VG in Wien: The Workshop

Am just telling life to slow down a bit so I can share with you my super time hosting Vanessa Gebbie, a writer I´ve known for yonks on the net – we nearly overlapped in our early writing days in Alex Keegan´s online Boot Camp – but had never met in person.

Writers’ Studio, Vienna

I felt I knew her so well that I forget to give her my address and just said I´d pick her up at Vienna airport on Wednesday night. I started panicking when I got no reply to my sms messages – still haven´t worked that one out, or maybe a case of mixing Apple with Orange – but the phone worked and she´d been getting my text messages so knew I was coming.

But I´d been thinking, what if she´d given up waiting, where would she sleep? The Writers´ Studio where she was to start the first of her series of four workshops the following morning? Crikey! I hadn´t given her that address either.

But life worked out and Vanessa was duly transported to my souk where the woodfire was making things snuggly warm. And the next morning, off we went to the workshop.

Tilly, the NIP

I had intended to wing it, chill out, take things in, take things easy. No way. Opus 1, started 20 years ago and now weighing in at almost 100K words, yelled for attention. It was, after all, a workshop to re(start) that novel! I gave in. I was scared. Tilly (working title) was so comfortable at home on my various hard disks.

We were three participants: A was writing in English to then write in German and was starting a novel from scratch. She had many ideas for a novel. Which one would be the one? B was well on the way, and writing in German. But whose story was it? And me, C? I was all over the place with four different beginnings, two different timelines, faction and fict, a mess.

Vanessa started each morning of the three and a half hour sessions with warming up exercises similar to freewriting, but in the skin of one of the characters. Then she shared craft and insights into her own experience when writing The Coward´s Tale, her internationally acclaimed novel, which was about to have its first birthday. (Her blogpost on the birthday shows how life goes on.)

But because we were all such different writers at different stages in our work, Vanessa ended up giving three different workshops that interacted seamlessly with the one advertised, giving individual attention to each of our projects and their needs. It all came together. We looked at characters, voice, voices, rhythm (Vanessa even catching the rhythm of texts read in German which were subsequently translated), beginnings, endings. We learnt how to give feedback that was caring and useful.

How did it end? Well, we were all happy if knackered, but in that exhilerating way of knowing where to go from here. A found her story, and a super one it is. B discovered another voice to enrich her already intriguing story and unlocked more aspects of it. C went sailing and through that experience found a timeline on which to hang all the bits of Tilly that hitherto had been, you guessed it, all over the place.

Would I do it again? Yes. It was a terrific workshop and, speaking purely selfishly,  I´m so glad we were just three participants. Yet, if others in Vienna had dared, taken the risk, simply asked: Do I have to write in English? (The answer probably would have been:  No. Just undertsand what I say, share, write.) there would have been more participants and from what I experienced, I´m sure Vanessa Gebbie would have been able to adapt her workshop to all needs. Writers take risks. So do good teachers. Hey, with a bit of luck, she may swing over again.  If so, my souk is hers.

Big TA, Vanessa! I´m now off to chat with some sailors. They´re already manning the boats to rescue Tilly;)