A Novel Idea (Perhaps)

A Novel Idea (Perhaps)


Two weekends ago I attended a novel writing masterclass organised by Writing The City (a project of the British Council), taught by Jean McNeil and Julia Bell. It was held at the Arts House (one of my favourite places in Singapore), and it’s the first time in a long while that I’ve sat down and given my fiction writing 100% of my attention without drifting off to check tumblr do other things.

Like the procrastinator I am, it’s taken me more than a week to get around to writing this, at which point I’ve mostly forgotten what I’ve wanted to say. (Whoops.) It was a fantastic three days, I have to say. We went over concepts that should be familiar to anybody who’s been writing for a stretch of time: Character, point of view, time and narrative… Yet as a developing writer you can never discuss and explore these topics enough. We had themed writing exercises every day, and we got to share our work with each other. It was a small class, about 14-15 people, so we all got several chances to read our own work. I even read them Google Car At The End Of The World. Although I didn’t read them the title, because spoilers. (At the end of the class, one of my classmates came up to me and said, “I liked your story about the car.” I had to ask, “…which one?” The tragedy of being me.)

Quite honestly, I think the most valuable lesson I learned from this is that I not as slow a writer as I’ve feared myself to be. Under conditions of duress, I am able to put my nose to the grind and churn out writing– and not just that, but writing which actually satisfies me.

Maybe, just maybe, I won’t die a terrifying death by writer’s tardiness during the course of Clarion West.


Writing exercise I: Observation

“Heavy-waisted and large-bottomed, she stood fixing her hair while her baby played at her feet with dusty hands and knees.” Something about fleshing out character with minute details.

Writing Exercise II: POV

“The car had belonged to the old man. It was a Nissan Sunny, bought back in a year when Nissan was content to be seen as that plain and reliable friend you had, the one who could be relied on to get enough sleep and file all their taxes on time.” Telling a story about a neighbour’s neighbour, from two different POVs.

Writing Exercise III: Time & Narrative

“She can’t find a dry bench to sit on and she isn’t wasting tissue to do the public service of wiping them dry, so she squats on one of them to eat breakfast.” Thinking of an event, and writing about it from one set of time points before/after.

Writing Exercise IV: Character, Event, Setting

“Before her shift starts Mary goes to the washroom and washes her hands twice: Once after she exits the cubicle, and once after she’s fixed her hair.” Like a party game, we got a random character, event and a setting. I wrote a short piece set in a story world I am currently inhabiting.


Well. All in all, I met great people, was introduced to great ideas, and wrung a few pieces of microfiction out of myself over the course of three days. It’s not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Our instructors, Jean McNeil (left) and Julia Bell (right).
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