An update from our thirteenth Weekly Writing Workshop!
A summary of the workshop, plus some of the output published below
The Stone Soup Weekly Writing Workshop is open to all Stone Soup contributors and subscribers. Every Friday, we meet for an hour-and-a-half via Zoom to respond to a new writing challenge, write together in our virtual room, and then share what we have written with one another.
Our conversation on Friday June 26 was attended by young writers from the US, the UK, and France. We started with a discussion of how to write about characters who are reading, and analyzed several different paintings to see how the artist portrayed the subject reading. We shared out our different ideas; is the character focused on the book? Does the character look annoyed at being interrupted? What type of person does the character look like? In addition to viewing these paintings, we read poems and excerpts of essays that reflected the painting’s message or another writer's thoughts on reading and the role of the reader in the writing process. We then set to writing about a character who is reading, often inspired by the paintings we talked about. Read on below to get a feeling for some of the powerful writing we were given a glimpse of in this session!
The Writing Challenge: Write about a character who is reading, inspired by a painting.
The Participants: Ever, Tilly, Peri, Julia, Maddie, Georgia, Lorelei, Kanav, Rhian, Grégoire, Neve, Lena, Enni, Benjamin, James, Liam, and many more…
Lena Aloise, 11
Blowing specks of dust from a cover, bound in cherry leather that was engraved with letters of sparkling gold, brilliance fading along with the passing years of her life. Tentatively, she held the thing, awkward in her small hands, to her face, flipping through the pages, of which there were many, almost an overwhelming amount. Placing it on her lap and settling into a pile of cushions, she began.
And the waters leaped, frothing, colliding with a nipping cool saltwater breeze, as the massive thing pushed them aside. They protest against their displacement, as do the wriggling fishes that dart away in a flash of silver, terrified. Oh how their anchor moaned in protest as it was lowered down, below ripping currents, metal links scraping against the rocks, lying on the sand dunes. Its inhabitants jumped from the deck and landed with a thudding that shook the strip of narrow dock upon which their boot-clad feet now rested. Their bodies were agile, possessing great strength from long days of lifting heavy things and navigating tempestuous seas. Seas that tested both physical and mental capabilities.
She paused there, took a breath, uselessly straightened her wrinkled blouse and continued reading.
Oh, and their captain made all the men look like mere children, with his snarling lips and looming presence. If his crew’s muscular capabilities had been great, his own were simply unhuman, and he was as tough as the ship he had built with his own weathered hands. When he crossed the cobblestone roads, women and men alike quickly looked away, fearful that this ravenous beast might be hungry.
The girl remembered a time, late at night, when she had written those words in ink, thought they were beautiful, kissed the pages, then reconsidered and hurled them into the garbage can. A week later, she had changed her mind yet again and the crumpled papers had been retrieved. Now, relooking at it, her cheeks flushed a cherry pink and she regretted not letting them turn to ash in the incinerator. As an author, she supposed that they made her seem weak, fearful of this person who might not be as looming as she made him out to be. Did ship captains read this and think of the silly little girl who found them so frightening? Oh, how she regretted her foolish words now.
But she continued, and soon reached the ending, a back page that listed words of praise for this book, the book that was hers and not hers at the same time.
‘Captivating’ one fellow writer had said.
‘American literature at its finest, destined to become a classic’ a magazine had complimented.
‘Earl has fully mastered the art of storytelling and this book should go down in classroom textbooks’ another had cheerily told reporters.
All she could think, as she read these aimless thoughts, was ‘People actually read this?’
She shuddered as she imagined all those fellow humans, enjoying her book, feasting on a piece of her soul.
At the Dinner Table
Anya Geist, 14
The girl’s leg bounced up and down, jittery and uncalm. Right now, she was sitting straight up, rigid in her chair, but she figured in a few minutes she would be fidgeting around, squirming in her seat. She loved reading, honestly, she did. And she loved this book. But there was so much going on around her. Everyone was loud at the dinner table, laughing heartily as they traded stories, or clicking their tongues as they bemoaned whichever stock was going down.
