Freeing Creativity – a workshop with Jeremy Irons.
We were told to wear loose clothes to the Jeremy Irons Freeing Creativity Workshop so I practised a few high kicks and lunges to test out my shortish dress in the comfort of my own home. Fortunately, there was no crawling around or jumping on the floor of the Gainsborough Hotel in Bath, though we did have to stand for incisive questioning.
Jeremy is Chancellor at Bath Spa University, and around eighteen MA students from different courses gathered for the workshop. He made an imposing figure, loose-limbed, trainered, his dog’s lead looped loosely around his neck. The dog, a small, white, poodly breed, spent most of the time on its back with its legs in the air being tickled by pooch-lovers.
The first thing he said to the group was that we could leave if we were going to be offended by anything he said to us. Each of us had to stand up and present ourselves to the group. ‘You have to sell yourselves,’ he said. Speak up, use consonants, hold yourselves. It could have been intimidating but his natural authority and integrity reassured.
He’s a natural interviewee, or perhaps communicator, drawing every individual out so we found some fascinating information about our fellow students. A jockey’s fall that ended one career led to a psychology MA. People opened up in ways that usually only close friends do.
A shepherdess / fine-artist explained many farmers bury fleeces as the cost of processing this natural material is un-economic. She turns her flock’s fleece into lamp shades and other articles and manages her flock, four children and her artistic career all at once. Jeremy cautioned her to make space for her art.
When it came to my turn to speak, he said, ‘your posture is terrible’, and physically rearranged my body so my shoulders were down, bottom out. He said that past hurts and damage get trapped in the body and can cause problems internally, recommending the Alexander technique to me.
I said I was interested in unblocking creativity. What can stop writers writing is the editing or analytical side of our brains which stops us allowing ourselves to create and play. Jeremy agreed using the example of how kids freely explore. He recommended I take a drama class, explaining that drama helps you with channelling art, and to become a clear channel for this.
In my own practice, there is often a moment when my writing is going well that I drop down into the task and this is a state I aspire to, that magic moment when I’m in flow, so his suggestion resonated.
I was fascinated by the other MA disciplines whose approach to their artistic endeavours seemed to have more solidity in the outside world than for the writers. As Creative Writing students, we have no certainty of publication. The fine artists or sculptors are working with tangible products and the business and artistic side of their art seems more closely woven together.
Jeremy commented later that writers have to expose their traumas, dig deep, because that is what readers are interested in, arguing that you can’t compartmentalise your life. He thought that you had to be willing to speak about such things in public too. Perhaps it’s different for actors, but for me and other writer friends, speaking and writing are very different activities. I go to the page to find out what I think or what those traumas are. They only exist on the page and lose their power when I speak. Speaking is an entirely different process for me. Stephen King recommends writing a first draft with the door closed and I agree with that too.
The irony of the day was that our masterclass didn’t materialise. There was not enough time as eighteen people told the story of what they did before studying their MA, their work and future plans.
We ran over time but on reflection, it was a perfect example of the old cliche, ‘show not tell’ for writers. By being utterly present to listen to each of us the Chancellor allowed a little alchemy to happen and the subject of creativity and story-telling emerged along the way.
We ended with Jeremy telling us how walking in Nepal (should one afford it), away from sensory input, helped his imagination to soar. His last piece of advice was to have a mentor to aspire to.
If only we’d had more time. Those nuggets from him were priceless. As we chatted over coffee afterwards he made a point of checking my posture again (and the weight of my handbag) and reminding me of how important it is to look after oneself as you get older. I found myself giving him a friendly pat on the back which felt completely natural though not something I normally do to men I’ve just met, let alone famous Oscar-winning ones.
Bath Spa Uni is very lucky that he is Chancellor. He’s definitely a man of the people.