Writer’s Sketchbook and Litfest Portraits

 17.10.09 The Alexandria Gallery, University of Cumbria and the Storey Institute, Lancaster

Reviewed by Carla Scarano D’Antonio

A great opportunity for new and more experienced writers to meet at the Alexandria Gallery, University of Cumbria on Saturday 17th October. The workshop was organized by the Litfest and the University of Cumbria and was led by Eliza Mood, course leader for creative Writing at the University of Cumbria and a member of Sixpoets, a group of poets performing in Lancaster.

About twenty people met from 2 to 5 pm in inspiring surroundings of powerful portraits and friendly atmosphere. The spacious hall of the Alexandria Gallery was a comfortable venue for such a big group. People could walk around, stop, stand up in front of the pictures, sit on a chair or help themselves with small tables on wheels if they needed a support for their scribbling. And write of course, inspired by the portraits and drawings of Andrew Ratcliffe, whose exhibition is at the Alexandra Gallery till 23rd October. His expressive, detailed and meaningful style suggested a wide variety of descriptions, emotions, stories, dialogues and gags.

To stimulate our writing even more poems and prose pieces were stuck on walls available to all the participants, who could pick up one or two lines or only a few words walking by. Peter Reading, Selima Hill, Charles Causley, Elma Mitchell, Carole Coates, Primo Levi, Marcel Proust, Ted Hughes, Moniza Alvi and many others spoke to us as well as Andrew Ratcliffe’s portraits.

Plunged in such a world of paintings and literature our senses were alert. We focussed on a picture paying attention to details, mood, atmosphere and looking behind the face. We shifted the point of view, improvised a conversation between the artist and his model, suggested thoughts, hidden intentions, forbidden fantasies.

Then we had a good thirty minutes break for a free coffee or tea and biscuits and to chat. We could meet new and old friends, have a look at the portraits again or write more if we hadn’t had time to finish our work. Because after the break it was editing time. In groups, pairs or alone we highlighted phrases, images, the parts of our work that struck the critical side of our mind. Working with other people was extremely helpful to correct, underline, rehearse and organize our writing. Altogether we shouted, whispered and sang a few sentences of our writings. It was liberating and reassuring. Finally we rehearsed in smaller groups getting ready for the evening reading at the Storey Auditorium, from 6:30 to 7:30.

I was in a group of three ladies and we faced the exciting experience of the elevator of the Storey. It was more like a ride than a smooth landing and jolted us into the right frame of mind to face the audience. We reached the Auditorium sound and safe, feverish for the performance. Three groups performed their writings and Eliza Mood read the pieces of the people who couldn’t attend the reading. It was a very pleasant and original achievement that revealed how many different, imaginative, new and fantastic ways of describing and creating a group of twenty people can have. Besides the University of Cumbria will publish our work on line too, which gave us another big boost. We all agreed that this workshop was an exciting and inspiring experience, a pity it lasted only a few hours. We needed and deserved more, a whole day. And more often.

The combination of great painting, good literature, inspiring writing practice and friendly surroundings won on all fronts.

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2 Responses

  1. I also signed up for this workshop and Carla has done a great job of capturing what it was like to take part. I enjoyed the artwork and by the end of the session had a piece of writing I was pleased with, so it did exactly what I wanted it to do! Going from assembly to performance in 5 hours was exciting and a good way to focus the mind! It was also good to see a free, open, inclusive event in the LitFest programme, supporting the production of new writing by local writers.

  2. I was one of the other writers to work with Carla at this event, along with Jo Powell. We had such a great day. Eliza Mood is an inspiring and enthusiastic writer; it was she who gave me the confidence to apply for a place on the Creative Writing BA (Hons) course at The University of Cumbria; I’m in my 2nd year and having a ball!
    The workshop was a relaxed and enjoyable affair. To be surrounded by the paintings of Andrew Ratcliffe was an inspiration in itself, but with Eliza urging us on we felt as though we could fly to any height, climb any mountain, ford any strea…oh, you get the picture, right? We did: we got the pictures of a great artist on which to float our words and they flowed in torrents. Everyone enjoyed, was inspired by, and was sad to leave the gallery that afternoon. The one thing we all agreed on was that it was too short a time (next year can we have it all day; we’ll bring our own lunch?) but the experience wasn’t over when the workshop finished. We went on to the wonderful Storey Building and performed our writing. Carla directed and encouraged Jo and I to deliver not just a reading of our work, but a three-handed PERFORMANCE of it. Thanks, Carla. I have been involved with, organized, delivered and attended hundreds of events, performances, reviews and workshops in my time, but I can honestly say this was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable. Roll on LitFest 2010.

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