Writing Exercises- Am I Fit Enough?

A BRAIN and a pair of jump leads walk into a bar. The jump leads take a seat and the brain 

If there was such a thing as a set of jump leads for your brain, I could’ve used a set over the last few weeks! After doing the same job for six years, autopilot was my daily setting. At times this was a cosy comfort blanket that meant I never lost any sleep worrying about work but my flabby brain was in definite need of a work out.

My creative writing course has certainly kicked started my brain! Weekly writing exercises have challenged the whole class. One of our favourites has been to write a series of pieces which start with, “When I was seventeen…” and the results from my fellow students have produced a range of emotions from funny to sometimes quite sad. It’s been really interesting hearing everyone’s work. The exercise I’ve enjoyed the most so far was to meaningfully include the following 5 things in a 1000 word piece. The things were a tower of top hats, the Oxford Book of Saints, Nescafe, a child standing in water and Bermuda. It wasn’t easy! There’s 7 of us in the group and it was fascinating to hear the other completely different versions on the exercise.

A highlight for me was the chance to hear the award winning novelist, Andrew O’Hagan deliver an excellent  talk on, “Civic Memory: An Argument on the Character of Scottish Culture” to a packed audience.The talk was adapted from a provocative, insightful, and often comical lecture commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland and presented at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, exploring how our understanding of places in general and Scotland in particular depends on shared memories.

O’ Hagan argued that civic memory binds us together and is the currency of Scotland’s cultural life. Much of our sense of identity has less to do with politics and more about been shaped by fictionalised heroes. Whisky bottle mottos, such as, “Afore ye go” from O Hagan’s childhood memories were used to illustrate that the Scottish feeling of nationhood is largely a figment of our imagination but it creates a coveted vision of togetherness.

However, civic memory is not about nostalgia and referring to the works of writers such as Robert Burns. O’Hagan emphasised that modern writers such as James Kelman are bringing new energy to expressing a true history of what being Scottish means to most people. The positive side of this parochial instinct is that civic memory keeps politics alive and helps to change the cultural world. O’Hagan clearly celebrates the relationship between art and life and has an optimistic view of civic memory as a means to counteract defensive nationalism.

What struck me most was how our understanding of Scotland and other places is dependent on shared memories. For the majority of working class people this is based on verbal history. My dad was what O’Hagan described as a “real character” and was sustained by civic memory. When he died suddenly five years ago, I not only lost my dad but all his stories. Being raised in a deprived family with thirteen siblings made him the man he was and consequently there were many stories about his challenging upbringing as a Catholic boy in an impoverished mining village. O’Hagan’s passion for investing in today’s civic memory has made me keen to explore my own heritage in greater detail and perhaps try in some way to celebrate my dad’s life.

After 4 weeks at uni, my brain is now getting the work out it so badly needed and with all the writing exercises, reading list and inspirational speakers hopefully it’ll soon be in much better shape…

A BRAIN and a pair of jump leads walk into a bar. The jump leads take a seat and the brain g

A BRAIN and a pair of jump leads walk into a bar. The jump leads take a seat and the brain gets the round in, but the bartender refuses to serve the brain.