Lend Me Your Ears

Lend Me Your Ears

I’ll be leading the Writing Salon at The Hospital Club on Monday 16th October. This month’s topic is speechwriting and oratory. Here’s the full blurb.

Lend me your ears:

I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve decided to skip the news recently. It’s all pretty depressing to be honest. The post-summer blues are well and truly upon us and in a few short weeks the clocks will go back. I don’t know why we bother because the annual party political conference season seems to turn back time all on its own these days and this year has been no exception.

When did these things become so dull? Admittedly the PM did her bit with a performance that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons but other than that the standard of oratory on display was pretty shocking.

So shocking in fact that it got me thinking. When did oratory take such a back seat? It’s not just a UK thing either. Last year’s US Presidential campaign was utterly devoid of anything worth repeating, which is a shame because oratory and politics usually go hand in hand.

On Monday I want to explore that. What can writers learn from the craft of speechwriting and oratory? At some point in your writing career you’ll face a situation in which a character will need to make a speech. It doesn’t have to be a political one delivered at a podium, it could be a few lines delivered to a team of employees, or a last-chance-plea to a lover. But when it comes it’s vital to get it right.

Shakespeare’s work is full of it but it’s something of a dying art these days. On Monday I’ll explain why it shouldn’t be. The principles of speechwriting and oratory go back further than you might think and I’ll draw from the likes of Aristotle and Cicero as we look at how good speeches are constructed. I’ll play some examples from film and TV and I’ll also add in a few from politics. Feel free to bring some of your own too.

Once we’ve looked at the theory and seen a few clips I’ll put you to work. Let’s see if we can produce something uplifting as the nights draw in.

I look forward to seeing you all on Monday 16th October at 19:30 in The Chalk Room.

Don’t forget you can also keep in touch with The Writing Salon in our Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheHospitalClubWritingSalon/

The play’s the thing…

The play’s the thing…

I’ll be leading the Hospital Club Writing Salon on Monday on the subject of what sport and play can teach us about story.  I hope to see some of you there. Here’s the full blurb.

There’s a back to school air about the place at the moment.  Thoughts of summer give way to the inevitable pull of autumn and the new term. But rather than see this as cause for a fit of depression I want us to celebrate it. Or at least examine it.

The end of summer and the return to school has a powerful pull on the senses. It evokes memories of friends, teachers and a shiny new uniform.  For me it conjures up images of sport and of being not very good at it.

If you dipped into the sports pages at all this summer you may have noticed a familiar refrain.  It is often impossible to separate the notion of sport from that of storytelling.  We seem to demand that sport holds up its end of the bargain in our desire to bask in the power of story.  Just observe the national mood when Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were thwarted in their final races. Look no further than Justin Gatlin for a prototype of the pantomime villain.  We project our desire for story onto sport in a way we would never do with business, or politics, although both have plenty of pantomime villains.

Why do we have such a fascination with the story of sport? Not just sport mind you, but “play” in general.  If you’ve been to school, you’ve done sport. Perhaps not very well and perhaps not even with any real desire.  But whatever your experiences there’s a connection to sport and play that conditions us.  It pervades our emotions and that is critical to storytelling.  There’s an argument that it is even critical to our survival.  When does play give way to sport and why should kids have all the fun.  Isn’t “play” as important to adults as to children?  But if so, why?

On Monday I’d like us to do a couple of things.  By all means think about great examples of sport and play in literature, film and television.  But beyond that think about why we project our desire for storytelling onto sport.

There is one story that above all others shows how powerful sport is when it comes to storytelling.  It’s a story that fits the classic man against man, man against the world, man against himself struggle so perfectly that it has become synonymous with both sport and storytelling.  It shows how amazing characters rise above their WANT and come to realise their NEED.  I’ll be using it to show how sport and story go hand in hand.  Heroes, villains, winners, losers, cheers, tears and plenty of fears.  It’s all there.

I’ll be joined this month by Graham Sibley, host of the incredibly successful “Sound of Football” podcast and keen student of both the history and storytelling nature of sport.

…and finally

…and finally

I’ll be leading the Hospital Club Writing Salon on Monday on the subject of dystopian fiction.  I hope to see some of you there. Here’s the full blurb.

You know who I miss? Trevor McDonald.  I miss his “…and finally” segment on the news.  A little light-hearted relief at the end of 30 minutes of death, poverty and suffering.  Watching the news is tough going at the moment.  Hard yards that seem to get harder with each passing Oval Office tweet.

