I have just returned from Ty Newydd, Lloyd George's old house near Snowdonia where his ghost apparently still resides. I was not on a Halloween ghost hunting trip, however, but a week long creative writing course, my third in what I hope will be a long and fruitful series.
These courses not only provide a haven from every day life and its distractions; they also expose creative writers to the work of others. Students on these courses have wildly different styles, ideas, attitudes to and ways of writing. They are inevitably all at different stages in their writing lives, from wanting to start to wondering how to plot their fourth novel, and levels of potential and demonstrated talent vary too. However, being surrounded by people with a common goal, calling or passion (call it anything except a hobby) is inspiration in itself.
I am always amazed, delighted and often amused by the people I meet on these courses. What is most intriguing is that no amount of observing and talking to a person before you see his or her actual work will allow you to guess what kind of writer they are. The courses I happen to have been on were all dominated by women, though I will set aside debate about the reasons for that here. It is often the older ones who are the most surprising. Unassuming, polite and middle-class, they will reveal in the workshops inner worlds riven with violence, sex and dark intelligence, and are often able to give these subtle and original expression in words. Not always, but it's a wonderful discovery when they do.
I come away from these weeks of intense mental activity and social manoeuvring with hope and interest in my own writing restored. Pathways open up and solutions appear as I go through the process of opening my mind to the words and writing of others whom in everyday life I would never encounter. They leave me with the sense that all over the country, hidden from view, surreptitious at their office desks or postponing the washing up, people are writing. It is not the resultant Word files or notebooks full or curling letters that make this such a mind-boggling, mind-pleasing thought, but rather the worlds that are being conjured. I imagine bubbles that expand beyond the writer's time and place, each one a marvel of human invention, regardless of how I might feel about the contents.
There are many more interesting things to say about the nature of these bubbles: how they appear to detach themselves from their creators, take on lives of their own, how it is that other human beings come to see inside them, if indeed they do. This week, I was happy simply to be reminded that they are there, springing from all those normally invisible writers, making the real world a richer place.