Huntly used to be called ‘Milton of Strathbogie’, believe it or not. And there’s not much more I can say about that without getting into trouble somewhere. This was to be the site of the inaugural Bearded Write-ist Does An Workshop, with associated finger sandwiches and dancing. So off to Huntly we did go.
It’s a granite-grey town about eight centimetres away from our house (according to our 2005 RAC Road Atlas Britain), built around a central square full of French merchants. Or at least it was on Saturday – the Huntly Deveron Arts Halloween Festival was in full swing, and to mark the occasion there was a continental market in town. If you’ve never been to one, they’re great. All these stallholders come across from Europe (mostly France) to sell sausages, salamis, cheese, cheap leather goods, vegetables, and in this case – skimpy lingerie.
What the hell were they thinking? Red lace bustiers, thongs and suspender belts? In late October? In Huntly? Hell, in Scotland? Surprisingly enough they weren’t exactly doing a roaring trade. I only saw two people go anywhere near the stand, and both of them were in their mid seventies. A pair of auld wifies, oot fingerin’ the naughty knickers and wondering if the blue, puce, or royal purple would go better with their varicose veins. Mmm, sexy!
And I’d like to know how these stallholders can come all the way over from the continent and sell fresh, ripe tomatoes that actually taste of tomato, when our supermarkets are selling things that look like tomatoes, but are in fact nasty, hard balls of pink cotton wool. Bastards.
Anyway, the much vaunted workshop was to take place in the Brander Library, which is an impressive building when not hidden behind a cheese stall and an opportunity to dress up as a fireman. I was in a wee room on the first floor previously used for skeleton drawing. And, as if that wasn’t enough to get excited enough, there were actually people waiting for me.
I’d been certain my audience would consist of two old ladies (possibly wearing newly-purchased kinky upholstery) an old mannie and his dog. One of whom would have dreadful wind. But no – these were real life, genuine people. About a dozen of them. And so we began...
Being an organised kind of bloke I’d managed to produce some handouts: the mind map I’d used to write short story number five from ‘the 12 Days of Christmas’, a list of books and websites I use for reference when I’m writing, and the first page of another shortie of mine – pre-edit. So far so good. Or at least 'not yet disastrous', which is near enough.
The idea was to go through everything from getting ideas to getting published. In an hour and a half. This was my first mistake. There would be more.
For the ideas bit I wanted to pick up a copy of that day’s Press and Journal, scope out three possible starting points and then get everyone there to vote on one to take into the planning stage. Turned out I didn’t need to: the 2005/06 edition of ‘Huntly Matters’ was being handed out in the square as part of the market. It’s more of council mission statement than anything else, but it did have some great quotes in it, peppered about to break up the ‘enabling statements’ and ‘proactive leveraging’. My favourite was: "WHAT HUNTLY PEOPLE SAY... ‘What about a non-alcohol based youth club for kids to hang out?’"
So... the norm is for alcohol-based youth clubs? Eh? WTF? But it lead off into a good discussion of the drink problem in Huntly and then to murders, accidents, criminal assaults and suicides. Which was enlightening – Huntly doesn’t look like a den of violence and vice. Except for those two old ladies in their peephole bras. We took a real life criminal assault as the basis for a story and mind-mapped the arse off it. Then it was on to characters and minimising coincidences and the second lead balloon of the day: WRITING.
“So,” says Stuart, picking someone at random (the only other man in the room), “How do you go about your writing.” There’s a small embarrassed pause, then he admits that he doesn’t. He’s here because the theatre group he’s with want to do a film and think it’d be a good idea to write it down first. Bit of chat and everything seems back on course again. Mistake number three – Stuart asks someone how they write dialogue. The answer: “I sit down and write it.” Accompanied by a look that may or may not be contempt. Stuart gives his best smile and talks about reading dialogue out loud to make sure it doesn’t sound like stereo instructions. A good recovery, but 'the look' remains for the rest of the session.
And then it was editing – I’d thought this would be the second best bit of the workshop (after the planning), going through that pre-edit page of shortie and asking people how they’d make it better. Then explaining the changes I’d made when it came to the second draft. Didn't quite go how I'd expected. But no one threw anything and we got a pretty good discussion on style V grammatical correctness going.
Not long after that Claudia from Deveron Arts stuck her head round the door and politely told me I was out of time, and the skeleton people wanted back in to do some more still deaths. So I went into a quick five minute dash about Agents. There was a distinct level of surprise when I launched into the old ‘beware of shyster bastards who want you to pay them money’ speech.
It’s a shame the thing had to finish when it did, because instead of going out on a song, or at least the more positive aspects of being published, we had to stop with: ‘people who ask for your money are not your friends!’ I would have liked it to have ended on a more upbeat note than it did. My fault for not managing the time better.
So, if you want to know how it went – no idea. I can honestly say that I learned a few things, not sure if anyone else came away with anything useful, but I hope so. Next time I’ll do better.
Presuming anyone else is daft enough to ask.