The programme for the first of my Community Education classes has been 'Writing for Life', which has taken us through writing as a hobby to writing as reflection to writing as therapy... and all points in between. It has created a lot of very personal writing that has had all the greater resonance because of that, and has highlighted a significant difference between writing the story and telling the story. Maybe it is easier to control the writing, maybe because it is done in isolation, but once in front of an audience, there is an emotional charge that affects both the writer - and the 'hearer' - and it's a challenge for both. A very powerful experience.
This term culminated in the class interviewing me: me as myself (fact) with the additional information that I had more or less become the next JK Rowling with a huge publishing deal (fiction). The results ended in 8 very different (very good) pieces of writing - a great exercise in how and what (and why) individuals hear, interpret and report what they have experience in the same room at the same time.
At the same time, the current focus of my PhD critical theory has been how a novelist creates a totally fictional world. Surely, however far s/he retreats into imagination, both that fictional world and that imagination can never be totally free of external influence. In a story, a word, a phrase, a description is never 'just' a word or a phrase or a description, it has been very carefully chosen. IT needs to be authentic, not contrived and rarely coincidental.
Coincidence in fact though, in real life, is a different matter entirely. And that's abounded too recently. When we were in Bangladesh in April, we went to Sylhet and randomly met a local guide at the Five-Layer Tea Shop who offered to show us around a tea estate in Srimangal. It came to light it was that very same man who, a teenager at the time, had been the porter for a different tea estate, when I first visited there in 2001. A good story in itself...
Now fast forward to last Saturday on the crowded Edinburgh to London train. A man walked the length of the carriage, turned and came back to us. 'You were on the Emirates planes from Glasgow to Dubai,' he said. Yes, I agreed, having no recollection of ever having seen him before. It transpired he had been on his annual visit home, to Srimangal, to his family business, the Five-Layer Tea Shop.
Would that work in fiction? Make of it what you will but apparently it's a small world and all roads lead to Srimangal...