Last week Thursday I got a mail if I could and want to stand in for a writing course on the island of Skylge (Terschelling in Dutch) from Friday till Sunday. The lady who was going to give the course had sprained a knee. Was I up to it with no experience at all in giving such a course? On such short notice? Who am I to comment on what other people write? As a whipper-snapper. But if I didn’t do it, the whole weekend would be cancelled. I didn’t have any ‘hard’ appointments, although I had to miss out the birthday of my girlfriend, but as a writer the Frisian literature always comes first.
I was glad in a way that I didn’t know it weeks in advance, otherwise I would have a longer period of slight nerves. Now I had to go the following day, get the papers and stuff from the teacher and get on the boat. In that short time I read as much as I could. Fortunately I actually have some experience with judging other people’s stories and poems, since I’m an editor of a literary magazine (Ensafh) since a couple of years. So I do comment on what other people write. And there would be only three participants and not a whole class. That made some difference.
Of course I rented a bike when I got off the boat to cycle to the beautiful Folkshegeskoalle Skylgeralân (Folk high school). A pittoresque place for courses, retreats, but you can also stay there as a ‘normal’ guest. The director gave me a short guide round the place, showed me the room where we had the course and where my room was. She told me that someone mentioned that if she had known beforehand that there were so little participants, and there was a stand-in, she probably would have cancelled the weekend. Luckily the participant told me that of course it wasn’t because of me and my very short notice of taking up the course, but the fact was that there actually should have been two teachers and the year before there were more than ten participants. But here we were and we had to make the best of it.
And so we did! They got all various kind of assignments: write a piece for the newspaper, write an exciting story about a dead horse that is still sometimes seen by fishermen, write visual poetry and what not. All that creative writing went accompanied with beautiful weather, so that we could let the nature and the island influence what we did, and therefore we could sit outside and write.
Soon it turned out that there was an advantage in being with such a small group. The participants got way more attention than with a large group. Last year they had to hear all the stories, get a few points of feedback and that was it. Now they could even quickly change some things and ask me for information after the feedback round. In another case I could go out with a single participant to read her story and talk about how she could improve it. You can’t do that with more than ten participants. That and the fact that I joined in with most of the assignments was greatly appreciated.
I got the chance to bike a bit, to swim a bit and learn a great deal about giving a writing course and about my own writing. So it was a very fruitful weekend which I would love to do again without hesitating!