Hello and welcome to the 100 Day Writing Challenge, Day 21.
Twenty-one days. That’s three solid weeks of hot-footing it through the tractor tyre assault course I’ve lovingly set up for you, working on your writing, experimenting, trying out new styles, new ways of creating, taking responsibility for your growth as a storyteller. I’m hugely proud of you. Really I am. It’s not easy to turn up, the distractions on offer are manifold and it takes faith and courage to do this. Thank you.
So for the past few days we’ve been working on finding and listening to characters, to people who don’t exist. And we’re going to continue that today, because characters are the engines of story. But we’re going to come at it from a slightly different angle.
This is an exercise adapted from one described to me by the poet Bodhan Piasecki. I’ve taught it in various forms in workshops and I really, really enjoy doing it. It’s one of my favourites, in fact. So what you’re going to do is, well, you know when you pick up a book, a novel or a collection of poetry, and there’s a little biography of the author?
So here’s an example I just pulled down from my shelves – this is in the front of Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, quote:
‘Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) was born in 1903 in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. The family moved to England in 1907 and in 1917 Orwell entered Eton, where he contributed regularly to the various college magazines. From 1922 to 1927 he served with the Indian Imperial Police Force in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Several years of poverty followed. He lived in Paris for two years before returning to England, where he worked successively a private tutor, schoolteacher and bookshop assistant, and contributed reviews and articles to a number of periodicals. Down and Out in Paris and London was published in 1933. In 1936 he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to visit areas of mass unemployment in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) is a powerful description of the poverty he saw there. At the end of 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and was wounded. Homage to Catalonia is his account of the civil war. He was admitted to a sanatorium in 1938 and from then on was never fully fit. He spent six months in Morocco and there wrote Coming Up for Air. During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943. A literary editor of the Tribune he contributed a regular page of political and literary commentary, and he also wrote for the Observer and later for the Manchester Evening News. His unique political allegory, Animal Farm, was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame.
George Orwell died in London in January 1950.’ Endquote
So there we have a description of a life. We have some dates, some places, some jobs he had, and the names of his key texts. It’s quite factual, and the language is simple but specific.
What I’d like you to do, today, is to write a bio for an author who doesn’t exist. A novelist or short story writer or poet please. Maybe they did a mix of all three. Up to you. And I’d like you to write it in this style, as if it’s the bit inside the front cover of one of their books, explaining who they were. They can be anyone at all – if you’re stuck for a name you could always return to the list of names you produced on Day 1 and see if one of those takes your fancy.
But otherwise, I have but two restrictions I should like to place upon you. Well, three, because I’m going to only give you ten minutes as per usual. But two extra ones.
Restriction the first: this imaginary author you come up with? English wasn’t their first language. English wasn’t their first language. They might have spoken English fluently, but the first language they knew, and the language most of their work was originally written in, wasn’t English. Ok?
Restriction the second: they’re dead. Whenever they lived, they have now sadly passed.
So that’s: English wasn’t their first language, and they’re dead. Ten minutes to create their biography, which should probably include the titles of some of their key works. You might like to start with their name – is different from their published name, their nom de plume – and when and where they were born. Ok?
Ready? Three… two… one… Off you go.
And that’s it. That is time.
How was that for you? Who have you got there? You may have felt slightly out on a limb, creating a backstory without researching it first. That’s all right. That’s fine. What kind of life did they lead? Were you drawn towards outlandish satire? Or did you write something quite small and simple? Or something in-between?
Whatever the result, I’d just like you to keep hold of this, and if it’s okay, bring it to our session tomorrow, where we’ll continue with part two. Now go and do something nice for yourself. Go on. You’ve done great. Off you go.