Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Writers' Wednesday - Workshops

This week Kate Walker is talking about the extra special benefits that can be gained from attending a writing workshop - for both the students and the teacher.

Last Friday I gave a workshop. It was part of Guildford Book Festival where I'd already been asked to appear on a panel celebrating Mills & Boon's 100th birthday and then, later, the organisers asked me if I would do a workshop as well.

So at 3pm on Friday I was in the Old Billiard Room of the Guildford Institute, trying to work out the best possible way to arrange the tables and chairs so that everyone could see each other, they could all see the flip chart where I would write notes, and they all had a good view of the Overhead Projector so they could see the transparencies too.

It wasn't easy. It was a long, narrow room, and we weren't quite sure just how many people would be coming. 21 tickets had been sold, several other people had put their names down, and there is always someone who turns up on spec, in the hope of getting in. But for me it's important not to set up a workshop as if it was a schoolroom - and if people are looking at the back of other people's heads then they don't talk and as far as I'm concerned talking is part of the fun - and the importance of a workshop.

Workshops can be tricky things. Too many people and you can't get to know anyone or talk to anyone - and very few people get a chance to contribute. Too few and there are few ideas to bounce around, or, even worse, no one speaks, no one answers a question, or offers any sort of a suggestion. Because that talking, commenting, suggesting, joining in, is what makes the difference between a workshop and a lesson - or just plain reading a How To Guide.

I've done quite a lot of workshops - more than usual this year because of the M&B Centenary celebrations. In July I was in Hale, Manchester, May it was Lincoln. Most events are a couple of hours but I also run weekend workshops and teach a five session course at Writers' Holidays at Caerleon. As I've mentioned on here before, sometimes other writers ask why I run them. It tales up time and energy - and some even see it as 'training up the opposition'! Caerleon ->

But the great thing about a workshop - for me as the tutor as well as (hopefully) for the students attending, is that talking. When I do writing exercises with the group, I want them to join in, to offer suggestions, to discuss, debate . .. share. One of the exercises I do involves the group working together on creating a hero and heroine for the day.This is usually preceded by discussing what makes a good story and the responses are very consistent there - pace, tension, conflict, and always, always, sympathetic characters - particularly the hero and heroine. Then when we move on to creating the H&h, everyone has very different opinions. I show them all the same photographs to use as inspiration and almost everyone comes up with something different.

This happened at Guildford. We had a really mixed group, including five men which is the hiughest number of guys attending a workshop that I've ever had. And the age range was from mid twenties to one of those men who later told me he was 79. And there again is one of the reasons why workshops are so much fun, so interesting - and so stimulating for me as a tutor not just the class. With a range of ages, backgrounds, sexes, you get a chance to get some very different perspectives on what makes a romance - the types of people who should be heroes and heroines. And that makes you think. Well, it makes me think anyway. It shakes up my personal assumptions that a hero is A, B , C or a heroine X Y and Z. When everyone is joining in and sharing their opinions, you get new ideas, new perspectives. That's how on Friday we ended up with a drunken, catholic, skydiving, veterinary nurse(small animal specialist), doormat, man-hungry heroine who was matched with a three-handed dishwasher in an Italian restaurant. (Don't ask! You had to be there to get the 3 handed bit!)

I went to Guildford with my latest book on my editor's desk and the need to create a whole new story, complete with new hero and heroine nagging at my thoughts. And working with the group, coming up with possible storylines for the unique - and slightly eccentric - characters who emerged started my own imagination firing overtime. OK, so perhaps I won't actually be writing about a 3 handed dishwasher - or a vetinary nurse with a drink problem! (I can just see my editor coming over faint at the prospect) - but there were ideas and elements of the discussion that started me off on intriguing trains of thought - and kept me asking myself my favourite writing question - you know - the one that goes 'Why . . .?'

And that's one of my personal reasons for giving workshops. Yes, I have written the 12 Point Guide and a workshop gets the book and its details in front of potential buyers, but there's more to it than that. Because workshops don't just benefit and stimulate the students. I had another unique experience on Friday when one of the students said she had to go home at the tea break time because her head was buzzing with so many ideas she just had to write them down. That's how I can feel too when I come home from teaching . The discussion, the questions and answers, the laughter and the serious debates, all spark of my own ideas every bit as much as I hope they do for the students.

And that can only be done so wonderfully face to face. So yes, giving a workshop takes up time and energy - but it also repays me in so many ways. I get to talk about writing, about the genre that I love, and I get to spark ideas talk about them too - and all of that ses my mind fizzing and thinking and planning . . .and asking the question why.

So if you get a chance to go to a workshop, grab at it if you can. Even if it's perhaps not in exactly the sort of genre you want to write. One of the problems of being a writer is the isolation, the solitary life at home, in front of the computer, with only your own ideas of what makes a hero or a heroine, or what sort of a romance works for you. The give and take, debate - and the laughter - in a good workshop is a great way to deal with that isolation and open up your mind to new ideas, new themes. new characters.

And if you suddenly see a spate of 3 handed dishwashers meeting drunken veterinary nurses in romances in the future - then you'll know that the author was at my workshop in Guildford!

Kate is taking a break from workshops for a while but she'll be teaching on a couple of courses in Wales, one in February and one in July 2009. If you're interested you can find the details here

Kate's latest book, Bedded By the Greek Billionaire is on sale now in the UK (M&B Modern) and will be out in the USA in Presents in November.

Romantic Times called this book "a delicious melodrama full of dizzying emotions as the reader goes along with the highs and lows as this couple finds each other again," and they also selected it as one of their Top Picks for November.


  1. Kate, great post! Bedded by the Greek Billionaire, lovely romance and so full of passion and the promise of "home"! Plus that cover......beautiful.

  2. Dear Kate,

    The workshop at Guildford was brilliant fun and all the aspiring authors must have gone away buzzing with ideas and encouragement--I certainly did. It's great to know you came away with some inspiration too.

    Ooh but you work hard doing these things, Kate. Not only dealing with us lot for a couple of hours, but all that material to shift around Guildford in a short space of time and the parking...UG.

    Hurrah for the BM and his muscles I say!!

    Lots of love,


  3. Kate your workshop sounded brilliant fun! And as one of your workshop attendees in the past I can vouch for what a brilliant teacher you are so I'm sure you've inspired a whole load of new M&B or Romance Novel authors...
    x Abby

  4. Kate,
    Guilford sounded great fun and I wish I could have been there. I have attended the weekend workshops in Fishguard and will be looking forward to going again in February and would like to tell anyone thinking of enrolling to do so as I have been helped so much in my quest to write romantic fiction by attending workshops.
    Loved your latest book Kate,
    All the best,

  5. Kate - wish I could jet over to England (I live in the US) for one of your workshops - they sound like a lot of fun and are good for juicing up the brain!

    I do have your book and find it very helpful! Love your romances -although I admit to hating the titles that Presents insists upon!!