Well! The Master Class has happened, and as promised now is the time to write about it. Basically it was fascinating.

Firstly Mr Kureishi himself… quite an aura about him, commanding and incisive, and not afraid to let a silence linger in the air, but at the same time willing to squeeze the group just hard enough to get the olive pip to release its oil. That’s a flowery way to say it but I think it describes the experience very well. The class was made up of an assortment of characters including myself, approximately twelve of us sitting in a stretched semi circle on black swivel chairs. The class was a combination of writers who wrote quite a bit in the past, writers that are writing now but not creatively, myself writing my first novel, and others exploring creative writing for the first time. Mr Kureishi sat at one end, near the door of the small office room of Somerset House, and I found myself (at a distance) sitting opposite him.

I can’t remember quite how it happened but Hanif asked the group about what they felt were the barriers to writing. Slowly but surely members offered up their fears, and allot of the answers were really interesting. The fear of being misunderstood, not feeling that one’s writing was of value, who was the writer writing for, and should the writer be writing for anyone at all, not knowing where to start or find the right words etc. What emerged from this, especially with Hanif being very generous describing his own struggles, was what a risky business being a writer is.

I offered to the group that I found writing a very liberating experience, allowing me to paint with words, and that writing was a voyage into the unknown with many unexpected surprises (like suddenly inventing something you never knew your were going to create) … I felt I was running the risk of being shot down on this or being seen as a ‘willow the whisp’ type of character, but my observation was generously supported by both the group and Kureishi. He told us that that’s exactly how it should feel, and that writing a good book is about a series of shocks and surprises that keeps the reader engaged. He mentioned with his own work using the example of My Beautiful Launderette, that it was a complete shock when the two male characters of the famous screen play started kissing. It was a revelation to him which totally changed the narrative. Said screen play went on to be nominated for several prestigious awards including an Oscar. Hearing little things like that give me extra comfort that I’m on the right track with my writing, and although I had already excepted the surprises, it was very reassuring to know that it was a thing that should be happening and just continue to go with it.

What was most interesting of all in the session was hearing other people’s writing. After an hour or so, Hanif gave us a 45 minute project to create a character, we were to wonder around Somerset House and to come back with something, some words to describe and bring them to life. It was a challenge that got my heart beating, and I spent the first 20 minutes of the exercise drinking a coffee and eating a slice of Carrot cake. I decided to write about a corrupt Catholic Cardinal I created called Andrea Marco Osini (middle name now Pietro which was my original choice but I was not a 100% sure if it was a valid Italian name). I literally had to make him up on the spot because he is one of the characters from my novel that I have not fully met yet, I was expecting to write about him in more depth next month while away on my research trip, but the time pressure of the 45 minute exercise meant that we had to be ‘formally introduced’ and this introduction was then shared with the group. Explaining to the group, that this was just a vignette, without a wider narrative context here’s what I managed to come up with:

‘The Corrupt Cardinal’

Cardinal Andrea Marco (Pietro) Osini, a ruthlessly ambitious Cardinal of middle age wishing to unseat Pope Urban VIII from his papacy.

A 1627 portrait of Pope Urban VIII by Pietro d...

A 1627 portrait of Pope Urban VIII by Pietro da Cortona. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…Cardinal Osini is a stout man of medium height. His dark olive skin was deeply furrowed at the brow above a chaotic pair of untamed eyebrows, with a forehead that arched into a dome of polished skin closely flanked by the bristles of his coarse greying hair. His eyes were narrow, but a vivid green with Amber flecks that effortlessly emanated a quiet malice and suspicion. Any person talking with him, except for the most experienced, could not help unconsciously adjust their pose to a more defensive or protective one. All who met Cardinal Osini instinctively knew that he was a man that was never to be crossed, but the Cardinal knowing the impression he gave, had learned to smile and let his eyes shine to the extent that all previous worries were dispelled, until it was too late…

I read this to the group, a little worried what everyone would think of something cobbled together in 20 minutes, without my usual refining and editing, but I was told it was very good by both Kureishi and the group.

I was asked if I was a Catholic, told it was very visual/film like and created a picture in the mind, and Kureishi asked if it was autobiographical! Hehe… I replied that almost all the characters we create are autobiographical to an extent, and that I was not a Catholic, but went to a Christian primary school and I’m fascinated by religions.

All those that got read out their work, wrote things that were really interesting, quite long in all cases and involving other characters. One of the moments that was most informative and revealing for the group was a woman who read out her character. It was a character that talked constantly about herself with dull and bland things that never ended… it was revealed that this character was in fact a colleague, and it was presented as a one-sided narrative. What the writer had not realised was that the passive and silent character, that complained inwardly about the selfishness of the colleauge was revealed in greater detail by not saying anything. She was shocked by how much she revealed to the group about herself as a writer by actually being silent, to the extent that Kureishi said that he felt sorry for the colleague that she was tortured into talking all the time! This was a revelation to her, which touched on a previously discussed fear of ‘revealing the self’ which she herself immediately identified… sometimes a character can be most revealing when they say nothing at all.

The session soon came to an end, with the group chattering away… a few of us congregated after agreeing that our emails should be shared, and sitting in the sunshine yet another fascinating conversation emerged about the potential struggles of having a mixed parentage (in the example of Kureishi). This lead to all sorts of information being shared, and all I can say is that I still and always will continue to find people fascinating.

We have a loose agreement to meet in the future and check on everyone’s writing, needless to say, if this should happen I will write about it here.