What Has Been Given To You To Say?

As some of you know I was lucky enough to teach three creative workshops for the Fairway Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka in January, as well as a workshop for the British Council in Colombo.

One of the workshops, ‘How To Face The Blank Page’,  was part of the Festival’s outreach North-South programme, hosting students from 8 different national university English Language departments. About 45 students participated. Given the island’s only too-recent civil war, it was inspiring to be working with a classroom of students from different ethnicities of the country. They did indeed face the blank page and some wrote powerful pieces about the war and its aftermath, and they also wrote about the tsunami which took the lives of 35,000 Sri Lankans in 2004.

The two other workshops for the Festival were on Flash Fiction and ‘Diving into Story’, for younger people. For the British Council, my workshop was also on Flash Fiction and was also for younger people. Originally the numbers for this workshop were limited to 20, but at the last minute the number of participants bloomed to 65 when a teacher from one of the schools found out about the workshop and asked if her whole class could join. I have not taught those numbers before, so was a little anxious but the children were not only amazing, so was their writing, as you’ll read below. I took heart in our future, to know there were so many young people with a deeply adult understanding of themselves and the world we live in.

One of the prompts I gave for a short piece was called “Your Gift.”

I asked participants to put aside for a moment any fear of pride, lack of confidence or disbelief in themselves and to imagine the planet is in dire danger (not hard to imagine). I told them the gods had given them two gifts, the first being great skill in expressing themselves, the second something important to be said. I asked them to sit silently for a moment and then to write down the answer the question, ”What has been given to you to say?”

The answers were deeply moving. I read many of these out to the participants and in one case they all stood up and applauded. I read them out myself not just because the children were shy, but to encourage them to hear the beauty and strength of their words. Sometimes it’s easier to hear that in another person’s voice.

I have been collecting some of the pieces, and wanted to share them here:

Look around you. Look at everything and everyone around you. Who are they? What do they mean to you? If you left now and never saw them again, how would it affect you? Would you feel guilty for doing something, or for not doing something? Would you feel guilty for saying something, or for not saying something? If so, then do it. If so, then tell them.

~ Nora Deemer, age 14, Elizabeth Moir School

***

I Live in my mind a brave fearless charming and charismatic young girl with power to change the world. I Live in my life a snivelling scared stupid bitch without even the power to speak up for herself . I Die in my mind noble and valiant thousands of others weeping for me. I Die in my life wishing the girl I fantasised was actually me.

~ Rusandi Rosini Ranasinghe, age 14, Visakha Vidyalaya

***

When someone tells you that they want to make a change in the world, don’t let your narrow mind tell you that it’s not possible. Think about it, in the big picture, it may seem like all the issues in the world have already been addressed and solved, but break the picture to look at the gaps, the missed brushstrokes and the half shaded colours, has every single issue in the world reached a solution?

Ranuli Palipane, age 17, Musaeus College

***

Polluting is something we as humans do and it’s harming our planet. What should we do? We all should be recycling, it’s a good habit and it will save our world and animals. We should also teach our kids, if we have any, to up-cycle. Did you know that every one minute a garbage truck full of plastic is dumped in our ocean? It has to be stopped. Plastic survives for a long time. Did you know that 25 years ago a cargo ship carried 50 containers over the pacific ocean and one of the containers full of toy rubber ducks fell into the water? Still today 200 of those ducks are floating around in our big blue sea.

~ Neve Grace Coleman, age 9, homeschooled

***

And, there’s this one which made me smile: In response to the prompt: “The worst teacher you’ve ever had” (hopefully I won’t be on that list!):

For a challenging subject, he was the last teacher we wanted. We actually needed someone to show us how to strategically find x and solve y, not one who failed while trying to disprove age old theorems and claimed to have seen ghosts in the school hallways in broad daylight and tried to pull off a Matilda to move a marker with his mind. clearly, he was deprived of attention as a child, at least that’s what we thought.

~ Ranuli Palipane, age 17, Musaeus College

***


Note: if you attended one of the workshops and would like to send me some pieces you wrote there for publication on my blog, do let me know! You can email them via the Contact form.

Links:

British Council in Colombo
British Council Literature website in the UK
British Council Literature on Twitter

The Galle Literary Festival on Facebook
The Galle Literary Festival on Twitter

Flash fiction workshop at the British Council, Colombo

I’ll be teaching a workshop on flash fiction for teens at the British Council in Colombo at the end of this month, following the Galle Literary Festival
Flash (also known as micro fiction, postcard fiction, short stories, sudden fiction, and prose poems) is the art of brevity take to an extreme, where not only every word counts but every comma and every line break: a complete story under 1000 words and preferably less.

This workshop will inspire participants to write at least 2 flash stories to submit to numerous publications and contests that are looking for flash fiction.

