On this beautiful day, my colleague Dr. Craig Jordan-Baker led UCA‘s BA creative Writing students to Farnham Castle for some writing exercises. I tagged along just to enjoy part of the fun of outdoor learning.
Delivering a writing session at Farnham Castle is not for leisure (of course not!). The idea was to engage students in histories and local geographies so that they can sharpen their observational skills and deepen the connections with the objects and sites that they write about or create more interesting characters. The history they know and the objects they find will inform their thoughts, imagination, creativity and performance.
Craig kicked off by introducing the history of Farnham castle, which has been appropriated by different people or organisations for different purposes over the past centuries since it was founded in 1138 by Bishop Henry of Blois. Looking at the shell keep of Farnham Castle, one would discover different building materials (stones, bricks) and masonry techniques used to construct, fortify and repair the wall. These stones are not dead objects; they are evidences of what happened in the past and awaiting for good storytellers to narrate the histories.
To open up one’s imagination, Craig invited the students to see, feel, sniff, touch, hear what was happening in the surroundings. For example, the fallen leaves on the ground gave different textures; different types of evergreen shrubs (they are not just ‘trees’; they have names and varieties – “cypresses”). Trees also have origins and myths attached to them: Ginko, for example, is also known as “the maidenhair tree” when it was imported from Far East.
After the tour came the exercises. To get the students to know the place better, and to learn new vocabularies and apply them, Craig designed an ‘adjective bingo’ game where the students need to explore, feel, snuffle around in order to find something within the grounds that fits the specified adjectives (e.g., brittle, malleable, viscous, squelchy, maculate, keen, scabrous, warm and soft) to describe the things found that fits the adjective. When all the boxes are filled, shout ‘BINGO!’
The second exercise required the students to design characters based on the history of Farnham Castle and/or the local environment.
Lastly, the session finished with a party game (courtiers-assassins) (aka ‘the werewolves‘).
We walked, sensed, observed, learned, felt and wrote. After this enjoyable day out, this erection that I now see almost everyday has a new educational and social meaning to me.