Hello Empty Nest – Hello new challenges!
Your children, Edwina and Cuthbert, as we have lovingly named them, have now settled in at Readingham University, they have overcome first term flu, knuckled down to some work and may even have cooked a hot meal or two. In the meantime, after the initial spell of weepiness you have got used to the peace and quiet, the fact that your living room remains tidy for more than 24 hours. And you are looking at the many positives this change in your set up can mean.
Behold – The time of a lighter hand of parenting has begun. Let’s make the most of it and embrace new challenges. And what better time than right now to enrol in the University of the Empty Nest?
From creative writing courses via fresh water swimming,cooking, dog training to kite surfing the choices are vast and varied. There really is no better time to start something new, entirely for yourself. Especially as there are no kids around who may think your attempts at kayaking is in any way embarrassing which comes in perfect combination with that bonus of middle age: we care less what other people think! Plus, any hour spent not watching TV has got to be an hour well spent. I never got that whole boxset thing anyway. As part of this blog I will report back from some new (for me) activities, to give you a taster.
To begin with, there is the course which was the impetus for this here blog: a creative writing course. Because about a year ago I found myself next to my clever buddy, Cambridge alumni Lily driving through the night (okay, early evening but you know how it feels after the clocks change) to Madingley Hall to take part in a Flash Fiction course run by the Institute of Continuing Education http://www.ice.cam.ac.uk/courses/madingley-weekly.
I have to be honest here, I had no clear idea what Flash Fiction was before I enrolled on this course, but it sounded short, shorter than Short Stories even, and because I knew I didn’t really have a novel in me that needed releasing, I thought it was a genre worth further exploration. So my Lily and I set off on five Monday nights to learn about Flash Fiction. As we expected there was the slightly awkward self-introduction of the participants and the much less awkward introduction of the lively instructor. We then swiftly went on to reading various pieces of flash fiction and discussing them and later on trying some writing exercises in class.
Possibly the most famous piece of flash fiction is by Ernest Hemingway:
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
Lydia Davis is another author who surpasses at flash fiction pieces, such as:
Almost over : what’s the word?
‘ When I first met you
I didn’t think you would turn out to be
You get the idea. For more examples click here.
It was very enjoyable to be challenged in this new direction. It got better. We were given homework to enter on a secure forum for the participants and the teacher of our course. Homework – How exciting! We nervously added our pieces and then even more nervously read any comments put up by other participants.
This is when it emerged that some participants were old hands at this creative writing group game, who had a tendency to view themselves as critics. An unexpected aspect of proceedings, although I have since learned that this is not unusual. Lily and I both come from a teaching background and were a bit surprised that it wasn’t, in fact, the teacher of the class who gave detailed, meaningful feedback.
What tended to happen was something like this:
Feedback A: Such a lovely piece of writing, Lily. I particularly enjoyed the description of the thunderstorm.
Feedback B: Very witty, I love an unexpected ending.
Feedback from self-appointed literary critic: A lovely attempt, I wonder if the plot may have worked better if you had written from the perspective of the mule in the thunderstorm, rather than the main character?
Or: Intriguing! This story is such a great puzzle – or maybe I’m missing something obvious?
Friends who have taken such classes or have experience of a MA in Creative Writing assure me that this is what happens in creative writing classes, the group members are the critics, in a way representing your real-life readership. Once you get to know your fellow group members better, you work out whose criticism you take on board, and who just doesn’t get your writing.
Whilst ‘critiquing’ our unpublished critic gave Lily and I endless conversational fodder for the car journeys home it didn’t distract from the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed the course. The challenge of looking at writing as a craft was real and very absorbing. It reminded me of notebooks that I filled with stories as a ten-year old, and diaries filled with the philosophies of a teen, a re-discovery coming just at the right time for this Empty Nester!
My first course at the University of the Empty Nest was a success. Now on to the next modules: Kayaking, fresh water
swimming, Italian lessons and dog training. I will report back! And if you feel like suggestion some other activities to try (within reason) – feel free!