Date:   Monday 29 January 2018
TIme:  03.00 p.m. – 05.00 p.m. (followed by refreshments)
Venue: British Council library Colombo 03

For more information and to register go here – hope to see you!

The British Council has been in Sri Lanka since 1949, offering a wide range of services and activities across the island.  For more information visit the British Council’s Sri Lankan website, and the British Council Literature website – they are involved in some extraordinary projects across the world.

Creative Writing at the Galle Literary Festival, 2018


I’m delighted to share that I have once again been invited to teach creative writing workshops at the Fairway Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka in January (24th-28th), including a workshop for teenagers and another for the North-South Programme.

This year speakers at the Festival include Amit Chaudhuri, Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke, Kimaya de Silva, Pankaj Mishra, Maylis de Kerangal, Louis de Bernières, Richard Flanagan, Ashok Ferrey, Alexander McCall Smith, and Dame Maggie Smith. My author page on the Festival website is here.

I will also be teaching a writing workshop at the British Council in Colombo on the 29th of January.

Come and join me!

The Festival on Facebook
The Festival on Twitter

Michael Ondaatje on Writing

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 14.46.37The great Michael Ondaatje on writing. Well worth watching. I love his image of writing a novel being like holding 35 things while getting to the elevator. Also, how writing is discovery.  He is interested in finding out about something, through the characters and the time period; how he is interested in not relying on one voice, that in his later books 3 or 4 people who are not related who become a family by the situation. “It’s a community, as opposed to one voice.”

Michael Ondaatje | Louisiana Channel.

Events in Sri Lanka 2011

I’m a participant in the Galle Literary Festival, January 26th – 30th. My workshop on how to get published in literary journals is on Friday 28th, 2:30 – 4:30. This workshop is sold out, but if you are attending the festival please do look out for me, I’ll be happy to connect.

I’ll be in Colombo after that and will be giving a talk on February 2nd:Aspiring writers: Do you dream of being published? This talk is hosted by the British Council.

A literary event in paradise

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 16.08.03I’m very happy to share that I have been invited by Shyam Selvadurai, festival curator for the Galle Literary Festival (and author of ‘Funny Boy’), to attend and offer a workshop in the main programme of 5th annual festival in Sri Lanka, which takes place from January 26th-30th 2011. Established in 2006, the event is now a regular fixture on the literary calendar. This year speakers include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Damon Galgut, Kiran Desai, Lawrence Hill and Orhan Pamuk.

I will be offering a talk for new and unpublished writers on how to move from being an unpublished (fiction/poetry) writer to a published one, particularly in literary magazines and using new media (audio publishing and mobile publishing).

I am particularly excited about attending the Galle Literary Festival because the novel I am presently working on is set in Sri Lanka (inspired by events that occurred when I was there in the early 80s). I was fortunate to receive a Canada Council grant in 2010 to develop this work from novella length to novel, and to undertake a research trip this year, which I did in August/September 2010. It was an extraordinary trip in many ways. However, I was not able to visit a small town just south of Galle where several scenes occur, so I will be able to do this in January.

This will be my first literary festival as an invited participant. I hope I don’t get stage fright! At the very least I’m sure I’ll feel quite overwhelmed meeting so many extraordinary writers.

My author page on the Festival website is here.

If you are thinking about a holiday, I can highly recommend Sri Lanka, and what better holiday than a literary holiday? Come and join me!

Writing My Novel…

I am writing a novel set in Sri Lanka during the early 80s. I originally wrote it as a novella a few years ago and then put it in a drawer. I applied for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to develop it into a novel, and they said yes. So, I was forced to take it out of the drawer. I read the thing and decided it needed radical revision, far more than I originally thought. I’m not sure if I would have continued if it hadn’t been for the grant, so I’m truly grateful for this. I wrote some new material during a Freefall workshop this spring, and then fell into a slump, dug myself out by writing a page a day on anything (see earlier blog posts), and then, committed to writing a page a day on my novel starting June.

So, this is what I’m doing, more or less. It’s like chewing coals, most of the time. But some days are good, and it’s always good when I write. Even if what I write is crap. For the most part I’m rewriting from scratch, although this is quite painful as I’m the sort of person who hates to go back over old ground. The novella was split up into several narratives, from several points of view, which made the work very shallow. Or rather, I was not able to make it deeper. So now I’m concentrating on two narratives, both third person.

Helen, an English woman with a history of petty thievery and depression, and Raghunath, a homosexual Tamil of low-birth living in Anuradhapura. Helen is running away from a court case in London, running away from herself, and Raghunath has lost his first love, Sarith, a Sinhalese teacher who has been kind to him. Sarith has disappeared in the killings of Black July, 1983.

They meet in Anuradhapura, where Uta, a German woman who has befriended Helen runs an insurance scam with dire consequences for Raghunath…

So. There it is.

One page at a time.