His advice was good, and I followed it, prepared, however, if it was a “con game” the shack had given me, to take the blind as the overland pulled out. But it was straight goods. I found the car—a big refrigerator car with the leeward door wide open for ventilation. Up I climbed and in. I stepped on a man’s leg, next on some other man’s arm. The light was dim, and all I could make out was arms and legs and bodies inextricably confused. Never was there such a tangle of humanity. They were all lying in the straw, and over, and under, and around one another. Eighty-four husky hoboes take up a lot of room when they are stretched out. The men I stepped on were resentful. Their bodies heaved under me like the waves of the sea, and imparted an involuntary forward movement to me. I could not find any straw to step upon, so I stepped upon more men. The resentment increased, so did my forward movement. I lost my footing and sat down with sharp abruptness. Unfortunately, it was on a man’s head. The next moment he had risen on his hands and knees in wrath, and I was flying through the air. What goes up must come down, and I came down on another man’s head.
What happened after that is very vague in my memory. It was like going through a threshing-machine. I was bandied about from one end of the car to the other. Those eighty-four hoboes winnowed me out till what little was left of me, by some miracle, found a bit of straw to rest upon. I was initiated, and into a jolly crowd. All the rest of that day we rode through the blizzard, and to while the time away it was decided that each man was to tell a story. It was stipulated that each story must be a good one, and, furthermore, that it must be a story no one had ever heard before. The penalty for failure was the threshing-machine. Nobody failed. And I want to say right here that never in my life have I sat at so marvellous a story-telling debauch. Here were eighty-four men from all the world—I made eighty-five; and each man told a masterpiece. It had to be, for it was either masterpiece or threshing-machine.
FROM THE ROAD BY JACK LONDON, 1907
WORDS ALLOWED – Workshop for Teenage Writers with Dave Lordan
After the huge success and impact of its young writers on the festival in 2012, Words Allowed workshop for teenage writers returns to the festival for its revamped second edition. The week-long course is designed to build the creative confidence and expressive ability of teenagers with an interest in writing. The course combines a high-energy workshop approach with talks and Question and Answer sessions on being a writer in the contemporary world where multimedia technologies and performance writing are assuming more and more importance alongside traditional book publishing. In an atmosphere of group support and encouragement for individual creativity, each participant will be facilitated to pursue their own writing interests and to generate a new work of which they can be proud. As well as learning from our experienced facilitator, participants will learn from each other through pair and group writing games and activities. They will give constructive feedback on each other’s work and learn how to apply feedback to improving their own work. The week will be rounded off with a special reading of the participants’ work, which we expect to once again be a highlight of the festival programme. Participants will also have the option of taking part in short readings before events throughout the festival. This is Ireland’s leading workshop for teenage writers and demand is expected to be high so please book early to avoid disappointment.
About Dave Lordan
Dave Lordan, renowned writer, teacher and creativity-in education advocate, is the first writer to have won all three of Ireland’s national prizes for young poets. He is the current holder of the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award and previous winner of the Patrick Kavanagh and Strong Awards for poetry. Southword, the magazine of the Munster Literature Centre called him ‘a master of the sound and rhythm of language’ while the Irish Times found his work to be ‘as brilliant on the page as it must surely be in performance’. Dave teaches creative writing at primary, secondary, and adult education levels. As well as the WCLF, Dave has recently provided workshops for Sphere 17 Youthclub Darndale, the Irish Film Institute, Dublin City Libraries, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Courthouse Arts Centre, The Irish Countrywomen’s Association, Hospital Youthreach, Youthspeaks, Children’s Books Ireland and numerous others. www.davelordanwriter.com
“I knocked softly, and when I saw the kind face of the middle-aged woman who answered, as by inspiration came to me the “story” I was to tell. For know that upon his ability to tell a good story depends the success of the beggar. First of all, and on the instant, the beggar must “size up” his victim. After that, he must tell a story that will appeal to the peculiar personality and temperament of that particular victim. And right here arises the great difficulty: in the instant that he is sizing up the victim he must begin his story. Not a minute is allowed for preparation. As in a lightning flash he must divine the nature of the victim and conceive a tale that will hit home. The successful hobo must be an artist. He must create spontaneously and instantaneously—and not upon a theme selected from the plenitude of his own imagination, but upon the theme he reads in the face of the person who opens the door, be it man, woman, or child, sweet or crabbed, generous or miserly, good-natured or cantankerous, Jew or Gentile, black or white, race-prejudiced or brotherly, provincial or universal, or whatever else it may be. I have often thought that to this training of my tramp days is due much of my success as a story-writer. In order to get the food whereby I lived, I was compelled to tell tales that rang true. At the back door, out of inexorable necessity, is developed the convincingness and sincerity laid down by all authorities on the art of the short-story. Also, I quite believe it was my tramp-apprenticeship that made a realist out of me. Realism constitutes the only goods one can exchange at the kitchen door for grub.”
Jack London, from The Road, 1907
Writing fiction is part of the broader human tradition of storytelling, of making things up, and of believing in things that do not, or do not yet, exist. As far as we can tell human beings have always told each other stories. We have always had the ability to tell and to listen, to conjure characters and narratives, to pretend, even for a little while, that things are different to the way that they actually are.
