A clutch of hands are raised tentatively. The audience is plainly wondering whether they are in the right place for a Life Writing Workshop. I hasten to explain:
‘We have only one hour to bake three memory recipes. And you’ll have to finish off the decorations at home!’
It’s the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, and I am here to encourage forty-five people to write their memories, ‘Memory’ being the theme of the festival. Your Life, Your Story is my entry into this world-famous venue, and I am all too aware of my responsibility to deliver a fully-fledged, rewarding writing experience in just one hour. The original one and a half hour time slot has now been reduced by the festival organisers, due to pressure of other events, so I have been re-timing frantically in the last few days.
To my delight and astonishment, the workshop sold out immediately when booking opened. And instead of the planned thirty participants, they’ve decided to up it to forty-five. OK, I can cope. I have to.
Everyone has memories – most people are fascinated by them – and almost everyone can write about them in a compelling way. The key, I tell my workshop participants, is simplicity. Describe your memories as if you were that child, in that moment. Strip away adult judgement, explanation. Try using the present tense. And, most importantly, re-create that moment in your mind before you write. Get back into the nitty-gritty of the action. What were you wearing? How old were you? How did you feel?
It’s working! Everyone is busy writing, then reading out what they’ve written to their neighbours. I keep an eye on my bedroom clock, which I’ve brought along. Only three minutes over schedule! It’s that tight.
Now we can try ‘bubble writing’ – I need to show them a good way to map stories and gather together recollections. My example is about my childhood rabbit, and how she came to a sad end amongst the frosty cabbages. You’ll have to come to one of my workshops to hear about Krinsetta.
But the techniques of bubble writing and writing up earliest memories are in my book, Your Life, Your Story, along with much more – how to construct a chronology, how to shape a life story and ways to give it texture and colour.
Three o’clock, and the workshop’s over. The intense atmosphere melts away, people leave – smiling, I am happy to see – and disperse to their next events. We made it, together. And they have recipes, snippets of written work, ideas to take away with them. And, I hope, inspiration to write up their life stories.
Find me also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cherry-Gilchrist/464553846976599