As I mentioned a little while ago, I took part in a workshop on Monday, in conjunction with the lovely ladies from City of Literature and the makers of the LitLong app. Behold my vaguely coherent thoughts on it.
To be honest, every journey I make into Edinburgh reminds me why I moved back. There’s one bus I take I should have a loyalty card for, that goes past the grim concrete tower blocks of Craigmillar, the looming mass of Arthur’s Seat, and the chaotic studenty jumble of Newington. So it was that I found myself by The Meadows on a chilly Monday morning, wandering to George Square for the LitLong workshop. Like every writerly event I go to, I spent ages angsting over whether I should be there, which was wholly pointless because everybody was so lovely and welcoming. There were poets, nonfiction writers, scientists, students, all sorts of folk. There were copious piles of food. There was also the excellent guidance of Russell Jones, local poet, writer and creative writing tutor, as we wandered round the Old Town with our literary app.
The first thing that struck us was how little we see scurrying along on our errands and deadlines. Looking up from our small screens, it’s amazing what you miss. Look at George Square itself. The rhino head mysteriously embedded in the wall marks the spot where a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was burned. And take Nicolson Square. Part of the university is housed in this marvellous building, the ghostly writing from a long-gone business still visible on the brickwork.
The LitLong app uses a giant database of fiction and non-fiction drawn from many sources, including Project Gutenberg and the National Library of Scotland. Once we’d returned from our literary walk and given our thoughts on the app, Russell led a fascinating workshop on using all our senses in writing. We were given seashells to hold, lemons to taste, recordings of places in Edinburgh to listen to. We were given time to write as we wished, bringing in phrases from the app excerpts if we wanted. I sat down by the window, really worried I was going to keep having the writer’s block that’s plagued me recently, and found myself face-to-face with Arthur’s Seat. One of the first cultural events I went to when we moved up here was a talk by Donald Smith at the Duddingston Festival, all about the myths and legends of the goddamn inescapable volcano in the middle of my city. I got a signed copy of his book, and trotted off to edit the numerous scenes in my novel that take place on Arthur’s Seat. We don’t live far from it, and here it was again, looming over George Square; as one 19th-century engineer put it, it seems ‘perfect witchcraft’.
Looking back at my work, I managed nearly 2,000 words during the workshop. There’s probably at least three short stories, one passage where an old character’s voice comes back, and something that veers perilously close to lit-fic, but more importantly, I reconnected with Edinburgh again. It was like Stories of Home all over again. And that deserved a glass of prosecco or two with my newfound writer pals. Well, alright, quite a few glasses of wine, like the profligate taxpayers’ money-wasting millennials that we are*. And now I have a week to get a story polished up for an anthology, so let’s see what I can come up with. At the very least, I remembered how much I love this jumbled up old town, and that’s got to count for something, right?
* may contain large amounts of sarcasm