Some of you may remember the Slow Down London Festival in April this year. You may even have taken part in a (very) slow walk across Waterloo Bridge during rush hour. The aim of the festival and project is to encourage Londoners to challenge the cult of speed and explore things at a slower pace. As part of the festival, I ran a Snail Mail workshop, exploring creative letter writing. It was an unexpected hit! As well as receiving a mention in the Financial Times, Liz Hoggard of the Evening Standard actually called me up to ask for ideas for letters she could write as part of the Standard’s Week in Slow Motion.
So what exactly is ‘creative letter writing’? Well, I’ve sort of made up that term myself to try and describe what the workshops are about. They are essentially creative writing workshops, but instead of using poetry, short story or scriptwriting, they take the letter as a starting point. Letter writing is beautiful because it offers total freedom. Rather than worrying about whether your writing is ‘good’ or if you’ve chosen the ‘right’ subject, you can just focus on writing freely and communicating whatever it is you want to. Letter writing is a form of freewriting – letting ideas and thoughts flow freely without censoring every word as soon as it meets the page. Of course, these aren’t letters you necessarily have to send (although Foyles provided envelopes and stamps for the last workshop), but they are creative explorations into territories you might not have visited before. To me, writing a ‘creative’ letter is a bit like writing a poem addressed directly to someone, or something, but without worrying yourself about the term ‘poem’.
To demonstrate: in my first letter writing workshop, one participant wrote a letter to the science cabinet at his primary school. He described the mystery of the cabinet, with its skulls, skins and odd-smelling plants. For him, the cabinet represented everything that science promised to be: delicious, strange and tempting. On his first day at secondary school, he was deeply disappointed to discover that there, ‘science’ was all about categorisation. All the excitement of the cabinet was forgotten. This letter was written in response to an exercise where I asked participants to make a list of objects that were important or significant for them and write a letter addressed ‘to’ one of them. This participant’s letter had many ingredients of a poem – detail, epiphany, striking imagery – but had I asked him to write a ‘poem’ he probably wouldn’t have arrived at the same place, in fact, he probably wouldn’t have come to a ‘poetry’ workshop at all. That doesn’t mean that what he had written was some kind of ‘poem in disguise’ – it was a letter. The point is, the letter opened a door into something this man, who was now a teacher, had wanted to explore for some time but hadn’t known how. This is the long version of what I mean by a ‘creative letter’.
These workshops are not about how to write letters, they don’t push letter writing as something we should be doing more of, but they do give people the chance to explore creative writing in a form they feel safe with, and in doing so, they draw out some beautiful, original and unexpected material.
Snail Mail Workshops take place from 11am – 1pm at Foyles, Charing Cross on:
Saturday 26 September
Saturday 31 October
Saturday 28 November
You can come to one workshop for a taste, or all three for deeper exploration…
To book, visit: www.foyles.co.uk/events and scroll down.