Thursday, 20 July 2017

Louise Doughty - Word Factory Masterclass



Louise Doughty sets up clutching a copy of her own work, Black Water, and a copy of Haruki Murakami short stories. That's when I know the session, in a stifling basement of Waterstones, Piccadilly, will be great. Murakami is master of the short story form, a writer who can persuade my scientist husband to delve into fiction. I'd argue the corner for Louise, that she too is a crafted writer of wonderful stories, with a wealth of experience from novels and shorts through journalism, radio plays and screenplays. This is a woman who knows her work, an early Creative Writing student under Angela Carter at UEA, it took her maybe seven or eight years to find her prose power, and when she did, she didn't stop.

The masterclass is on Where The Narrative Leads - is your short story a moment in time, or could it be more? Could it have the scope of a novel? Louise is fascinated by where the original point of a story exists, where does an idea begin?

Although both her recent books, Apple Tree Yard and Black Water, have very different settings and themes, they both began in the same way. In that space between waking and sleep at the end of the day, with a single image. In Apple Tree Yard, it was the scene of a woman at the Old Bailey giving evidence in her own trial and the feeling she was about to be exposed in a damaging lie. Writing those first two thousand words, Louise sent it to her agent and he asked for a one page synopsis to send to Faber, the book was born.

Louise talks frequently about writing in scenes, her process to write on and leave the balnks that research or emotion will later fill [in square brackets]. Her process is organic, she will write non-chronologically, writing and rewriting a particular scene until it feels right, then lie all the scenes on the floor and re-arrange, cutting some well loved and keeping others in a jigsaw method. Once she has the corners, she can work in from there.

She pays homage to the structure involved in writing a screenplay and illustrates the Syd Field Screenwriter's workbook (I go home and dig out my copy of The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting. John Yorke - Into the Woods - is good too, as is How to Write and Sell The Hot Screenplay by Raindance Writers Lab). Plot points are important, the point when the course of the narrative changes and there is no going back. Think about how the character changes through the story. These can be small or large scale changes.

In both boooks, she had an idea, a picture, of a character in a situation. In Black Water she was a guest at a writers and readers festival in Bali. Set up after the Bali bombings to encourage high end tourists back to the area. Writers came from across the globe on circuitous and cheap routes to be accommodated in luxury hotels with free drinks. Most were off their faces with a mixture of alcohol and jet lag on the first night. Here, Louise lay awake every night in her hut, listening to the unfamiliar noises, creaking, gecko's and monkeys. An image came to her of a man lying awake at night in a hut in rural Indonesia, mortally afraid. He thinks men with Machetes are coming to kill him, but it is his younger self that he is really afraid of. As she wrote the scene into a short story it grew longer and longer, and here she pauses to dwell on the importance of writing your characters full biography. Give them an age and place and work backwards, where are the opportunities for research. Have something that possess you. Start to see everything in ordinary life through the prism of your novel, all becomes noteworthy, it sticks in your head. Write it into the novel. Hence a family holiday to some falls at Yosemite became a scene in Black Water.


It's everything a workshop should be, inspiring, anecdotal and practical. I go away gripped with images from a short story I want to write into scenes and the tools to create a structure to hang them in a novel.

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