As an ex-English teacher I have the utmost respect for those who are still in the profession and am delighted to welcome teacher Sonja Price, author of The Giants Look Down to Linda’s Book Bag today. I asked Sonja how teaching affected her writing and luckily she agreed to tell me more.
Published by Robert Hale, The Giants Look Down is available for purchase in ebook and paperback here.
The Giants Look Down
At the age of ten, Jaya Vaidya decides she wants to follow in the footsteps of her beloved father and become a doctor, much to the chagrin of her mother and her local community. It is the late 1960s and the family enjoy an idyllic life in the Vale of Kashmir, despite the area being riddled with conflict and poverty.
But after a devastating earthquake wipes out her entire family, Jaya is taken into the care of relatives in Delhi, who attempt to marry her off and keep secret from her the possibility that Tahir, her younger brother, has survived the earthquake.
After escaping from the arranged marriage Jaya is put through medical training in Scotland, as she had always dreamed, and where she develops feelings for her foster family’s eldest son, Alastair, who is engaged to someone else.
In the meantime, Tahir has been abducted by a band of Kashmiri freedom fighters, who have made him one of their own.
Jaya finally returns to her troubled homeland to find him and come to terms with the loss of her family. Alastair, who arrives in Kashmir to announce his love for Jaya, is kidnapped by the freedom fighters, forcing her to risk everything to get him back.
What Writers Learn from Teaching Others by Sonja Price
A Guest Post by Sonja Price
Teaching creative writing is a bit like reading. Reading is input into writing and writers usually consider reading both a pleasure and an investment. What you read accumulates and morphs in your subconscious, and can be as inspiring as any real life experience. On the downside it can influence your writing to such an extent that a crime writer I know avoids anything too similar when she has a deadline for fear of it influencing her style. Deadlines aside, I read all kinds of books, good and bad (but always entertaining), because I think they can stimulate and improve your style. Knowing what doesn’t work is as important as knowing what does.
And so it is with teaching writing. I get inspired, influenced and amazed by my students’ work. I love the interaction, the exploration of a theme that is central to writing. For technique I cover such areas as character, setting, dialogue, plot, telling not showing, voice, point of view etc. and by doing so hone my own craft. I often think: yes of course I must try that in my next story and reflect on what I did in my last story. I return to my work in progress with a fresh eye, my mind full of impressions of what my students have shown me.
Although you can teach technique, I believe you cannot teach creativity. This must come from within, but you can, of course, encourage and support what is already there. Writing lessons endeavour to unearth that gem buried deep inside a person. Courses can help mine that gem and facilitate a short cut to the final version. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel yourself to get to your destination. If you’ve got the talent, why not avail yourself of anything that might give you a little push? I try to give my students the space to be creative, and get them to go where they have never gone before. I am often bowled over by the result, the revelation of what has been slumbering inside these aspiring writers all the time. How did they come up with that? Where did they get that from? And of course I get some students who bravely open up about a personal experience which you never would have suspected they had gone through.
I rarely learn anything new regarding technique in the classroom, but I am lucky enough to witness flights of imagination which astound and thrill me. It’s not all roses though: I once gave a student a bad grade upon which he handed in a piece about killing his teacher. I had to think long and hard about that one, but came to the conclusion that he was entitled to write whatever he wanted. I made sure I wasn’t left alone with him in the classroom and told him in front of the others that he should be aware of the effect his words could have on the reader- in my case anxiety! This led to a discussion about whether there are any subject taboos and whether you should write about people you know such as family members.
The main thing a writer should do is write. Teaching can be as exhausting as it is rewarding. You cannot just walk out when you’ve had enough, but if you get the writing/teaching balance right, it can be a great enrichment. I know that if I didn’t teach, I would really miss both my students and their creativity.
About Sonja Price
Sonja is a lecturer for English and Creative Writing at Jena University in Germany and also offers courses in Somerset where she lives. Her debut novel The Giants Look Down was shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon Award.