I’ve always been a bit dubious about writing courses. Not because I don’t think you can learn to write – on the contrary, writing’s a craft, like any other – but because I have a deep-rooted fear of wasting time and money. I don’t want to spend time on ice-breakers, coffee breaks and introductions, when I’d rather be learning about plot, character and setting a scene. I’ve always thought that, lovely though it is to meet like-minded people, the presence of others is bound to make the learning process slower and less focused.
My week-long course with Jane Wenham-Jones at Chez Castillon has changed my views on writing courses completely, and I promise it had nothing to do with the gorgeous South-of-France weather, the swimming pool, the never-ending carafes du vin, and the incredible food. Lessons were held between 10am and 1pm in the gite at the bottom of Chez Castillon’s garden, before lunch with the rest of the guests – some of whom were staying ‘on retreat’, without taking part in the course. Our afternoons were free to write, generally following a task set that morning, ready to regroup in the evening sun to read and discuss our work. There were six on my course, all with very different levels of experience. Some had publishing deals, others had barely picked up a pen, and the rest were somewhere in between. All had talent, and all were brilliant, generous, perceptive writers I was sorry to say goodbye to at the end of the week.
I learned a huge amount during the week. I learned how to write short stories: something which has eluded me for years. I began to understand why I’m struggling with my current work-in-progress, and I received valuable feedback from my fellow students which will make all the difference as I tackle the next set of edits. I learned how to strengthen my characters by creating back-stories for them, and how to weave that back-story into my plot.
Oh, and I also learned that Katie Fforde is even nicer in person than on Twitter; that Judy Astley and Catherine Jones can drink me under the table; and that Jane Wenham-Jones looks hot in a wig. But that’s another story…