A writer is not born but made: Mai Samih finds out if that's true
Linda Cleary, a British poet, artist, writer and performer living in Egypt, is currently holding a workshop to teach creative writing. The four-week course started on 27 August and is being held in the Maadi and Heliopolis branches of the Diwan bookshop. Over the course of the month, students attend one weekly session. The sessions are held in the evening and last for two hours from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Courses are held on Tuesdays in Heliopolis and on Mondays in Maadi.
Cleary usually starts each session with a warm-up exercise, asking students to write a paragraph beginning with a sentence such as "In another life I'd bẻê¦" or a trigger word -- "bubble" -- within the allotted short period of time, perhaps two minutes. Students are then encouraged to read out and hear comments on their work. Cleary listens to the problems her students face in their attempts to write, and gives them tips. She follows this with exercises to develop a word bank.
Cleary aims at establishing a community of writers in English who will be ready to communicate and share their work. The course is an attempt to provide students from the age of 17 to adulthood with the opportunity to explore and improve their writing skills. She is bringing together people from different backgrounds with different writing experiences, but all willing to "open up their writing". She gives them the tools to tap into "the inner writer", and express themselves creatively.
"They are able to witness themselves as writers and know what they want to write about," Cleary says. From her perspective it is a matter of training with a view to letting it all out; and she tries to dismiss all manner of myths that have been woven around creative writing. "Some," for example, "think that they can't write without that sudden shining light of inspiration ̉ê" which is not true in most cases," she says. Some students have taken the course more than once to provide themselves with greater practice. "I'm seeing so much worthy work, valued voices that need to get out there," Cleary says. "So I am aiming to create a publishing house so that people writing in English have somewhere to publish [their work]."
Cleary, who began writing as a child, finished an academic study in recreational arts from Manchester University in 1991 and has been conducting workshops in her community ever since. She has also worked in Holland, the Czech Republic, Australia and now Egypt, where she has lived for two and a half years. It was her contact with the artistic community here that inspired her to set up her workshops in Cairo.
With a blend of skills acquired from her extensive studies and her personally designed exercises, Cleary teaches several levels of writing skill. "In the first level I try to hand over the building blocks; opening up description," she says. "In another level, I work specifically on atmosphere, character and short stories. I have another course which aims to provide knowledge and training on how to develop monologue and to write a short play."
Cleary is impressed by her Arab students, who give her absolutely no trouble, despite the diversity of cultures. "About 95 per cent of my students are Egyptians writing in English. The amount of talent and skill they boast are amazing." Students find English a tool to express their feelings and in the age of Twitter and Facebook it is also a chance for them to share their work, she noted.
"Since the revolution there has been even more expression; more people are keen to express themselves." Cleary puts the three main components of a good writer in a nutshell: "Ideas, technique, and motivation; these are what makes you a writer."