At any moment, they could call on her. They could say, “How was your day?” They could take her book away, and not give it back until much, much later. That risk was too great, and so she was on edge, half-listening to the conversation, half-absorbed in the story.
It was like a game of tug of war in her head. The book was pulling on her, trying to sweep her away. And she wanted it to sweep her away. Yet she was forced to listen as Father addressed one of his brothers, just in case he directed his next question at her.
The bouncing in her leg was uncontrollable now. She needed to calm it, to make it go away. It was distracting, so distracting.
She flipped a page in her book. This was it. She was close to the end. And here she read, her breath nearly stolen away, as the Angel of Death walked down the streets of the book, collecting the souls of the characters from their lifeless bodies. And yet she wasn’t crying, wasn’t weeping the way she should’ve, as the main character’s world was destroyed. Because part of her was still listening. Part of her was still anchored in that terrible harbor called reality.
She wanted to finish her book, wanted to get it over with, so she could set it down beside her, and pretend that she had always been paying attention. At the same time, though, she wanted these last few pages to go on forever, so she would never have to leave the rich world of the book, and return permanently to weak, watered-down reality.
And then the book was over. Her hand flipped the last page, revealing the back cover, the end of the story. She felt a mess, as if her brain were all screwed up. She wasn’t ready to leave; she wanted to delve back into the world of the book…
“How was your day yesterday?” Her father’s gruff voice yanked her into reality. She put the book down, lightning-fast.
“Good,” she replied shakily, feeling raw without the comfort of the characters who she had become so close to. “It was good.”
The Troubles of a Young Man
Peri Gordon, 10
Jonathan lounged on the couch and tried to focus on the boring book he was being forced to read. He hated how he had to spend the summer cooped up in his home. He wanted to at least get a break from this torture on the weekends. But his father wouldn’t hear of it.
Trying to block out his thoughts and get his fifty pages over with, he ran his fingers over the book’s rusty blue cover, feeling the gold lettering that spelled: A Young Man’s Guide to the History of War. Ugh, how he hated reading this dull history book. If he read a small portion a day, he might have found it a bit interesting. But fifty pages a day was too much for him, especially when followed by a million quizzes to lock in the knowledge. Every battle, every fort he needed to know, not because it would help him in life but because his father insisted, saying that discipline would make him a fine young man.
Keeping all of this in mind, his aqua-colored eyes roved the room—and met his father’s cold blue eyes. His father gave him a chilly stare—a get-back-to-work stare—and turned away.
Jonathan sank deeper into the sofa and continued his studies.
The Man with the Somber Book
Kanav Kachoria, 11
Here this mysterious man was. His black and very large pupils staring at the ground, looking as if he was thinking about something that he couldn't keep his mind off of. His black cloak and black beret really made the room dull. The only thing that wasn’t dark in the room was a royal gold thick stripe like the man was in the ancient times with kings and queens. He held the book to his side, the stained white pages held loosely. The book was very big. I don’t know what the book is about, but it seems like it was a boring one. The man didn’t seem to enjoy the book. Or maybe he did, but he was just distracted. Maybe he was sorrowful and someone passed away, stabbing his heart and couldn’t not think about it. Or maybe someone was irritating him. He could’ve been looking at them furiously. Moreover, he made some mistakes that were wrong and he feels guilty and wishes he can take everything back. The secret will never be solved though, as it looked like there were infinite problems that could have happened to him. This poor man. This poor book also. It deserves to be read. It’s just laying in the man’s hands. The book feels somber, thinking about how nobody cares about it. The book feels frightened, not showing its title at the fullest. The book is not conveying its full emotions since the pages are kind of dirty, like someone is covering what’s inside of them. Lastly, the book feels defeated as it senses that it is old and rotten and predicts no one is going to be interested in it...
Madeline Kline, 12
On the couch
A shelf of good books
Time to relax
Until the kids come home