Creative writing course ‘Found In Translation’: the day after

 In Events, News

Last week’s Creative Writing Course: a class with a difference! It was a pleasure to welcome an enthusiastic group of Italians to Dublin to participate in ‘Found in Translation’, co-tutored by Lia Mills and myself. You can read all about it here.

I have long been a fan of Eleanor Roosevelt.

I admire her tireless campaigning for the poor during the Great Depression in the United States; her intelligent, compassionate influence on the President’s – her husband – policies of social justice and equality and her unconventional personal life: she was an extraordinary woman.

I remembered her maxim:

‘Do one thing every day that scares you’,

when I was thinking about all the things I wanted to say in this post.

We can probably apply this advice to all aspects of our lives – that need to reassess what we do every day and make an effort to move out of our comfort zone – but I felt it was particularly apt after last week.

Why last week specifically?

Because I spent five full days in the company of a group of people who were doing just that: something that scared them. From Monday to Friday, two Irish writers – Lia Mills and myself – embarked on something that scared us, too – at least initially.

At the invitation of Massimiliano Roveri and Federica Sgaggio – two individuals who share an intense spiritual Irishness! – Lia and I collaborated on the creation and delivery of a very different kind of creative writing course: one devised specifically for those whose mother tongue is not English.

We called it ‘Found in Translation’. We have both long been of the belief that all writing is in itself an act of translation – the creative act of finding the best way to give life to experience, to observation, to a particular view of the world and to communicate that to others through the medium of language.

Eight intrepid Italians responded to our invitation and joined us at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Dublin for more than thirty hours of intensive discussion, practical exercises and, of course, writing.

In English.

I think it’s fair to say that the results – the creative, personal and practical results – were well beyond even our most ambitious expectations.

Here are a few of the participants’ responses:

  • I found it was so intense and very well prepared that I got more than I expected to.
  • The content covered, the group management, the materials shared with us are top notch. ☺
  • An unexpected and terrific experience for me. Very helpful to my writing and really useful. Many, many thanks!
  • Definitely met my expectations. I’m not a writer and it gave me more than the basic tools to start writing.
  • I guess it unlocked my block and ‘entitled’ me to continue writing. Catherine and Lia you have changed my life! The idea of having one-to-one sessions was great. Through them I got to see some aspects of my writing that need changing/honing.

From the very start, we told the participants that they would receive from the course whatever they were prepared to invest.

And invest they did – with enthusiasm, with openness and with hard work, writing and re-writing for a considerable part of every day.

Some were beginners, some had experience of creative writing, and some were already published. Our course was careful to appeal to all levels. To take the fear out of the process for the beginners; to encourage those with a little experience to push the boundaries even further; and to offer another angle to the already experienced.

All of these views are represented in the sample of responses quoted above.

Writing scares us.

It scares me – and I’ve been a professional writer now for close on quarter of a century. I think the fear is often rooted in the soil of our childhood.

The question:

‘Who do you think you are?’

is certainly one that was common in my generation, if one of us dared to raise our head above the socially acceptable parapet.

‘A writer: what gives you the right to call yourself that?’

As though writing were the preserve of an elite, a club to which the vast majority of the population cannot have, or even aspire to have, access.

‘You’re not entitled to call yourself a writer if you haven’t published anything.’

Ah, that old chestnut of ‘entitlement’. There’s being a writer, and there’s being a published writer. Sometimes, the two will co-exist happily, usually after a long apprenticeship. For how else can one become a published writer, without having been a writer first? Does the cart pull the horse?

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway; leaving the internal critic outside the door; being prepared to take a leap into the unknown and to follow where the imagination leads: those were some of our aims. The others were to give the participants the tools to access their own creativity.

Above all, we wanted to empower our new friends to begin: to plunge into the mysterious process of writing creatively, to follow where it leads.

We are very happy that all of us achieved our goals during what was a very special week.

‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’


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