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Blogging My 2013 Oxford University Summer School Experience

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Harpsichord music and Harry Potter
Last night I attended a concert by Sweet Zephyr featuring early music from Georg Telemann, Johann Mattheson, and Johann Melchior Molter. Delightful group featured two baroque oboes, a natural trumpet (very interesting instrument that is one step up from a heralding trumpet), harpsichord, and baroque bassoon. The setting was the chapel of Exeter College, a small chapel with tall stained glass windows all around and beautifully painted (etched?) pipes for the organ.

Then today a visit for my grandsons, Ryan and Sam, both of whom read all of the Harry Potter series very early in life. I visited the grand dining hall at Christ Church that was featured so prominently in the film. Hundreds of students were pouring through--the highlight of their visit to Oxford.

I've finished my final project to present tomorrow, an excerpt for my novel. Hopefully it will be well received. But looking forward more to hearing the works of the other 11 students, all of whom are marvelous creative writers, each with a different special talent. I'll miss them greatly when this is over. We've shared so much of our lives over this week, especially during meals and hanging out in the courtyard on in the common room.
Thu, July 18, 2013 | link          Comments

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Working and playing in Oxford
I barely have time to keep up with the blog, there is so much going on. My course takes up the entire morning, then there are three hour-long meals (quite delicious) with lots of chatting with tablemates, plus the extracurricular activities.

Because England is having an unusual heat wave and AC does not exist here, it can be quite draining to push through the day and try to get some good rest at night.

But I've met many people who I think will be lifelong friends. And all with so many good stories to share. At dinner tonight, Tony talked about doing bookbinding in his youth and how difficult it was to imprint the goldleaf on the cover at the end using a copper tool that had to be just the right temp (which you determined by spitting on it). There are other folks from the States but also from Australia, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands. Most are my age or much older--well into their 80s--with a scattering of young people.

I enjoyed the Inspector Morse tour very much but wish I could have recorded the detailed descriptions she gave of each location, including the episode and the plot. One murder took place in the very exclusive Randolph Hotel and the room in which the "death" took place is still asked for by tourists.

Our class exercises continue to be interesting and challenging. Today we watched a few opening minutes of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff and discussed how character is developed in film and how that differs from the written word. We also wrote a dialogue based on the first meeting of two people who've met through a personals ad. I chose the one about a man who calls himself "Parasite" looking for a wealthy 40-50 year old woman who likes to scuba dive. Gee, just like onling dating back home!
Tue, July 16, 2013 | link          Comments

Sunday, July 14, 2013

First session with tutor Jonathan Miles
I joined about 15 others for our first session with our marvelous tutor, Jonanthan Miles (his historical account of the Wreck of the Medusa is slated to become a film). He suggested at the outset that perhaps there is no such thing as "character"; there is only what a person does or does not do in the moment in a given situation. He asked us to think about all the iterations we go through in a 24 hours day--the person we become as each new situation arrives. He talked about the slow process of discovery as we meet an actual person. How we get to know a stranger on the train (with a reference to Hitchcock's film of that title), or at the next level how we might get to know someone sharing a month's holiday with us, and finally what we get to know in a long term, close relationship. So what we skillfully hide about a character as the reader first gets introduced to them in our novels is as important as what we reveal. When we meet someone in real life, they control what we get to know about them. This is what our characters should do--control what they let the reader know about them. His general criticism about our initial pre-course assignments was that most had revealed way too much information about their characters, taking away the intrigue, the discovery, the slow revelation that is so necessary to creating a compelling character. Today we meet with him individually to go over our initial assignments. We also did an in-class exercise to practice the art of revealing a character slowly, not providing too much information and leaving the reader wanting more. We were instructed to let the reader engage with the character through hints and guesses, suggesting that knowing less and teasing more intrigues the reader. Too much, too soon, and the reader gets bored with the character.
Sun, July 14, 2013 | link          Comments


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A bit about OUSSA

I will be taking a one-week residential course on "Creating Character" by well-known author Jonathan Miles,  July 13-20, 2013, at Rewley House, Oxford


I will be joining people from the UK, Europe and further afield (me!) for enjoyable, yet serious study with some of the finest tutors in the country. For over 100 years the Oxford University Summer School for Adults (OUSSA) programme has been making it possible for everyone to take advantage of the Oxford system of expert tuition in small groups.

This intensely practical course explores character. Through examples stretching from Chaucer to Becket, you will identify the ingredients that give fictional beings life. When, does a character take on an archetypal status? When does a character degenerate into a two-dimensional stereotype? Most people feel comfortable creating characters that they know well. But what about those figures that are more distant from our everyday experience and yet who seem to demand a place in our stories? And what about the possibility that there may be no such thing as character? This writing workshop explores different ways of approaching and building rounded, interesting, recognisable but not cliché-ridden characters.

The only entrance requirement for a summer school course is enthusiasm for the subject and a commitment to undertake the required coursework before and during the summer school.