My rendezvous point for the outdoor creativity workshop with Creative Adventurer, Morwhenna Woolcock, was the Rock of Ages car park in Burrington Coombe, bounded by limestone rocks, thrusting above us.
The workshop, designed to tap into creativity and an absolute steal at £10, appealed to my sense of adventure.
On a day threatening rain I saw climbers, volunteer litter pickers and some wild goats, high on the rocks, staring down at me. Lorries and motorbikes thrashed through the narrow bypass between the rocks. It was an unsettling start. So much noise in such a beautiful place. And shouldn’t I be writing my novel, finishing off my 40,000 for my MA?
Morwhenna instantly put me at ease and we began chatting and, like the best workshop hosts, she drew out of me a story of what was happening in my creative life at that moment, rather than imposing any ‘rules’ upon me.
I’ve long admired Morwhenna and first heard about her years ago as she developed a project, creating bags with ‘do what you love,’ on them which she left at locations around Bristol with the request that people take them for free, but take photos of them. The bags travelled all around the world, garnering publicity for Morwhenna. Like Morwhenna I’d attended a course called, ‘Screw Work, let’s play,’ with the purpose of achieving a creative project in thirty days. My first project was Novel Nights, which is still going four years later. I loved catching up with her years later to find out how she’s living her creative life.
Morwhenna’s project for 2017 is to travel to all the UK islands and she’s also been running Creative Adventurer courses for a few years with the tagline, ‘An Adventure begins when you decide to have one.’ She was recently featured in Psychologies magazine.
I’m in the middle of an MA and writing my second novel, but stuck with the character and the writing, that nagging feeling that it isn’t quite right. I know I need to go deeper with the writing and the character. Morwhenna asked me to think of a question at the start of the workshop and then forget about it. My tools for the morning were a worksheet of tasks, crayons and Morwhenna’s gentle support and encouragement.
I was given a number of exercises to do. The first was ‘sound mapping,’ to connect with my surroundings and my senses and draw them. Noticing is one of the pre-requisites of a writer. I listened to wind stirring branches in eddies and commented that rain was near. It was something I’d learned as a child – nature craft if you like – but not something I’d thought about for years. ‘Put it in your book,’ she said. Of course! I focused on the noises of lorries and tuned into birdsong and to create a sound map.
In the second exercise, I was invited to use free word association to study and explore a rock that I liked. What did it feel like, what symbols lay within it? What emerged were metaphors and poetic expressions. The exercise put me into a deep writing zone, aligning myself without censure to the subconscious where words bubble and flow from within.
The rock I was drawn to was a striking piece of limestone with a deep split within it. From one angle it looked like a lion’s head. The crevice protected and sheltered plants, lichens and I spotted my favourite flower, a harebell.
Then I saw a small green plaque. This was, fittingly, the Rock of Ages. It was here that the Rev, Augustus Toplady sheltered from a storm in Burrington Coombe. As the lightning thrashed around him and the rain stung, he scribbled down some lines in 1763, and this flash of literary inspiration has made him famous, with the hymn, still sung today. I sat on the rock, felt it, drew it, delighted that I was drawn to a location which provided inspiration to write.
Later, I discovered a burned twig and drew with the charcoal, a visceral pleasure. Play, as Jeremy Irons said in a previous workshop, is the prerequisite to creativity.
Morwhenna then invited me to explore and notice my surroundings. She made a beautiful art installation and I used a small hand mirror to look at the scenery from a different angle. Try it for a magical effect.
By the end of the session I had, inadvertently answered my question, ‘How can I drop down into my character and writing’, and the answer was not one I was expecting, but it had come from deep within my subconscious and was, (forgive the pun) a rock-solid suggestion to a plotting question I’d been grappling with as if it were a maths puzzle.
The value of the workshop was the way she’d enabled me to focus on my creativity and how it unlocked something deep within the subconscious.
Thank you, Morwhenna. You can find Morwhenna on Facebook Her Creative Adventure series of workshops take place at outdoor locations around Somerset.