Last night I went to a new writer's group to give moral support to MJ, who harbours a desire to be the next Virginia Woolf minus the schizophrenia and suicidal tendencies. The group turned out to be located in a quite pleasant building in the West End, where rooms are hired out in the evenings. Although the ad we'd found in Hillhead Library hadn't been particularly clear on what they actually did, it soon became clear the structure was much more in the form of a class than the short story workshops I'm more familiar with. Fair enough: it's the kind of thing MJ's been looking for. So before the class started we watched other people come in, seeming like a fairly representative cross-section of West Enders. I started thinking this could turn out to be interesting. Even positive.
That feeling didn't last for long.
I didn't take part in the class myself: I'd already made it clear I was just there to give MJ moral support, since if you're not used to it, it can be a little unnerving to walk into a room filled with complete strangers and talk about your writing. I could have taken part, but I was deadbeat. I'd been out the previous night helping Al celebrate his birthday as well as attending the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle, and the only writing I could think about was the fourth draft of Against Gravity. Besides, I'd already asked MJ not to bring up the subject of my having a book deal, since I wasn't there to be a 'writer': I was there to provide her with moral support.
Now, if you're the kind of person who isn't very confident about their ability to write - if you think you need help to deal with the basics, or if you just think you need a kick up the arse to get motivated - then that's great. Some of the writers there turned out to be pretty good, and I had the impression they were getting something out of the class as a whole. The evening was structured in two halves, with the participants writing something based on the tutor's suggestions, taking a tea break, then coming back to read their stuff out. Far and away not the kind of process we're famililar with in the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle, but a valid process nonetheless. I watched the first half of the process with interest.
So picture the scene: it's the teabreak, we're all in the kitchen. The tutor comes over to say hello to MJ, and tell her a little bit more about the class. She got a little nervous and mentioned that I had a novel coming out.
So the tutor asks me what kind of book it is.
Science fiction, I said.
Can you see where this is going?
Pregnant silence. In order to fill which, I said - in an attempt to direct the conversation back towards MJ - that her tastes are different from mine: she doesn't read science fiction, but does enjoy a lot of classic 19th Century Literature as well as more contemporary work.
What I expected the tutor to do was to turn his attention back to MJ and ask her more about her interests. Before he did this, round about the point I was saying the words 'Mandy doesn't read sf herself ...' the tutor starts nodding his head emphatically and saying 'Very wise. Very Wise' (note emphasis).
Which is round about the point I started having vivid fantasies of punching the tutor. Hard. On the nose.
After the teabreak, we went back upstairs so people could read their stories out, and I could sit with my arms folded staring daggers at the tutor. What particularly pisses me off is that he wasn't even a particularly good tutor: he mumbled, his ideas were rubbish, and he didn't exactly exude authority. I could, quite literally, run that class myself blindfolded, gagged, and submerged in a tank of hungry sharks. And this ... twat ... rubbishes my chosen field of literature.
But the really interesting thing I came away with (apart from a murderous dislike for the man) is that I could run a class. Easily. What I really want to know (and would make me seethe) was if the tutor was being paid to run the class. Quite possibly, he is; the Scottish Arts Council does provide funds to community groups to run a variety of workshops, and I'm already in the process of signing up to a list of available authors that the SAC provides to such groups, although the process is slightly more complicated than I'm describing here.