Discovering What You Love: Creative Writing
We’re proud to say the teachers that provide our discounted creative writing courses in London – Ardella and Jo – fulfilled the ultimate job fantasy. Dissatisfied with what they were doing, they realised there was a way to do it with less bureaucracy and hoop-jumping and more freedom, flexibility and from a bar with comfy sofas – essentially, the dream. So they went for it. After two decades working in Further Education, they formed Chalk the Sun in order to satisfy themselves professionally and also provide their students with the best possible learning experience they could offer.
Since they’ve executed this so beautifully, we caught up with Ardella to have her tell us what she thinks about letting go of what dissatisfies you and discovering what you really love.
TasterLab: What do you love and find fulfilling about your business? How do you think the majority of your students would answer this question?
Ardella: I love seeing students make progress, gain confidence and generally blossom. I enjoy the variety of work they produce and the wide range of ideas. I think most students enjoy discovering that they do have something worth saying in their writing and that they can improve. They are often surprised at how talented they are. Our classes are very sociable too so students enjoy meeting new people and taking part in new activities like acting in a play written by one of their classmates or performing their poetry in public.
TL: What you say to someone thinking about pursuing writing as a hobby? What are the challenges? What are the rewards?
A: Getting started in the first place and feeling confident enough to experiment with writing is perhaps the hardest part... We all feel uncertain about our talents and shy about what we write - any mention of sex and we feel as if Mum is reading over our shoulder. Joining a class really helps because you can get feedback from a professional - friends and family usually judge one's writing by quantity not quality, "You wrote all that!?" You gain confidence and gradually develop your own editorial judgment. Other new writers who share your problems can support, encourage and inspire you. New writers often find when sharing their work that what they thought was ordinary and based on their boring old experiences is absolutely fascinating to someone else. Finishing your first story and hearing other people's positive comments is a great feeling, seeing your first piece in print is even better.
TL: How has writing and teaching enriched your life and the lives of your students?
A: Earning my living as a writer has meant that I've been able to travel around West Africa, Asia and the Caribbean as a journalist often interviewing great musicians like reggae artist Sly Dunbar; I have almost been arrested for espionage on several occasions and I had a scary time in Jamaica when a motorist pulled a gun on me in the middle of Kingston because of my alleged bad driving but he decided not to shoot me when I waved my credentials from The Sunday Observer at him - I'm not sure quite why that worked, maybe he was a keen reader! Many of our students have made life-long friends from coming to classes, some have changed careers and become professional writers or undertaken degrees in literature or creative writing, and others have just had lots of fun.
Here’s a testimonial from Writers’ Room student ‘spider man’ Jim Sanderson, 67
”A former pupil of Ardella, when I heard of the grand plan for Chalk the Sun my immediate reaction was one of terror, way out of my depth, never would I survive in such exalted company. After all I am only a simple steel erector, more comfortable with a podger* than a pen. More manual than mental if you get my drift*. I need not have worried; Jo and Ardella cater for each individual need. How they managed to tap into something I never thought I possessed, I’ll never know. This dedicated duo’s a class act, always there to point you in the right direction with lots of help and encouragement. After three years, I still find it a joy to be in class, a real feel good factor. I go home fired up and on a high!”
Glossary podger* – spanner, drift*- tapered steel pin.
TL: What would you say to someone to encourage them to try new things?
A: You never really know what you can do until you try and creative writing is no exception. Most people think their writing is rubbish until they see how much other people enjoy reading it. Finding out how to make it even better is a fascinating journey. It's a pretty low risk activity to try too - just words on a bit of paper - it can't go horribly wrong like, for example, bungee jumping could, yet it can take your reader to strange, new places and potentially change the life of the writer - look at JK Rowling.
If you're interested in checking out Chalk the Sun for yourself, we have discounted tasters available for their group creative writing workshop and their workshop on writing fiction for children. Both are only £10, three-hours long and meet in South London.
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