6. At Last – Class!

2018.07.23  Now for the heart of the matter.  Each day we have one 90-minute lecture and one two-hour seminar.  The daily lectures cover a wide variety of topics of general interest to aspiring writers.  All forty-five program participants are expected to attend. Here are a few of the topics:

  • Researching your fiction.
  • Dramatizing your passion (the syllabus says dramatising.  There are very few z’s here.
  • Effect of new media on writing.
  • Making your own path: self-publishing.

And eleven more.

The seminars are geared toward specific interests and levels of experience.  We Intermediates (there are no beginners here – I had to apply for a waiver) have a pre-determined program.  Creative Non-Fiction meets Monday and Wednesday. Intermediate Fiction meets Tuesday and Thursday. So today, I met the Creative Non-Fiction class for the first time.

My tutor’s name (there are no teachers here) is Susannah Rickert and she is brilliant, engaging and lovely.   But she told us not to be lured into complacency or mediocrity by her friendliness: she will mark us (there are no grades here) to Oxford standards and is reputed to be one of the hardest markers here. She pointed out that only Shakespeare could expect a 100%.  That leaves the 90’s for the likes of Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis. You get the idea. She suggested that we should be delighted with a 65.

There are ten of us in her seminar and she warmed us up with a very simple exercise.  Write three things about yourself that are not apparent from your appearance or bio – but with a twist.  One must be a fabrication.  It was an ice-breaker of course but also a command to get the creative juices flowing.

These were mine.

  • I once sang the National Anthem at a major league baseball game.
  • I am a thyroid cancer survivor
  • A friend of mine crashed Princess Diana’s wedding.

You Texans know the answer, but my classmates did not.  The first one they ruled out was the Royal Wedding. Not possible, they said. Clearly they never met Joanie Powell!

Then they looked at me with deep concern and said “Did you really have thyroid cancer?  So sorry. How are you doing?” Of course I never did and I am beyond thankful that Cyndy Powell no longer does.

So that leaves the baseball game.  Houston Astros. 1993.  My dear friend Frank Rynd had a lot to do with that!

Our main lesson for the day was The Third Rail.  In literature. The third rail, in engineering, of course, is the is the conductor of electrical current that powers subways and other rail-based electrical transportation.  And if a person on the platform should fall, or be pushed, onto that rail, electrocution is certain.  Which leads to the third rail in politics.  An issue so charged that if you touch, you die.  Social security maybe?

In writing it is completely different.  It is the central thread, unseen by the reader, that runs between the meandering tracks of plots, subplots, and characters. It is the energy, coming from the author’s beliefs, emotion, and passion, that drives the story and keeps it on track.

The two hours flew by and I was sorry when it was time to go. Not sure I have ever felt that way about a two-hour class – or any class for that matter. Looking forward to tomorrow!



One thought on “6. At Last – Class!

  1. Susannah Ricker sounds like the best of both worlds: expecting each participant’s best while readying for a tough critique. What a wonderful and tough experience. I can’t wait to hear/read more.


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