Friday 27 March 2009

Judy Waite Visiting University of Salford Part II

Judy’s talk and workshop was excellent. All the more disappointing, therefore, that is was so poorly attended.
And yet…. I actually prefer it when there are just a few people in a workshop.
I guess there were several factors. Some people do have lectures and seminars at that time. It was essay week. Many of our students have employment commitments. They work out of genuine need, not greed. The weather was appalling. Once in a building it was tempting to stay there. And the Arts Unit had moved the venue. Even I had to read the email several times before I realised that we had been transferred to another building from our usual one.
No matter. The Council Chamber of the Old Fire Station is a lovely place for a workshop – even if it is under the beady eyes of former Vice-Chancellors and Prince Philip.
Judy gave us lots of information about how her teaching career took off and plenty of advice about our attitude to getting published. A good reason for being careful about which publishers we approach is that if we keep approaching the wrong ones we’ll just get rejected over and over and become demoralised. At least of we approach someone who seems to want the sort of thing we’re producing, rejection is genuine feedback and we may even get more of an explanation.
Judy’s research is incredibly and admirably thorough. She has talked to gypsies, got herself locked in a police cell, done herself up as a seventeen-year old and auditioned for a boy band (yes, it’s true) and paid Amsterdam prostitutes the going rate in order to interview them about their working lives.
Later, we did some intensive work on our characters. This involved the lighting of candles, writing with our non-dominant hand, and talking to them. This may seem a little New Age, but in fact it was a way of gaining a much better understanding of our characters. We live in such a busy, jangly world that we often don’t have the brain space to think deeply enough. I was pleased to see my protagonist become much more likeable and much more assertive but still retaining some of his humility. Just as well – I have to finish the current novel and another one by the end of the year. I was also delighted to see two of our students make astonishing progress in an afternoon.
Because we were such a small intimate group we were able to discuss our work in detail. That was a real opportunity. We had the value of each other’s attention and Judy’s input. We actually ran over time because we were so absorbed we hadn’t noticed.
Judy also gives very professional and very honest talks. She came armed with a suitcase full of her books and information and realia from her writing life.

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