Note: For details on the classes, go to our website http://www.theactofwriting.co.uk
I’ve been meaning to write a post on author Thomas W. Hodgkinson’s mooting of the “new literary movement” (ahem) of ‘method writing’ since he first spoke about it on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a week or so ago. (You can listen to it excerpted on the BBC here.)
However, ironically, I was too busy practising what he was preaching, as I was living in the Montparnasse apartment of one of the real-life protagonists of a short historical fiction I was writing to enter in the Prix d’Hemingway in France.
So it wasn’t until I returned to London late last night that I discovered he had launched the intended project in this morning’s The Independent (online here.)
Thomas tells an abridged version of the story of why I am one of his three “method authors” in the piece.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison… trained as a matador in Spain as research for his book about bullfighting, Into the Arena. He is also an actor who, like Dustin Hoffman, has honed his technique at the Actors Studio. So for him, nothing was more natural, when he sat down to write, than to don the same black “country suit” and short jacket he’d worn in the arena. Between bursts of typing, he would move about the room, performing what is known as toreo de salon.
As he said to the BBC in an earlier article – online here:
As part of Hodgkinson’s attempts to get the Method Writers project off the ground, he and fellow author Alexander Fiske-Harrison are offering a series of one-day courses in March, which he says will aim to teach aspiring writers about the benefits of the technique and “become the Daniel Day-Lewis of literature”.
We have agreed, along with the third member of this ‘movement’, Thomas Fink, to run a series of day-long classes every Saturday in Mayfair in March. Details are on ‘The Act Of Writing’ website here. Since I have also come back to a full Inbox of enquiries for the classes, I should add that applications should be sent as soon as possible as places are very much limited. (And we can’t continue into April as I am off to live with wolves to write a non-fiction book about them.)
A final word: it has been said by a fair few critics of Hodgkinson’s views on this subject – as expressed in print and broadcast – that this is what writers have been doing for a long time: it is called research.
However, it is not as facile as saying ‘know what you write’, to qurge the pithy headline on our website. THe techniques which I was taught when training as an actor at the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York from 2003-4, and then with Actors Studio coach Jack Waltzer in 2005 and 2006 (the only living person left to have trained with Adler, Strasbgerg and Meisner), are specific techniques of behaviour and psychology designed to get the actor ‘into’ a character.
To transfer this to writing is to do more than just tell the author to read about the people or period they are describing, or listen to the right music or wear the correct clothes – although these are all vital – the idea is to get so far under the skin that everything you do comes from the living truth of the character.
As Shakespeare has Hamlet answer his mother, when she asks of his grief “Why seems it so particular with thee?”,
“Seems,” madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.”
‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
That can denote me truly. These indeed “seem,”
For they are actions that a man might play.
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
P.S. While in Paris I came across an old edition of Hemingway’s Death In The Afternoon which shows that he had exactly the same preoccupations with finding the living truth of the people he wrote about. For example,
When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature… People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer’s assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time.
P.P.S. Speaking of Hemingway, The Independent was the first newspaper to publish a chapter of Into The Arena on the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernest Hemingway in 2011, online here. The newspaper’s owner, Evgeny Lebedev later described Into The Arena as “definitive guide on the state of modern-day bullfighting” in his article ‘Will Bullfighting Survive In Modern Spain’ in 2013, online here.