Funded by the Ferguson bequest, Creative Conversations is the brainchild of the University’s creative writing department, headed by Professor Louise Welsh and Colin Herd. It strives to offer the opportunity and space to bring people together. “I think that we gain a lot by talking to other writers, but also in reaching out to the rest of the university and the community beyond,” explained Welsh, “Literature can act as a rubric to be able to talk about many other things and the idea that we can listen to someone talk about their craft and offer a shared discussion forum is a wonderful concept”.
Creative Conversations is running for its second term this semester and features a wide range of fiction writers, non-fiction writers and poets. When asked how the planning process takes effect, Welsh said that Creative Conversations does not have one style. It is a representative festival showcasing a mix of genders, ethnicities, and genres where each week aims to be a surprise to its audience. Previous guests include Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay, Bernard McLaverty, and Jake Arnott, all of whom stood out to Louise and Colin. Welsh hopes there will be something there that everyone likes and can respond to without being too soft. “I wouldn’t say we’re inviting people who are unchallenging, but we are inviting people from across the board.”
Creative Conversations is not a performance, it’s a conversation. It’s informal and the members of the public in attendance aren’t referred to as the audience, they are simply “the crowd.” The speakers share anecdotes, give advice, and the vibe is humorous. Asking questions was encouraged throughout but the experience is tailored to those in attendance. When asking if this perhaps casual, set up has led to any problems with authors, both Welsh and Herd were in agreement: “I think we’ve been very lucky in that we’ve had people who really understand what the event is about. I’m sure no one would be intentionally difficult, sometimes it’s just a matter of them not realising what kind of event this is but the feedback from both the audience and guests has been really nice; they’ve enjoyed the experience. Authors get a kick out of interesting questions and having a self-selecting audience lends itself nicely to that”. Advertised as a “lunchtime” event (Welsh terms it as a “rolling festival”), thoughts of class schedules and work commitments are never far from thoughts. The event lasts exactly one hour and you are encouraged to bring a “brown paper bag lunch”.
Held in the University Chapel, Creative Conversations provides a warm atmosphere for people to enjoy. While it can seem daunting as the crowd files in, the chapel is the perfect space for the event. “You have to put on a woolly jumper and I guess it adds to the feel. It’s such a lovely space to hold the events”, says Welsh. “The chapel has been very hospitable to us - it was the chaplain’s idea to let students bring lunch.”
Throughout the hour, listeners can also tune in at 1pm and see the event on the Live Chapel Webcam. This opens up the conversation to people around the world with listeners tuning in from as far as Canada. Although the idea of creating podcasts has been discussed, Welsh mentions they have been increasingly frowned upon within the writing community as the writer (the speaker) doesn’t sign up for a worldwide broadcast, they signed up for an intimate reading.
To put it simply, that is what Creative Conversations really is: an intimate reading, a sharing and listening session between writers and readers. The programme is vast and so varied that everyone is bound to find a name and topic they can relate to and enjoy. Suggestions are welcomed and encouraged and can be sent via twitter to @UofGWriting and use their hashtag #CreativeConversations.