Monday, 12 January 2015

January's Guest Blogger; Open College of the Arts Student Jerry Allen

I’ve recently been having an email conversation with Jerry Allen, who has just signed up to do the Open College of the Arts ‘Life Writing’ course. He describes himself as  a ”nervous OCA novice”, but when I asked him to guest-blog for me, I loved what he had to say about his writing. I think he speaks for new writers everywhere…

Jerry says; This was taken in the Chittagong Hills.
The pipes were handed to me in a Mro village.
The Mro and the most remote Indigenous nation.
It has been a very long time since I studied.  I felt it would be helpful for me to formulate and express my reasons for taking this step. So here goes: 

My writing so far could be called “travel writing”.  Paul Theroux’s described travel books as boring, “self-indulgent, unfunny and rather selective” in ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’, where he broke the mould.  I want to write about people not sightseeing.  For example, the families that adopted me while travelling through India, the nuclear scientist on a bus in Iran, the people I’ve been squeezed against in Sri Lanka, the people escaping oppression, etc.  A good example of travel writing is the start of Ian Fleming’s “Thrilling Cities”, though it is a rich colonial’s view of the developing world.  He describes a journey by air to Hong Kong, the stopovers that were inevitable then and the often-annoying fellow passengers. 

I am a proud to be a member of a small, endangered tribe, or more correctly, an “Indigenous Nation”.  There are less than 2,500 Khyang people left in those beautiful jungle hills, we have lost land and will lose our language in another generation.  As I am from New Addington, where the Khyang “Nation” could fit in one block of flats, this may sound like a strange fantasy, but it is true.  I am desperate to write about the culture, language and plight before it is too late.  There is an urgency to describe their situation in an engaging way.  The most respected book on the tribes of the Chittagong Hills was written in 1869 by a young officer from a far posher part of Croydon. As a result of my experiences in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, I‘ve writen blogs for Amnesty International I feel I could contribute more if I could communicate and engage better.

So what do I want to do with the writing course I’ve signed up to? I want to write a love story.  My wife and I have gone through extraordinary struggles, battling with 2 governments.  We are an unusual couple, as people frequently note, and our love is very strong. 

But, it seems difficult for a man to write romance. A writer friend who has had romances published, suggested they should have a certain narrative structure. Finding a way to tell our love story and express my feelings avoiding triteness will be a challenge. 

‘Railway Man’ by Eric Lomax describes the horrors of being tortured in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The book approaches his life chronologically, while the film starts with a love story.  A troubled man in his 60s falls in love with a woman he meets on a train and she helps him come to terms with the horrors of his past.  

My writing ambition began when I unexpectedly arrived back in England with my leg in a cast after years in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Tajikistan and Bangladesh.  I found myself in a culture that I could not understand, in an unfamiliar small town.  For once in my life I was forced to sit still.  It was winter and, as I got more mobile, the snow kept falling.  This gloomy point was when the urge to look at my life and to write started.  Still in plaster, I limped into a writing group meeting.  They found my writing “quirky”.  But their writing and the exercises evoked an unfamiliar, comfortable world and I felt increasing intimidated.  

Even so, I’ve kept going and now I’m ready to study LIfe Writing. From that low point, the happiest time in my life developed. 

You can comment on this post, or ask Jerry questions in the comment box below.

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