Monday, November 27, 2006

95 more to go!

I have 95 copies of the old WIPLash to sell @ Rs 30 a piece. Anyone interested should contact me either online or in person. We're clearing stocks for next year's crop.

This year's WIPers, the deadline for submission of stories from this year's course will be January 31, 2007. I'll then need someone to help me edit it, preferably not a course attendee. A previous student would be ideal. If any of you read this post, please volunteer. You'll have to read the page proofs of WIPLash 2006 for errors and help with the layout. Also we would like a cover design done properly this year. The book will be about 100 pages A5 size. We should have copies in hand well before term ends so everyone gets theirs before they leave.

This is your chance to get into print.

To recap: editor and cover designer, please step forward. We'll get working on this through February, print in March and have copies out before April.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Take a bow

Well, we’ve had a scintillating three sessions of storytelling to end the WIP programme this year. I was particularly pleased at the progress made by the people who stuck with it against all odds, especially one person who struggled and struggled through the course but in the end came up with a WINNER. It definitely showed me that the course IS making a difference, and that there is a qualitative difference between people who attended class and worked hard at their writing and those who didn’t. There were of course others who attended class but didn’t listen to repeated suggestions from me and from the class that their stories weren’t working: my sympathies, guys, because I know how hard it is to pay attention to the reader and take the necessary knife to your creation. Nevertheless, falling in love with your story doesn’t do it any good. You just end up spoiling it rotten.

There was also a demonstration of the truism that SOME writers are born, not made, and will come through with a stunning piece even if they have attended no classes. This is in spite of having been utterly clueless in the first couple of sessions. Although ‘making’ is a relative term: the true writer goes on making him/herself, no matter what shit goes down, no matter how good life is. The business of writing goes on 24/7, and only a little of it is actually to do with paper and silicon. I respect that: like I said, the class is only one way of becoming a writer. If you can do it on your own, so much the more credit to you. But it’s a rare person who can do it, and for every one, there’s a dozen who think they can but can’t. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, but in the end it’s the readers – millions of them, over decades – who decide who’s a writer and who isn’t.

But that aside, even if no one in this batch becomes a WRITER, you’ll all have become better at telling stories, and hopefully you’ll all have had fun in spite of the hard slog we’ve had to do.

And so to next year …

I was also very pleased (yay!) with the very good audience response we had, full house every day in spite of classes and class tests. Thank you, people, for making the event a success.

All the stories were good. Some were brilliant. Only one disappointed a little. You’ll all find out which in a month or so…

In the meantime, visitors to this blog, please feel free to comment on the final presentations, give me suggestions for making it better, or anything that comes to mind.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Final Presentations

So our final presentations are scheduled for the 14th, 15th and 16th from 3 to 5 in the AV room. On Monday I'll be putting up on the AV Room door the names of people who'll speak on each day. There won't be a mike as it's more of a pain than a help in the tiny space, so be loud. Fans of WIP and general department people, please come to hear your friends tell stories. It should give us some welcome relief in the most hectic week of the semester. Unfortunately the final day clashes with the Food seminar (which I'll have to bunk in the afternoon) but that's just the usual JU madness.

People have been asking what I'm looking for, and whether it's possible to do a good presentation of a bad story. Well, up to a point it's not; unless the story's halfway decent even the best storyteller can't make it sizzle. But you can ruin a good story with bad telling, and you can rivet people with a good reading of an OK story. The most basic points are: 1. Read slow enough for people to assimilate and follow, ie much slower than usual, with lots of pauses, (but don't put 'em to sleep) 2. Be loud and clear, 3. Pause when transiting between speech and narration, 4. Vary your tone appropriately, but only change your pitch, not your volume, 5. Make eye contact when you can, 5. Be engaged with the story; don't read it like a seminar paper or a news report. This is similar to, but not the same as, reading a character in a play, beacuse here you have to be ALL the characters as well as the narrator.

Finally, what constitutes a good story? This is a question that authors, publishers and readers have tried to answer for generations, with no end to the search in sight (different ages answer it differently, with some results agreeing across time). Funnily enough, it's not a question that critics concern themselves with all that much. Critics are generally rather embarrassed at humanity's insistence on a story. Perhaps it's because stories enter our lives so early in life: an eighteen-month-old baby, otherwise unmanageable, will listen openmouthed to a story and swallow their pap without demur. But you can read Barthes till your eyes pop and never find out why.

Many modern writers have been half-nelsoned by critics to prove that the narrative is dead: look at Joyce, they yowl. Joyce was, however, a consummate storyteller; he just loved to OD on narrative. He's a stories-teller, in fact. The truth is, people who write novels (or even poems) without stories are forgotten by history. No one wants to read them over and over again and give them to their children, or buy them for their closest friend who's dying of cancer, or give to their parents on their seventieth wedding anniversary. But say that to any modern critic and they'll look at you like you've crawled out of a Mills and Boon. Or a Terry Pratchett.

Rather, read your stories to your sisters and brothers, and your parents, and to your domestic help if you can translate on the fly, and see how they react. Buttonhole friends who are NOT literature students and ask them. If there's one thing being an author has taught me, it's never to underestimate readers. They're the smartest people on the planet. Go to them, thou sluggard, consider their ways, and be wise.

So I'm looking for a kind of narrative honesty which goes beyond surfaces, which is rooted in reality but which makes us see things with fresh eyes. It's not made of statistical averages -- in fact it's just the opposite, it looks for the remarkable within the ordinary. Some of it only comes with experience, and I will of course allow for that. But the first rule of good writing is: don't be satisfied with easy stuff. The spontaneous good story is a rare treat, bless its little cotton socks. Most of the time, you have to slog for it (like another category of human endeavour which I will not name). So PLEASE read over your stuff as you have consistently failed to do throughout this course (sigh). And CHANGE stuff that doesn't work until it does.

Good luck!