04 July 2019

#WriteCBC Writing Tip and Writing Task from Cathy Rentzenbrink

Cathy Rentzenbrink
by Curtis Brown 120 Events, Writing Tips

It’s #WriteCBC time again – our monthly Twitter writing competition! Our fabulous guest for July is Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of the bestselling memoir The Last Act of Love and the very moving A Manual for Heartache – as well as being the course leader for our new Writing A Memoir online course. If you haven’t joined in #WriteCBC before, check out this blog with information about how to play.

And now, on with the tip and task!

Cathy’s writing tip:

Whether your work-in-progress is fiction or memoir, you can enrich scenes by drawing on your own experience – tiny remembered details re the time or place you’re writing about, sense memories – all of these will bring your work to life

Now, this isn’t the same thing as saying ‘write what you know’. We’re not going to try to tell you that you should be writing stories which are autobiographical or which feature characters, places and situations just like you and your life. BUT  you can add extra layers of depth and meaning to your material by drawing on your own memories, feelings, reflections, observations and insights.

If you’re writing about a character falling in love for the first time, you might find that some of your own memories of first love can be brought into play in your work. Even if your character is living in Victorian England or on Mars in the year 3,000, their feelings and desires may have something in common with yours – and indeed your reader’s. The same could be true when writing the pain experienced by a woman having a baby; or the angst of a man who notices his hair is thinning … Look for what connects you and your experiences to your characters.

If you’re writing a scene involving a twelve-year-old girl buying something in a corner shop, think about whether you already know what the girl might be buying. If you remember the 1970s, and your story is set then, you might make it a copy of Jackie magazine and a packet of Golden Wonder crisps. In the mid 1980s it’s more likely Smash Hits and Walker’s … Can you recall little details which can add texture to make your material more vivid?

If you’re writing a scene where someone steps out alone into a landscape newly covered in snow, think about the sense experiences you’ve had on snowy days from your own life – the way it creaks underfoot; the strange hush and the grey blankness in the air. Perhaps your character then comes across a snowman and it prompts a memory: For myself, I remember once making an igloo with a friend when I was a kid – toiling away for most of a day in her lovely back garden. Afterwards her mum made us hot orange squash with cinnamon in big mugs to warm us up – which was weird but nice. Perhaps I would give that memory to my character …

And here is Cathy’s writing task:

Suitcase or luggage with conveyor belt in the international airport.

Write a mini-scene responding to the photo, drawing on memories to bring it to life. You could use a journey you’ve made, real characters, a suitcase you once had or its contents; the squeak of an actual luggage belt, a memory of being lost …

We’d like you to use the photo that we’ve included here as a jumping off point, and really run with it – anywhere that your imagination wants to go. Our only proviso is that we’d like you to bring something from your own life into the scenario – whether that means the whole scene is based on something that once happened to you, or whether it’s something much smaller – a snippet of overheard conversation, the inclusion of an amusing advert you once saw in a public space – or the particular smell of an airport you’ve visited. Use whatever works to write a cracking scene, which we’ll enjoy reading and experience vividly as readers.

Have fun with this – and just to let you know, #WriteCBC is taking a summer break for the month of August, returning on Thursday 5th September.

This month’s winner – chosen by Cathy – is Amy @amygraceONeil. Congratulations!

I remember the scent of his leather suitcase, the car exhaust puffing its goodbye. I wonder if he saw us shrinking in the rearview mirror as his horizon unfurled. I still smell inky stripes of airmail stamps and Mum’s bitter sigh as she clutched another birthday card.

Amy’s really taken Cathy’s advice about using sense memories on board to breathe life into this scene. In particular her use of scent helps convey the bitter sweet nostalgia of this heart-wrenching goodbye. The personification of the car exhaust works very well and mirrors the mother’s ‘bitter sigh’ beautifully. 

Cathy had this to say about Amy’s mini-scene: ‘I liked the way the sensory detail put us in the scene, and the contrast between the unfurling horizon and the shrinking family left behind’

Congratulations, you’ve won a free place on the 6-week online novel-writing course of your choice.

And this month’s runners-up – each getting a £50 course discount – are Wei Ting‏ @intewig and Fiona Barker‏ @Fi_BGB. Well done!

This month we also had two fantastic illustration entries, congrats Ian Martin (@iawima) and Nicola Schofield (@neschof) – you’ve won a £50 discount to be used on our 6-week Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book course

Illustration by Ian Martin

Illustration by Ian Martin

Illustration by Nicola Schofield

Illustration by Nicola Schofield

Our brand new Writing a Memoir course led by Cathy Rentzenbrink is open now for enrolment. It starts on October 3rd 2019. *Students who enrol straight away on this course will have the opportunity to get feedback on a writing task from Cathy Rentzenbrink. Limited spaces available*  Find out more …

Applications are closing soon for our autumn 2019 six-month novel-writing courses: online with Lisa O’Donnell or in London with Simon Wroe. There is one Jane Fallon Scholarship place available for a talented writer of limited financial means to study on the six-month course of their choice. 

We also run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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