Not long after the studio was finished, I was looking for somewhere to have a launch for my first longer length book, The Willow Man. Sara offered the studio, and it was brilliant - the perfect setting for people to come and buy the book and have a chat. In the afternoon, Sara looked speculatively at an expanse of bare stone wall. "Hm," she said. "I'll do a picture for that." By the time evening came, it was there: a powerful sketch of the Willow Man, and underneath, a quote from the book. That's it in the picture. Sara uses calligraphy in a lot of her work: it pops up in all sorts of unexpected places. Words loop gracefully under glazes, around figures, are etched on the beach by retreating seas.
So this September, when I decided to start up a creative writing class in Cheddar, the studio seemed the perfect place to have it. I haven't taught creative writing to adults before, and I really had no idea how much fun it was going to be. We've only had three sessions, but already, so many good things are happening. There is a good mix of people, with an age range of about forty years. Already, we are learning to expect the unexpected: we listen eagerly to each new piece of writing. We have been moved, astonished, intrigued; we've laughed (a lot); we've been thrown off-balance; we've been entranced by something in a particular combination of words. In just three sessions, writing has revealed things in us that we hadn't realised were there.
The studio provides an extra element. All around us hang pictures and rough sketches, which change from week to week. One wall is mirrored, and we don't like this, because we're shy writers - so Sara covers it with an opulent red velvet counterpane, glittering with embroidery and sequins: a rich background for our imaginings. Last week, I went over to the flip-chart easel, and there on the ground were six glistening red drops, the first just underneath where the bag of one of the students hung from her chair. Just paint, or...? Da da DA!! The story begins...
Half way through the session, the students were working on a poem. At the beginning of each line were the words, 'You are...' I went over to put the kettle on, glanced up idly, and noticed a sketch of Sara's pinned to the wall. (There it is in the second picture.) There were words on it. The only ones I could read were... 'You are...' Reader, a shiver ran down my spine.
It's lovely having books published. But there is a down side. Once you've crossed that threshold, and once the first euporia is over, you find that there are things to worry about. You still enjoy it, often revel in it - but there's always another step to climb. You've got a book published. How can you make it sell? It sells reasonably. Why didn't it sell better? You're on a long-list. How can you make it onto a short-list? You're on a short-list. Why didn't you win? The dark side edges in...
What's lovely about this class is that the focus is purely on the craft - the pleasure of writing something as well as you can; finding the best words and putting them in the best possible order, and then sharing them. I'm loving it.
And I can't wait to see what the studio is going to offer up for us next.
http://www.saraparsons.com/ (This is a great website!)