Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stories from the Out of Print workshop at Lekhana 2013

Stories from the Out of Print workshop at Lekhana
On Saturday, January 19, 2013, Outof Print held a short fiction workshop at the Lekhana Literary gathering that took place at Jagriti Theatre in Bangalore. The workshop was aimed at writers with some experience, and the focus, in keeping with Lekhana’s theme of ‘Writing the Spoken Word’ and the theme of the Out of Print afternoon at Lekhana, ‘Dialogue in Short Fiction’, was on writing dialogue.
We were lucky to have Rebecca Lloyd visiting from the UK. Rebecca is an award winning short story writer, a novelist, a creative writing tutor and an editor. She and I worked together on putting together the anthology Pangea, Thames River Press, 2012, and are currently starting work on the next one. We asked her if she would conduct the workshop for us.
Writers had to develop a short piece to a prompt, and examine the impact of dialogue on the story. The prompt, a news story about shoes, is quite an extraordinary one. The stories that emerged were varied, imaginative, personal and individual – stories of love, loneliness, the spiritual, the commercial and the creepy. We were so taken with the quality and diversity, and the different ways in which dialogue was used, that we decided to offer the writers the possibility of having Rebecca and myself edit the story once and post it on the blog associated with Out of Print.
Two writers sent in their work. I think both stories are remarkable in the way they use dialogue. Sonali Bhatia’s Clown Shoes and a Couple of Cats is written entirely in dialogue. The piece is energetic and funny and reveals an instinct and understanding of how to carry a story forward, how to unfold it, using speech. Ayesha Aleem’s Shoes, on the other hand, uses dialogue sparsely. A story that addresses loneliness and cultural contrasts, the dialogue occurs halfway at a pivotal point in the story, drawing attention to all that the story rests on.

The workshop and the stories that emerged from it vindicate having literary gatherings that are for writers, for literary practitioners, and which allow for discussion and the generation of ideas. It seems that our workshop group found the process valuable enough that they are going to try and meet regularly to critique one another’s writing, a matter of great pleasure and pride!

When Rebecca and I first discussed the prompt, she felt it was essentially about finding out who was leaving the shoes there, and why. Whereas I thought of sacred places, places where you leave your shoes off before entering, which meant the story could well be about why the shoes were not reclaimed. 

Rebecca ended her visit to India at the caves in Ajanta and Ellora, at many of which she left her shoes off when entering. In her note to a short story group she mentors, she writes of the experience:  ‘Towards the end of my stay, we went to Aurangabad where there are really astonishing monasteries created out of caves of sometimes very black volcanic rock …
Already, since being back in England, I've revisited a good few of the monasteries in my memory, and the experience remains just as physical as it did in real life, one of the most delicious things about it being to walk bare-foot over the dark smooth cool floors of those temples, often towards an image of Buddha in the depths of the cave's or monastery's shadows.’

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