Preparing for a Visit or Residency: Pete Mullineaux

Pete Mullineaux shares hints and tips for writers preparing for a visit or a residency. 

Make sure the first session is enjoyable – so they’re on your side from the start. This doesn’t mean it has to be fun, funny, or entertaining – enjoyable can mean challenging, engaging, interesting.

Have some form of rich stimulus that links to the writing challenge you are going to give them (a Poem, song, photo, story, anything.)

Get them involved and engaged, interacting and talking early. Ask them to help you. One of the things I do is ask them to read/perform a short play I’ve written and then for them to make up new scenes that might fit into it – that aim to explore the play’s themes further. Or I read the start of a play, first few pages (talk about the characters) and ask them to write what they think happens next.

Give them a writing challenge that is (as close as you can get), achievable by anybody. To help this along make it very clear what is required. Eg Portraits: read them a poem which is a portrait of someone doing something, (eg  Heaney’s ‘sunlight’ poem about a woman baking bread). Ask them to shut their eyes and picture someone doing something – this works best if it’s  someone they know well, or knew from a long time ago (offers deeper emotional connection) or it can be purely imaginary. Now they have to ‘paint’ this picture with words – fill the canvas, big picture, small details – lots of detail! Tell them you want to know this person. Who are they, what are they doing – as if you are blind and can’t see yourself. The end result might come out on the page as a simple list of things, thoughts, feelings, observations. Often just reading this random ordering of lines can sound surprisingly (to them and you) like a real ‘poem’ and be very powerful.

Always acknowledge and validate everything that is creative. Find something positive in everything – it’s there! Very important when sharing work in class. You/they can worry about editing and re-shaping later.

Tell them you’re sick of hearing yourself and love to hear new voices!

Have a rough plan for how the sessions will develop, but be prepared for it to change.

You are your own resource: be yourself: be warm, friendly – someone they want to spend time with.

Make sure they have a way of looking after their pieces – sometimes a folder helps.

Share your enthusiasm, ideas, objectives with the teacher – involve them as much as possible.

Pete Mullineaux was head of drama in a London school and has taught creative writing and drama for a number of years. He has lectured in Galway and New York and published articles in Policy & Practice - a Development Education Review, (Centre for Global Education, Belfast.) He has also published three collections of poetry and three plays have been produced for RTÉ Radio.