Writers’ Workshop, Part 1: ‘FORGE’


In quick forge and working house of thought
Henry V

Why it should catch my eye today I know not, lying there unopened and uncared for atop a pile of books in what might be called my “office”, though not by me, my personal preference in the matter being for the term “man cave”, invented by a property surveyor on a recent tour of inspection.

It is, of course, the aforementioned and titular “FORGE” to which I refer here: this booklet, lying open beside my PC as I write – monochrome in aspect, 20 anaemic-looking A5-size pages and a thin card cover, all of three decades old, with twin staples staining its centre pages like weathered clout nails. The title athwart the front cover, top right, is solid, stolid, with a retail price appended below it:

‘15p,’ this demanded of prospective purchasers in the great long ago.

Because we’re travelling back in time now, to Thatcher’s day when everyone wanted to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, and the Yorkshire Ripper stalked northern streets and alley-ways still, free as disease that knows no cure and threatens contagion.

Hence, the emptiness of those city streets upon our emergence each Thursday evening around 9.00pm from Manchester College of Building’s and the very first Writers’ Workshop to be held there. Six or seven strong, we’d be, thirsty, too, after two hours of gabble, and looking to slake our collective thirst and gabble onward with Ted Morrison in the chair in the lounge bar of a pub called The Pineapple, back of Granada Television studios.

Occupying the bottom quarter of the cover, centre (this is FORGE once more: reservoir of the work we contributed to it that year) – occupying the bottom quarter of the cover, centre, is the most artistic contribution to the booklet by far: a depiction of a smithy fire, etched white on black, spitting, sparking, sparkling, exhaling a fiercesome heat and metallic tang, with a Shakespearian quotation to accompany it (see above beneath the title). This illustration was donated to us by an artist friend of Ted’s. What follows is what Ted himself (Stan Barstow-bearded look alike, plumber by trade, writer by inclination, lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University) had to say for himself within:

“FORGE is a collection of writings from the first Writers’ Workshop to meet at Manchester College of Building. The Workshop brought together a group of men and women of varying ages and occupations but with a shared interest – writing. The Workshop had three aims: to provide an opportunity for those wanting to improve their writing skills and writing range to meet as a group in which they could discuss and helpfully criticise each other’s written work; to work towards a collection of the group’s writings, and to publish the collection.

“At the first meeting it was agreed that we should begin to build a collection of work by writing on the theme of ‘Communication’, with an emphasis on the written forms. However, strict adherence to the theme was not a condition of acceptance for individual contributions. It was adopted, chiefly, to provide a focus for discussion, out of which, it was hoped, the essential stimulus to write would arise. It was recognised that, although some might find writing to a theme a useful incentive and guide, others might find it restricting. It was also understood that individuals often respond creatively to the stimulus of a new situation and develop new, unexpected areas of talent. This in fact did happen. For example, Bill Keeth [though I had no pen name at the time], after writing several pieces on the theme, surprised himself (because he hadn’t previously written poetry) and delighted us all by producing several pungently witty poems. Moreover, with ‘Tall Storeys’* and ‘Summer in the Fifties’*, especially, he demonstrates a successful technical innovation [by means of which] traditional poetic language and imagery are juxtaposed with colloquial language with the result that a period that many will recognise is shocked into a new context.”

Well, so much for the great Bill Keeth!

To speak truly, I hardly recognise the guy all these years on, not least because he nowadays has a pen name. But well do I recall, and sadly (given a sombre re-reading of FORGE to assist me in the matter), how tied up in himself was that Bill Keeth of yesteryear: angry, resentful, vituperative, far too eager to make a name for himself as a writer. There was good reason for this, of course, though with a lovely wife and kids to go home to of a night, no good excuse.

It was Bill’s daylight hours that were a problem for him in those days. Because a tad further up the food chain – opines Bill-2011 vintage, pausing to hawk and expectorate – there lurked a particularly loathsome interrelated threesome, viz: a horrible self-servist, a horribler drunk**; and the horribilist misandrist to drew breath this side of Ian Fleming’s Rosa Klebb.

Which sad reflection recalls for me an even sadder one whereby, given adverse circumstance from which escape comes too late or not at all, there is every chance in the world that what you hate is what you will become. So much so, in fact, that the Bill Keeth I hardly recognise within the pages of FORGE was barely cognisant of the merits of the output of his fellow writers, only two of whom I now remember by name. These two were good writers, it now occurs to me, and certainly, they were deserving of more encouragement than I was able to give them at the time. (More about them next time maybe.) By way of partial reparation, though, let me assure any of you who wants to write, that you could do a lot worse than join a writers’ workshop.

[Point of order, Mr Keeth! – Ed. I think you’ll find there are no such comparative or superlative forms of the adjective “horrible”.]

“Horribler” and “horriblist”, you mean? I’m glad you noticed, ma’am. Because there soon will be, if “DVD blurb-speak” continues to have its uncaring, illiterate way with the language. Said DVD blurb-speak has already supplied us with the non-existent superlative  “baddest” in place of the adjective bad’s true superlative, “worst”. Recently, too, we’ve been treated to the DVD blurb-speak non-noun “quadrilogy” in respect of a collection of the Die Hard films, of which there are now four. So the collection in question is really a “tetralogy”. None of which is to say anything at all about Quentin Tarentino’s ultra-illiterate (and ultra-boring) Inglourious (“Inglorious”) Basterds (“Bastards”). Which epithet  I intend to refrain for the time being from applying to “horribler”, “horriblist”, “baddest”, “quadrilogy” and three toads a tad further up the food chain.

What I’m most looking forward to doing now is to treating readers on some future occasion, hopefully next time to something of the qualities those former colleagues of mine (now thirty-odd years older) contributed to FORGE whilst Thatcher was elsewhere running amok.

Incidentally, readers may care to note at this juncture that FORGE is something unique. This is because, whilst Thatcher remained in season, funding for anything other than the army and the police (that is to say, funding for anything other than “crowd control”) was drip-fed at best. So never again would our Writers’ Workshop at Manchester College of Building be empowered to self-publish.

Instead, our second year and third would see us dispersing to pubs and folk clubs with our output, on what were advertised as “Singers’ Nights” when any looney in the land might take to the stage (front left, right or centre) in order to sing or declaim his/her personal contribution to the evening’s entertainment

*  For these verses of mine, please see Manchester Kiss.

**  In times past when the Grand Tour used to be undertaken by the monied classes, the sole qualification for membership of the Athenaeum Club, ’tis said, was that the applicant had to have been seen in a drunken state on the streets of Rome.

June 2011

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website, http://www.novelnovella.com.

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