Last Saturday I took the bus to Cavan and spent the day with other writers taking a class in editing from Brian Langan. Brian is an editor at Transworld/Doubleday Ireland, an imprint of Penguin Random House. He is also a published author and is currently writing his second novel.
Offering classes in venues around the country is a new enterprise for the Irish Writers’ Centre and from the comments of various participants, it’s a welcome one. Almost half the class came from Donegal. They said it only took them two hours to get to Cavan, but would have taken four to get to Dublin.
As I’d never been to Cavan before and had half-an-hour before the class began, I took a little ramble. It’s a charming town whose medieval origins are still evident, and whose people are kind and hospitable. The general atmosphere of bonhomie put me in the perfect frame of mind to spend the day learning more about my craft.
A number of things can make or break an educational session: poor environment, disinterested or pushy fellow students, ineffective facilitator, or the session fails to meet expectations.
In this instance, the venue was the lovely Johnston Central Library in Cavan. A mere four minute walk from the bus station, the modern building is airy, light, and quiet. The only negative was the heating failed half-way through the morning, but the staff brought in space heaters so we didn’t freeze. They also kept us well supplied with tea, coffee, and a variety of munchies.
Ten students attended the class, which seemed exactly the right number. Too many and people tend to form splinter groups and you have to deal with side conversations that distract the others. Too few and the class can feel flat. In this case, not only were the numbers right, but everyone seemed committed and focused. Having taught and facilitated many classes myself over the years, I know how difficult it can be to keep everyone engaged. It is particularly difficult when the class lasts all-day. Much of the credit for keeping everyone attentive must go to Brian’s delivery and pacing.
You can tell a lot about students by the sort of questions they ask. At another session I attended recently, one woman dominated the class by interrupting with a question every thirty seconds. None of her queries were broad enough to apply to anyone but her and the facilitator’s inability to handle the disruption completely spoiled the session for everyone else. Thankfully, that didn’t happen on Saturday. Everyone seemed engaged and asked questions that were of interest to everyone. In addition, the whole class seemed eager to participate.
The course was an intensive look at the process of editing your own novel, how to prepare your work for submission and how to get the pitch right. Originally planned as a 2-day course, this condensed version meant we had to stay focused and skip some of the original exercises. In addition to covering all the essential topics, such as plot, character, setting, narrative, language, and so much more.
I’ve been attending writing classes for many years, and I can honestly say this was one of the best. Sometimes it’s difficult for those of us with some publishing credits to find a course that meets our needs. The majority of educational sessions for writers tend to be geared towards the beginner. Although Brian’s class was perfectly suitable for people just starting out as novelists, it offered a lot of advice and encouragement for the more advanced writer, too.
If I have one quibble, it’s that the time allotted to the course was far too brief. However, Brian is planning to offer a longer, more intensive version at the Irish Writers’ Centre. Yes, I know it means schlepping to Dublin, but trust me, it will be worth it. If you are writing / have written a novel and are serious about making it the very best you can, this class will give you all the tools you’ll need, including a few you never realised you were missing.