Not your usual start to a blog post, right?
Well this is no ordinary blog post. This is the first in a series of three special posts in which I have the privilege of publishing the collective works of the merry band of writers, of which I was one, who attended a workshop by Leonora Rustamova at Wentworth in May. The Wentworth weekend is organised by The National Association of Writers' Groups and you can read my post on the entire weekend HERE.
The workshop took place on the Sunday morning of the retreat. There were around 15 of us in attendance and we engaged in two writing exercises. We each read out our pieces and there was some great work there. It’s amazing how words can just tumble onto a page one minute and then dry up the next. On this particular day, the words were tumbling, cascading and even pirouetting from our pens and onto the paper. As these little gems were being read out and we were laughing and clapping each other along, it struck me that so many such pieces are produced in workshops and then stuffed into a notebook or file, never to be seen again. When Leonora voiced what I was thinking, I knew what I had to do - I had to publish these literary saplings, together, as a consolidated piece of work by the Wentworth Writers. There are, though, too many words for one single post so I’m splitting it into three.
This is the first.
Leonora gave us a letter. A fat, buttery letter!
Actually it was a copy of a letter penned by Hollywood screenwriter, Robert Pirosh, in 1934. He ditched his job as a copywriter in New York and moved to Hollywood. But he needed to get his foot in the door in a city full of people all trying to get their extremities into the same aperture. So what did he do? He sent out his c.v. attached to one of the most effective cover letters ever written. I would dearly love to reproduce it here but I am uncertain of its copyright status, although it can be read on the Guardian’s website by clicking HERE.
If you have a spare few minutes and have any interest in writing, or indeed job application letters (!), I urge you to take a look. It will also make sense of the pieces which follow. The letter is unconventional and breaks many rules of etiquette but perfectly demonstrates the writer’s suitability for the screenwriting job in question.
Our task was to write an application letter in the same vein, although we sought only to emulate the style of writing; clearly we could not achieve the same thing as Pirosh given that none of us were seeking to use the medium of a letter to inherently demonstrate our suitability for a job involving words...
This is what we produced. Bear in mind that these pieces were written in 15 minutes and have not been reworked.
First up is Anne. Please take a deep breath, relax your shoulders and absorb her beautiful words.
I like art. I like to see through the eyes of others.
I like rough, elemental sketches, lush huge canvases of people and places, and every art form in between.
I like to be taken aback by a scene reduced to sparse lines and a view suggested by mere smears of colours juxtaposed to take me to a place I have seen, or one I would love to see.
I like the intricate building of a landscape or cityscape in such exquisite detail that makes it impossible to take in the the view in one viewing.
I like to be outraged by a picture that represents a person or a place in a way foreign to me, I like the conversation evoked.
I like to be taken aback by superb skills and to be blown over by the deceptively child-like simplicity of some work.
I like to return and return to a picture to learn more and yet more.
I love Hockney and Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Andy Goldsworthy and Dan Viola, and am unreasonably excited by a very small child’s first recognisable drawing.
I need to read so that I can live more lives than mine. I need to visit art works for the very same reason.
Please let me work in your wonderful gallery.
I called my collection of poetry and photographs ‘Casting for Words’ as that is what I seem to spend so much time doing. Finding the best word I can. Reading is an essential part of my life and a wonderful source of ideas and...words.
Photographs help capture the moment and can sometimes illustrate a poem.
My book should soon be available.
Holmfirth Writers’ Group and The National Association of Writers’ Groups are a wonderful support and I value both as great friendship groups.
At Wentworth Castle in May, I enjoyed the company of writers and inspiring workshops.
I doodle as I listen. It really does concentrate my mind.
Just whatever I have in my hand.
I once drew a jazz group on a Sunday paper. In biro. It drew me into the music.
Leonora shared some brilliant letters and asked us to write letters of application.
Above is my plea for a dream job.
I really want it now...
I like photographs.