Telling stories and listening to them may actually be a crucial evolutionary advantage, helping humans to survive bleak times by allowing us to imagine different and better worlds. We make things up and we engage in believing in the made-up in order not to have to put up with an often painful or at least humdrum reality. To put it another way, storytelling, religion, and politics all come from the same basic human drive to imagine, and our concomitant need to believe.
Because we are human then, any one of us can make up a story if we put our minds to it and we tap in to our naturally evolved creativity. We find it easy to make things up and to believe in what other people make up. We find it easy to lie. And lies are very fertile. One lie leads to another, very quickly. We need a second lie to cover the first one, and then a third one to cover the second, and so on…,
Imagine a father investigating his seven-year-old daughter on the matter of a missing biscuit:
Did you take the last biscuit?
Well, who did then?
The green monster?
Which green monster?
The one that lives in the biscuit tin.
How come I’ve never seen him?
He doesn’t like you so he disappears….
Or, imagine a woman who is trying to hide an affair from her husband:
How come you didn’t answer your phone?
I was in the gym and I left it in the locker by mistake.
Oh…did you see Marty, he said he was in the gym all morning?.
I saw him but I don’t think he saw me.
Why, did he have a blindfold on? It’s a pretty small gym in fairness.
No, I wasn’t there that long and when I saw him he was busy talking to someone.
I dunno, some blonde I think…
Note that some lies are more believable than others. But even the most outlandish fantasies have some basis in reality. The listener or the reader has to have some familiar starting point from which to enter the imaginative world of the story. As soon as you get the reader on board for the story-trip, however, you can take them wherever you want.
So, fiction is a hybrid of truth and lies. Angels are people plus birds. Lewis Carroll based his wonderland Alice on his own daughter.
Reality, in as much as we are humanly able to perceive, record or comprehend it, is our raw material for our storytelling. During the writing process we use our imagination to transform the raw material of our experience into fiction.
So the answer to the question ‘Where do writers get their material from?’ is straightforward. We get our ideas from the world around us. We observe and we consider what happens to us and we change it in our imaginations into stories, songs, and poems. We start from the ground of experience and we wing our way up to the fictional clouds.
This month’s writing prompt encourages us to seek out writing material in the real world, and to mix it with lies of our own invention to make fiction.
Write a short fiction, lyric, or poem of maximum 700 words on the theme of The Party.
This most be based on a real party that you or someone else has been to, but the details must be fictionalised.
Make sure to change all the names and the locations.
One way to get a party story going would be to ask a friend to tell you all about the last party they went to (it could be a wedding, A wake, a book launch…).
Ask your friend as many questions as you can think of about the party.
Take down all the details.
Then go back to your writing space and rewrite your friend’s story in the first person, as if it had happened to you.
So if your friend Charlotte said she met her ex at a greyhound race meeting, you write down I met my ex at the greyhounds, and so on.
Add at least three lies to the story as you are going along.
It is best to start lying early on in the story. Maybe tell a lie in the second line of the story, or the second paragraph of the story at the latest. If you find this difficult, and people often do at first, play the opposites game. If the party you or your friend went to was indoors in winter, put it outside in summer instead. If the party was a very sober affair, make it a very drunk one instead. And take it from there.
Write as much as you want, and then go back over it a couple of times to tidy it up and cut it down or bulk it up to somewhere around 700 words.
Congratulations on writing a story.
NEW PLANET CABARET: CREATIVITY FOR EVERYONE
These writing prompts are for everyone who wants to take part. You don’t need to want to be a published writer to get a benefit from exploring your creative side.
In fact, in my experience, people who focus on exploring and enjoying their creativity can have a much more positive experience than those who enter on the often frustrating and always challenging path of trying to become a professional writer.
However, if you do want to submit your work to arena for possible broadcast, and for possible publication in our RTE/New Island Press anthology, there are a couple of additional things you need to keep in mind.
- We want work that will come across well on the air and on the page. It must speak in an interesting and novel way to Arena’s broad and intelligent audience. Be original. Avoid cliche. Pay attention to the medium you are writing in and the audience you are writing for.
- Think about the title of the project: NEW PLANET CABARET. NEW means work that is alive to and interested in the novelty of the present moment and in the way the world is changing around us. PLANET means we are seeking work that speaks to us from all over the world, work from and about our diaspora, work from and about our own many immigrant communities, work from and about those who have traveled and journeyed. CABARET means we are looking for work in a variety of styles and voices, and also work that is both sophisticated and well communicated, both experimental and populist- writing that is serious entertainment.
- Email your entry with the heading CREATIVE WRITING to firstname.lastname@example.org. All entries will be read and considered, but only those people whose work has been chosen for broadcast will be contacted. No other correspondence will be entered into and canvassing of any kind will disqualify.
- Listen in to RTE RADIO 1′S ARENA at 7.30 pm on Tuesday the 1st of January to hear some or the selected work, and more discussion about creativity, and January’s writing prompt.
Lastly, here’s a list of some great party-connected creation to help get your imagination going:
Gustave Courbet, Burial at Ornan’s
Discussing The Divine Comedy With Dante Dai Dudu, Li Tiezi and Zhang An
On the Road. Jack Kerouac
First Party at Ken Kesey‘s with Hell’s Angels. Allen Ginsberg.
Johnathan Swift The Description of an Irish Feast