Monday, 3 December 2012
Last week I indulged in a little Guerilla Writing Workshopping with the Glasgow Women’s Library in their new location and hopefully permanent home in Bridgeton in Glasgow’s East End. Along with Magi Gibson (centre), their Reader in Residence (what is that exactly? Isn’t that what I do when I read at home?) and author Helen Fitzgerald (right), I was charged with accosting individuals around Bridgeton and getting them to write stories in five minutes flat. Luckily for us, workers from GWL had gone ahead and primed certain organisations to expect us otherwise who knows what might have happened? Only one person was actively displeased by our surprise request. Everyone else threw themselves into the task in one way or other with warmth and gusto.
These guys look busy don't they? ---------->
Guerilla writing – it’s an odd idea, isn’t it, using war tactics to get people creative. But then the pen is mightier than the sword, but then again, it wasn’t the pen we were using as weapons, it was our inimitable charm and irresistible enthusiasm for making it work: “Go on, you know you want to.” I think I did actually say those words, and they did actually work, not least on a certain Arts Officer for Literature who strayed into my path.
To be honest what we really did was chat people up in chip shops and get them to give us chips. Or roast ourselves in the local elderly person’s home (it was very cold outside) and while we were doing those two things we got people to tell us their stories, either by writing them down themselves or by talking to us so that we could write their stories for them in their own words. It was more a collecting of stories than a stimulation of creative writing, mostly stuff in the first person rather the inventive third.
Helen, poor thing (not), was restricted to base camp in the Bridgeton Community Learning Centre, although she seemed very happy and relaxed there when we returned (despite missing the chips) and had loads of stories from all the people passing through or working there.
Due to logistics, we didn’t accost strangers in the street though we did eye up a few likely candidates at the bus stop. But the last time I wrote outdoors standing up in the freezing cold and without a Virginia Woolf style lectern was … I can’t remember, probably never. I might stop and jot down a fancy idea in three words to be worked on later, but I wouldn’t write a story. But I wouldn’t write a story in five minutes either, although I might write the bones of it.
I’m hoping just getting people to dip their metaphorical toes in the water (or pens in their inkpots) they’ll maybe get a taste for writing more stories. Because stories are everywhere, or ‘The universe is made of stories not atoms,’ as Muriel Rukeyser, the poet, would have it. And most writers began by writing stuff from their own lives, because to coin a bit of a truism/cliche, life really is stranger than fiction. And the extraordinary thing was the number of people who, when asked about stories, said they had none to tell. Often there would be a brief pause followed by all sorts of amazing tales of surviving the blitz, travelling the world for work or leaving everything you’ve ever known for love.
This writer went home with a head that went on buzzing for days afterwards with the stories of all those people reverberating in her head like so many gusts in the wind in a courtyard.
Thanks Bridgeton and thanks GWL.