On our English courses you’ll have many opportunities to go on field trips to find inspiration and new experiences. Our first year students recently embarked on a field trip to Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens as part of their first big assessment in ‘Creative Writing and Science’.
With the long history of science inspiring writers as a starting point for the assignment, students were asked to adopt concepts and terminology from science to create their own fictional story. Similarities in approach to science and creative writing were discussed to establish that the fusion of the two requires three main attributes; attention, precision and imagination. With these tasks in mind, students were introduced to a range of writing exercises inspired by Sara Maitland’s ‘Moss Witch’ to help aid their creativity.
Upon entering the gardens, students carefully and slowly explored each flower and patch of greenery. They had to choose one plant as subject matter which would then set the theme for their written piece. Students were encouraged to use abstract words to describe their emotional responses and to make a record of sensory details, explaining what they smelled, heard and felt when touching a plant.
Once every physical characteristic of their chosen plant was gathered, it was time for the next writing exercise, which challenged students to pick a phrase or word from an information board and use this as a prompt for a 10-minute free-write. They could also try and pick any colour and follow it as a storyline throughout the visit, detailing what they saw and the memories and associations the colour evoked. Ultimately, the aim was to use all the properties of the chosen plant to shape and create a personality and character for their story.
“On trips like this, students discover a fresh approach to writing, gathering and shaping original new material using methods they haven't encountered before”, Lecturer Anna Lawrence Pietroni explained afterwards.
“Rather than sitting with a blank page and waiting for inspiration to strike, or even using the beautiful surroundings as the setting for their work, they're encouraged to explore characteristics of unfamiliar plants - where they're from, how they reproduce, how they get nourishment, what they look like, how they move - and use these as a template to create new human-like characters in an original piece of writing. This trip equips students to uncover writing models in the most unlikely places, and to produce striking new work.”
The trip offered a first-hand and on-site opportunity for students to understand the importance of how working in different environments and integrating concepts from other disciplines can influence their writing. Most of all, it was a fun way for the first years to get to know their peers a bit better and to potentially form new friendships that will remain throughout their studies.