In December’s Writing Salon we discussed the social impact of art, and how art responds in dark times.  On Monday I’d like to discuss one particular aspect of this theme.  Dystopia.

Dystopian fiction is big business.  It’s a massive genre and some of our favourite novels fit squarely inside it.  It’s interesting to reflect that sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have taken a huge leap in recent months as people struggle to make sense of a post-truth world.

So on Monday I’d like us to discuss your favourite examples from this genre, and by all means include 1984 if you wish.  I know many of you plunder this genre regularly so I’m hoping for a lively debate.  What are the tropes of dystopian fiction and what draws you to it?   Over the weekend, in between running or watching the marathon, please take a look at your bookshelves and Kindle library and come armed with the very best that the dystopian fiction genre has to offer.

There is no member submission this month so we’ll be able to devote more time to a practical written exercise.  Working in pairs I’ll be asking you to sketch the outline for a dystopian novel.  After that I’ll buy you a drink.  I guess we might need one.

Also, don’t forget there is still time to send me your draft blogs for the Hospital Club website on the subject of what Brexit means for the creative industry.  Now there’s a dystopian theme!

I’m looking forward to seeing you all at 1930 on Monday 24th April in the Chalk Room.  Drop me a line if you have any questions.

Be Bold For Change

Be Bold For Change

Breaking in to the industry. You hear that all the time. It’s become a mantra. I get the sentiment behind the words but the words themselves have always struck me as misplaced. Misused.

Breaking in is something furtive. Something you do with the lights off. When there’s nobody around. When you can be in and out quickly, anonymously. Illegally.

This is the opening to a blog post I wrote for The Hospital Club on the subject of International Women’s Day. You can read the rest of the post here.

Based on real events

Based on real events

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.

Social impact of art

Social impact of art

The Hospital ClubI’ll be leading the Writing Salon at The Hospital Club on Monday 19th December on the subject of art in dark times.  Here’s the full brief…hope to see you there.

There is not long to go now before we can kiss 2016 goodbye.  Although a slap may be more appropriate than a kiss.  Whatever your feelings about this year I hope you will join me at the Writing Salon on Monday 19th December at 1930.

Despite all that’s happened this year the theme of our festive salon is actually “2016”.  Or more accurately how art captures the mood of the time.  In the outpouring of emotion we’ve all witnessed throughout the year I’ve been struck by the determination of artists to respond by making art.  This is what happens in dark times and so on Monday I would like to explore that.  In due course there will be a flurry of songs, books and films that try and capture 2016, or perhaps a specific part of it.  So between now and Monday I’d like you to scour your bookshelves for your favourite examples of things that capture a particular period in history or that had a significant social impact.  The date is entirely up to you, but I’d like to know why you feel it so perfectly captures the American mid-West in the 1850s, or perhaps 1980s New York City (I’m thinking of Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney for this last one).

Music and film examples are always welcome but let’s try and focus on novels first.  And as usual anything goes here. I’m looking for anything you think captures a mood or a state of mind. So if you feel Bridget Jones does that for the late 90s / early 2000s then feel to bring it along and tell us why.  Let’s try and include everything from “Chick Lit” to “War Poetry”.

As an extra challenge there will be a £1 charity fine for any use of the word “zeitgeist”.  I’ll start the pot off with that mention.

Traditionally at the December Salon we have a competition and this year will be no different.  Actually that’s not true.  It will be different as we’ve developed a brand new competition for you all.  Apologies to those of you who had been saving your “six word short story” entries up all year, but the competition committee outvoted me!

This year we have two options for you to choose from.  Given this email normally comes out on a Friday I’ve given you an extra two days to get creative.

  • 1001 Nights – the challenge is to write the best paragraph of a novel in the style of 1001 Nights (think Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves). There is one rule mind.  No more than 1001 characters.  So about the length of 7 tweets.
  • 12 Days of Christmas – rewrite the popular Christmas song with more modern groupings.  “10 Remainers Moaning”, “8 US States recounting” and replace “5 Gold Rings” with a hearty “NIGEL FARAGE”….that sort of thing.

Please get your entries to me before the salon so I have time to collate them and get copies printed off.

As ever the winner will be decided by popular vote (none of this electoral college nonsense) and prizes will be awarded on the night.

Any questions, please get in touch.  Hope to see you at the salon on Monday 19th December at 1930 in The Hospital Club Chalk Room.