Monday, September 10, 2007

The book everybody likes hasn't yet been written. - Kevin MacNeil

I am still buzzed from the weekend. Shetland hosted a film and book festival (called Screenplay and Wordplay respectively) which was fantastic. On Saturday I got to participate in an excellent workshop with Kevin MacNeil. MacNeil has written every genre and type of book/play/poem out there, and has a keen eye for detail and using all 5 senses to transport the reader deep into the story. He had everyone in the room write a 400-word Flash Fiction piece, using one of the following perimeters: a) A dream you remember; b) The last time you thought, 'wow'; c) Your first ever memory. He gave us about 40 minutes to write, and less than half turned up for the second part of the workshop. The outcome was interesting, as the group was filled with people from every walk of life imaginable on this small island, from fishermen to doctors to teachers to elderly ladies who publish poems in the local newspaper. The stories were all of a similar vein, however, and dealt with memories, not dreams. Perhaps dreams are too private to share, or too difficult to translate into words. I read mine first; my voice wavering and my hands shaking. I don't like reading aloud, not my work, not to strangers. It feels like an intrusion.

In a place as small as Shetland, it's easy to truly feel the vibe of greatness oozing from people like Iain Banks and Denise Mina and Kevin MacNeil. I saw many readings in this two-day event, and each author took the time to answer questions both in front of the group and afterward. I've been to numerous book festivals where the authors are cattle-prodded through reading and signing and reading and signing, and Shetland was refreshingly void of all pretense. The authors all stayed in the hotel next to our flat, and I was even invited to a drinking sesh last night with the heavyweights (which I respectfully declined, knowing my knees were shaking enough when meeting Iain Banks let alone having a beer with him. I would spill it on his shoes.).

It's weird being star-struck by writers who are keen to know about your own quest for your writing voice. In America, I often felt that other writers were more concerned about the competitive nature of publishing and marketing than of nurturing the writers within. And festivals are often so huge that they feel contrived. This was a good weekend for me, to be around writers who are keen to hear about the successes and pitfalls of those of us new to this animal. I had some great conversations with people who have made this scribbling their careers, and all of them were positive, encouraging, and eager to help with contacts in the UK should I stay here long-term.

Saturday night we were all invited to a ceilidh (kay-lee for y'all non-Gaelic speakers) in the south of the island. The hospital pharmacist and his wife told all the junior docs and medical students (and, by default, me) to come down for the dance and to crash at their charming croft house by the sea. We were less than half the age of most of the attendees, and once they were used to us, they welcomed us with open arms and feet. The band played traditional ceilidh music, with fiddle, guitar, accordion and drums, and the number of dances filled an A4 piece of paper. Of course we joined in - and once the regulars knew that we were all pathetic, they were kind enough to guide us all through it. All in all a fantastic evening of traditional Shetland music and dancing.

Weekends like this are why I was so excited to move here.


Zain said...

Just a wee note about your first book worries - Quite a few authors have re-written their first book once they are a few books down the line and have honed their skills. So all is not lost if your first work is not as perfect as you want it to be. So chin up regarding those fears because you've always got to be your own hardest critic and you've gotta start somewhere!

Isla said...

What a great weekend for you. So glad you were brave enough to do the reading - how utterly terrifying!! Also, I'm pretty sure I've heard Keven MacNeil read on the radio before and I really liked his stuff. Jealous that you were there. Keep up the good work. x