I’ll be leading the Writing Salon at The Hospital Club on Monday and the inspiration for the session is grisly murder…you can read the full details below.

Happy New Year to you.  I wish you the very best for the year ahead.  Maybe 2017 is the year you write that novel? Just remember, if you wrote 250 words every day you’d have a 90,000 word novel by the end of the year.

Whatever your literary aspirations for the year ahead I hope you’ll be able to join me on Monday 16th January at 1930 in the Chalk Room for the first salon of 2017.  It promises to be action packed as I’ve got a discussion, a practical exercise and also a member submission lined up for you.

This month I want us to take our inspiration from stories (both fiction and nonfiction) that are based on real events.   This weekend marks the tragic 70 year anniversary of a grisly and unsolved murder.  You may have read about it in the press.  Elizabeth Short was last seen entering the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles in January 1947. Her body was found a week later and the case soon adopted the infamous nickname of The Black Dahlia, a twist on the 1946 film The Blue Dahlia and a reference to Short’s jet black hair.  The murder has provided the inspiration for many adaptations, not least of which was the first novel in James Ellroy’s LA Quartet series which would go on to include LA Confidential.

The anniversary of Short’s murder got me thinking about how popular real stories are, and also how high the production and literary quality of nonfiction novels and films are.  On my own shelf sit the following book examples from the nonfiction genre.  Firstly Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a book about the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Kansas.  Then there is People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry which is about the murder of Lucie Blackman in Tokyo, and finally Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son which is Gordon Burns’ account of Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper.

Add to this list the plethora of real life documentaries on Netflix, podcasts like Serial and you have yourself a massive and extremely popular genre.  There are modern examples in the form of Making a Murderer and The Jinx but we mustn’t forget about the output from the likes of Billy Wilder and Werner Herzog, both of whom are rightly celebrated as documentary filmmakers.

I want us to explore this theme of “based on real events” on Monday.  Over the weekend scour your shelves and your Netflix accounts for your favourite examples of nonfiction works or works that have been based on real events.  Why do you like them? Do they adhere to traditional notions of story and can you see the craft in the way the writer or filmmaker has gone about the task?  Now I’ve listed several true crime stories, but you can include anything from the King James Bible to The Big Short.  I’m sure those of you who saw Planet Earth II will be making a case for the marine iguana versus racer snake sequence as one of the most compelling pieces of televisual storytelling in years. I still shudder at the thought of it.

We’ll discuss your favourites in the salon and then I’ll put you to work.  Working in pairs you’ll be given a real life story from a news website and I’ll ask you how, if you were being commissioned you might turn the story into a “based on real events” version.  At the very least you’ll get a sense of how you can get inspiration from the most unlikely source.  Remember, there’s ALWAYS a story to be told.

See you on Monday 16th January at 1930 in the Chalk Room.

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