism. Don’t do it. It’s not just Turnitin you have to fear, the online bots pick it up too. Read the source material you have been advised to acquire then give yourself time to absorb and render it in your own words keeping it strictly original. Otherwise

2. Use quotations

Higher learning institutions frown on ‘block quotes’ of more than 40 words so keep it short! You are expected to be able to paraphrase most jargon by the time you are considered ‘proficient’ in an area or discipline.

3. Cite your sources

Important, not just for the sake of intellectual rigour and cross-referencing but also to the creation and maintenance of accurate databases and the ability to ‘check stuff’. Make sure you cite your sources accurately as well.

See here for more info

Think of your work as your own personal, intellectual property from the outset and the rules will remain clear cut. If you said it, it’s probably yours – although it’s also probably worthwhile to run it through a plagiarism check just to be absolutely sure it’s not somebody else’s. Applying these rules to all commercial areas where intellectual property rights reside with the creator, be it speechwriting, short stories, songs, web content, video or game footage, will ensure it’ll all work out just fine.

It’s also wise to also avoid the trap of those meme-like utterances that explode onto social media every now and then. I’m breaking my own rule by doing it here – but it’s  just this once, by way of illustration – honest.

I want my country back!

Is a recent prime example. This utterance, with all its undertones of entitlement and privilege for a particular racial group began being uttered by hitherto, wholly reasonable individuals a few weeks before the EU Referendum in the UK and continues unabashed across Donald Trump’s America while the rest of the world swithers between squaring up to the problem and sticking its fingers in its ears. If a phrase gets too popular and opens itself to analysis and the kind of scrutiny we would perhaps wish to avoid if we’d really thought about what we were saying in the first place, it could also open up a can of worms regarding sources. Definitely don’t say something because lots of other people are saying it. 

A second less inflammatory utterance that I came across at around the same time,

I can’ t even (followed by three imaginary dots)

was genuinely funny the first time I read it on a Facebook response to some horrible, unthinking racist remark. The idea of someone being so angry or shocked they were unable to finish their sentence started my day off with a chuckle. It became less funny at a rate of knots as it continued to appear throughout the day in a series of less inflammatory exchanges; eventually giving the impression of the poster as somebody ill-tempered and  lacking in imagination. Overuse of any phrase, even the most eloquent, diminishes its power eventually and it could also leave you more susceptible to bouts of unintentional plagiarism – so avoid cliches or everybody’s favourite meme of the moment with all the stoic resistance you can muster.

Pay attention to your work: catalogue and curate your own library collection. Get to know and trust your own ‘voice’ –  your vocal or visual imprint –  pay attention when your eyes and ears tell you that something is ‘off’. Likewise, follow others you admire and whose work can enrich your own, paying homage to them in any small way you are able. Just remember what the rules are and –  yes – feel free to use the plagiarism checker (see below).

Plagiarism Checker

This post has checked out as 100% unique and plagiarism free. Not bad 😉

Next time we’ll look at ways to keep our words flowing fresh