We have just finished a writing and painting course, our first ever, at our newly acquired house in the Dordogne. Our French neighbour, Christiane, came to see the ‘Private View’ ie the display of paintings and drawings produced by the art group. She was amazed that there were so many different interpretations of the same subject. The beams in the barn, views through windows, the red-tiled roof, blue shutters: all the pictures turned out totally different. As Christiane said it was ‘comme la soupe’. No two cooks produce the same vegetable soup.
The writing group created its own pot au feu. Karen (Hayes, the novelist) asked her folk to write about our village. Someone wrote as an English resident, another as a journalist, another actually imagined our house speaking. Quite an amazing potage.
And after a week the tureen of creative work was overflowing. People produced so much art and writing yet still found time to jump in the pool, read in a deckchair in the meadow, play boules in the courtyard and spend hours talking over meals.
But can creative writing be taught? We have had events at Ways With Words to discuss this familiar question. Usually teachers on MA courses in creative writing at universities say yes while other authors say no. I want to say, “But what do you mean by teach?” Ways With Words has run many writing courses and a mass of creativity takes place. What are the ingredients that produce the soupe? A sympathetic, encouraging, yet challenging tutor could be the juicy bone. He/she can create a strong flavour, help people start, move others on, get some to take a step back. Maybe the basic stock is made from time and place. Remove busy people from their everyday life, place them in a the midst of fields with a group of other people keen on words and they find quiet corners to look at the trees, contemplate the sky and think and write. Throw in good food and wine, conversation and laughter, books, music and art and everything interacts, like chemistry and cooking, to produce a new substance – original writing.
Now the house’s blue shutters are closed, the barn is left to the kittens, the swimming pool is still, the deckchairs are folded until our next visit, but I expect many of the visitors are reading through the writing they produced in Leygonie, looking at the paintings, and thinking about how they can continue to stir up the creative energy they found in France.
More Soup Making:
September 8 – 13, a Memoir Writing course will take place at Leygonie in the Dordogne, France. Penelope Lively and Julia Blackburn will provide the bones.
For more information phone: 01803 867373.