Starlings and sunset: the view as I left The Old College
on 10th January after the first day of my new courses

I think it is really useful to go to writing courses or join writing groups. I've said so before. See here, if you don't believe me. See, I was telling the truth. That's the kind of guy I am.

From September to the end of December I was writing with my friends Ali Cocks and Emma each week, always finding that it led me to write something, even on the most mentally barren of days. Little things that it pleased me to write, and things written by my friends that it pleased me to hear.

Then I signed up for two courses, both on a Tuesday, which started in January. Developing A Voice In Writing was taught by Annette Ecuyere and took me through the morning section of this lovely day of creativity; then in the afternoon I would go to Writing In Genre taught by Jemma King. A few of my fellow writers would also be in both classes. Again, I was gently led to the field where I could run free, and rapidly filled a folder of short stories, extracts and story ideas. A few of them have appeared here, usually only the ultra-short experiments. Annette's class led to The Jug and The Runner; in Jemma's class I played with memories and bad words and was led back to The Vampyre as research for a class on the horror genre. The handful of 'proper' short stories I wrote (but haven't posted) will definitely be useful in the future when I come to put together two collections, covering topics as diverse as hurtful relationships with children, cycles of cruelty, and kidnap. What a cheery bugger I am.

Today was the last class for Developing A Voice In Writing; the other course continues for a few weeks. What I get from any of these groups is meeting really nice, talkative, outgoing, creative people with different life stories and styles and all feeding off each other's enthusiasm, guided by exercises and advice from an experienced teacher. We become friends. Critical friends (in the good sense of the C word that I'm allowed to say in public). I really looked forward to the Tuesday each week, and genuinely wanted to hear what the other people wrote and how from the same seed of a task we had all nurtured very different plants. Each week there would be at least one piece created on the spur of the moment or as homework that impressed me, that made me jealous - in a nice way! - that one of the other students had nailed it, come up with something with the right pitch, the right words, the right imagery and emotions. Today I was really impressed when one of my friends in the class read out a piece she'd written about Cinderella waltzing with Prince Charming - not a word wasted, lovely use of phrase, it flowed like a dance as she tried to make believable two people falling in love. Precise dialogue, a touch, a promise, it was hot stuff, I jokingly flapped my papers and said it gave me the vapours. Many other pieces from the course have stuck in my mind; and since a person complained that one of my pieces gave her bad dreams, I imagine it worked both ways.

Still, the second class on genre continues, so Tuesdays will still be a day when I can crack my creative knuckles and buckle down. Study of genre is useful: not just for writing a whole work in that genre, but because inevitably it will be useful for individual scenes in a longer work. You may never plan to write a comedy, but could well want to pen a comic scene in some other literary work. Understanding detective fiction could help with the mystery sub-plot in your next novel, and so on.

The timing for all these courses couldn't have been better, because I've had some incredibly useful and honest feedback from my current literary editor and have much more work to do on Soft Collisions than I realised! By the time both courses finish I will be knee deep in editing and re-writing and hard thinking (that thing when non-writers accuse you of doing nothing but chewing your pen, unable to realise that whole worlds are probably being shuffled around in your god-like cranium). Hopefully many of the lessons from these courses will be fresh in my mind, and aid that process.

Oh, I took rum truffles in to the classes today and they were very well received. Chocolate plus sparking creativity plus friends equals one definition of a good time.