Lois and Bill Breckon booked me to run this one week’s residential writing course here in Tuscany more than a year ago and here I am. It is hard to believe that I am actually here and that the sky truly was this blue. It is maybe harder still to believe that one of my students is a famous screenwriter with his own wikipedia page.
Today we simply introduced ourselves and went out to dinner in the beautiful medieval town of Fivizzano. Tomorrow the class begins. Or does it? I believe the learning began from the moment the students met each other. For three that meant a random meeting at Bristol airport, the rest, in Pisa earlier this morning.
Everyone is here with a common goal – to write about their lives in a compelling way. For one the objective is simply to show her children and grandchildren what really went on during her unhappy marriage. For another, it’s to fulfill a lifelong dream now that she’s been retired for one whole month. Most of my students have lived or do live overseas, from growing up in South Africa and Malaysia, to spending decades in Brussels, Paris and Naples. Most recognise they have stories to tell (in spades). All are here to find out how to do just that.
As we chatted over lunch, on an afternoon stroll, aperitivi in hand on the vine terrace and over dishes of patriotic (red, green and white) pasta, I watched the sharing begin. Already, as each tells a little of his or her story listeners gasp at mentions of conflict and ask questions when more detail is needed. It’s as if just being here is all that’s needed to get these writers well on the road not only to getting their memoirs down on paper, but to believing they have a story and recognising that others care.
Tomorrow the lessons start and I’m excited to see what unfolds during class, but I think I am more excited still to see what happens after work, in the courtyard, by the millstream, under the vines and over the breakfast, lunch and dinner table.
I always remember being told that hour for hour school takes up a very small part of your childhood and that it’s what happens outside class that provides the greatest learning. Watch this space to see the magic unfold as I blog daily from The Watermill. I have a suspicion that I may learn the most of all.