I like grainy, vivid, high definition, monochrome photographs that are splashed across newspapers to show the dramas of the world.
I like glossy, ten-by-eight fashion photos. All soft filters and luxurious colours draping across magazines.
I like surreal abstractions of fantasy worlds - of fish driving cars and twenty-foot dragonflies - constructed lovingly in photographic enlargers and appearing in a dish full of developer, waiting to be fixed and hung out to dry.
Man Ray was the way to go, and we all followed. Today Photoshop will create his images in seconds, with the same impact but without the heart and soul.
I like pixel heavy super-images, filling walls of galleries, skin pores standing out in twenty-foot masterpieces. Photo realism as never before.
But I am a traditionalist. I like the tug of 35mm film as you wind it on to the next frame, huddling in darkened cupboards struggling to find the top of a developing tank, sitting in the soothing glow of a safety light 100% absorbed in the physicality of processing film.
Which probably means I don’t want your job and would rather lock myself away in the peace and quiet of a darkroom.
When I left school I got a job in a textile mill. I saved my wages so I could buy a Zenith SLR camera, an enlarger, developing tank and processing trays. Using blackout material to cover the windows (donated by the mill I worked at) I then spent many hours taking over the bathroom and developing black and white photographs. This became an obsessive hobby for many years, and I loved watching the images slowly appear in the developer - almost like magic.
Time moves on, teaching took up much of my time, and today I have a digital camera, downloading the images into a computer - but nothing matches the excitement of being shut away in a darkroom, sitting under a red safety lamp and being totally absorbed in the creative process.
I like travelling. I like travelling Europe. I like travelling the world. I like travelling to challenging countries.
I really like Arizona cacti. I like their round, plump, spiny, succulent parts, their delicate flowers that turn into edible fruits is some cases giving us cactus jelly and bonbons. I like the dear little elegant cactus wren who builds her home in a cactus void. I like the fact that the Saguaro blooms after midnight and closes mid-afternoon.
I like Africa and Africans especially the strong African women. I am fascinated by the dusty, curry smelling unkempt streets; loud African music bellowing out from doorways, street parties and buxom women clad and swathed in intoxicatingly vivid fabrics. I like the colour, shape, smells and textures of Africa. I like the fresh fruit and veg markets and constant chatter and battering.
I like United Arab Emirates for its indescribable heat, gold sculptured sand dunes and dune buggies, camel trains and Bedouin camps. I like the tailors, beauty parlours and the outrageous fun of visiting the grog shop. I like the smell of a shisha bar, pungent coffee houses and real hummus.
I like my travels to Europe for the rich fabric of culture. I like the beaches salty air, seaweed, beach combing and the sound ofebbing and waning of these beaches of paradise. I like watching the glorious sunsets and magnificent sunrises; clifftop walks and the flora and fauna. I like the city sights as well as remote country escapes.
I like all these destinations for their culture, diversity, life, people, food and of course a good glass of wine or a delicious cocktail.
I like travel writing and travel photography much better than social work.
Is there an amazing and exotic destination your delightful magazine would like me to visit and review?
My passport is current and ready to go.
Leonora Rustamova teaches Creative Writing at Swarthmore College, University of Huddersfield and is an editor at Blue Moose books. In fact, she edited a rather special book, The Gallows Pole, by Benjamin Myers, which has just won the prestigious Walter Scott prize for historical fiction, although she is so modest I have had to add this into her bio myself. Her workshop was so much fun - if you are looking for someone to run a writing workshop for any ability, then you can’t go far wrong with Leonora. The only problem is that you have to track her down first...
The Gang - this is us doing the exercise...
If you've read this far, thank you. I also want to thank those who have allowed me to publish their work. It takes courage to share your writing and we should applaud everyone who takes that step.
I've loved putting this post together and, happily for me, there's more to come. Watch this space (or, even better, sign up for email updates). This blog is small but these words deserve to be read so please help by sharing with your friends.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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