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     Volume 7 Issue 38 | September 19, 2008 |

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A Roman Column

Letter From Moniack Mohr-2
The Creative Juicer

Neeman Sobhan

The schedule for our next five days was mapped out on the first evening. We were told that morning sessions would start right after breakfast at 9. So, on our first day, we carry our mugs of tea and coffee from the kitchen and sit down, either on the long dining table or on the lumpy sofas.

Kirsty Gunn, our novelist-tutor wants to immediately press the start button on the creative-juicer inside each of us, and watch what dribbling or gushing forth of ideas results. After reading out some famous opening lines and passages from celebrated writers to warm us up, or (to keep the 'fruit-juicer' metaphor alive) plump up the apples and oranges jostling inside us, she asks us to get ready to produce our own first paragraphs for a short story.

But to add some challenge and direction to our labour, she asks us to take 3 strips of paper each and write down, using our wildest imagination, a setting (any combination of place, weather, time, environment, mood); a character or voice; and any detail or subject or piece of action. This we put in three separate baskets and the contents are given a thorough mixing. Now we pick a strip from each basket and read the combination of directions we have drawn.

Groans and giggles, grunts and chuckles fill the first minute, and then suddenly all is quiet. We have five minutes to come up with a story line that combines all the ingredients, and the room is stiff with our energy. No juicer in the world could be this quiet while squeezing the
essence out of the pips and pulps whirring within it.

Later, as we read out our creative outcomes, we can't help applauding each others efforts, and asking the writer afterwards what their three directions were. Given some truly unusual, even odd combination of ideas--- like throwing zucchini and pineapple pieces together into a whirring juice-maker, the resulting product was not just laudable but often brilliant. It showed how undaunted is a writer's imagination and skill when he is adamant about shaping fiction out of the random and often, bizarre, facts of reality.

In my opinion, the most interesting piece was by someone who had to write from the point of view of 'a baby not yet born', with the setting being a stormy moor, and the detail 'an empty telephone booth in which a phone swings.' Susan, a poetic writer did amazing justice to this in the allotted ten minutes, and later developed it for a longer piece which was much praised.

My lot was more benign. I drew a ninety year old man for character, an aeroplane as setting, and an incident involving a man pushing a shopping cart with all his worldly possessions in it. This is what I wrote:

'The floor glides under me…. in the glass and mirror fronted duty-free shops speeding by, there I am being pushed by the stewardess in my wheelchair. Ah! The scent of youth! I breathe deeply the young woman's proximity as she wheels me into the plane. These days, all I have left intact is my sense of smell, I think.Even my memory is failing. Though, I do have odd moments of total recall. For instance, I remember as if it were yesterday the first time I was on a plane. It must have been 1948, I was thirty and on a BOAC flight to New York. My first time outside India… This morning, or was it yesterday, my daughter Shoma was exasperated with me for not remembering her second son's name. "Baba, honestly! Your own grandson!" I feel guiltily now, as if it were my fault. But I can't help smiling, wondering what she would say if I told her that I not only remember clearly, the smell of that distant fall day when I stepped onto the streets of New York from my lodging, but the exact colour of that strange man's eyes I encountered pushing a shopping trolley through an alley. I had stared. It was loaded with………a dirty blanket and pillow; a frying pan, a kettle, some framed photographs, a doll… 'My home', he had grinned cheerfully at me'.

The writing workshops were stimulating but I found myself unable to respond completely. My heart and mind are totally occupied with my novel and its cast of characters. I have no room for what feels to me as parlour games to spark the creative machinery. But my creativity doesn't need to be prodded. I am already charged up. What I need is guidance with the work I have already produced. I was looking forward to the one-to-one tutorial with Kirst the next day.

Meanwhile, the next session with Laura Marney proves to be more what I can benefit from. In each of her workshops, she asks us to produce things that I as a writer have pushed off doing. Now under her eagle eye and with a time constraint I find myself being forced to do this. One day she asks us to jot down scene-by-scene, the plot of our novel on little cards. Another day, we have to change one of our scenes from the tense in which it is written to another; or from first person to third person or reverse.

But the day she announced, "Today, I want you to write down the last line of your novel in ten minutes," was a moment of epiphany for me. My first reaction was, this just can't be done, because I was not even near the middle half, much less the end of my book. But we had to pretend and write something. And in doing so, something broke free inside me. I realized that by writing its end the book had now become an organic reality, something which not only had a beginning (quite a few beginnings, in fact) but the hope of a conclusion also. My heart lifted and I knew my fiction was a fact waiting to happen.

The next day, after lunch, is my one-to-one tutorial appointment with Kirsty Gunn. I enter with bated breath; this meeting is very important to me. The session turns out to be everything I could have desired and more. I am so happy with the feedback I get that all I remember of that hour is the golden-green sunlight pouring through the window bringing the distant bleating of sheep and the whispering of pines and grass and wild flowers into the room and across the table, touching the two heads, one blonde the other dark, leaning over the pages of my manuscript.

I came away walking on air: beautiful, pure, writerly, Scottish air. Oh! Robert Burns, Walter Scott, wherever you guys are, hear me. I love your country; I love this country-side. Yesss! Today another writer believed in my novel. My pilgrimage is over. That night I sit at my window in this peaceful stone farmhouse gazing at the fading summer light over the hills and valleys that I will take back with me.

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