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Writing the City: Observational Writing in London

Dec 13, 2017 11:30:00 AM / by Irene Kanthan

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Thaddeus is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A BFA major at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, he is studying abroad in London this semester.

In this week's post, Thaddeus shares his thoughts on his "Writing the City: London" class and what he has learned from observational writing.

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As my time in London enters its last month, I have started to reflect heavily on my work as a writer after working with Kate Norbury, who teaches Writing the City: London. When we started this class, I had very little idea of how to structure writing and have it critiqued in a productive way that would help me better tell my story.

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Kate works with helping writers become inspired through observational writing - ie. having an experience within the city of London, creating a story based on an overheard conversation, watching somebody interact throughout the city, or finding parallels between physical space and poetical language. To do this, we often took morning field studies to different locations within the city of London where other notable writers in the city have become inspired or had a history of dwelling.

One trip that was extremely inspiring for me was our trip to Kensington Gardens, where we explored the physical spaces that James Barrie used to create the world and story of Peter Pan. It was helpful for me to find a writer that used visual and physical spaces to create a piece of writing. I find that observational writing helps me as a visual learner to create intimate and real moments in my own text and words that can translate and be seen in the mind's eye to the reader.

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Barrie's use of Kensington Gardens is so intricate to how the characters in the story of Peter Pan interact. The location itself is bustling with life in certain areas, and yet quiet and still in others. To house such a complex ambiance for a city as fast-paced as London is truly remarkable.

I wanted to write about this trip in particular since it is what inspired me to travel throughout Europe and find historical spots that have inspired, and continue to inspire, my work on my senior thesis project. While, unfortunately, I can't quite say what that project is going to be based on, I can say that using the tools I have learned about observational writing has given me a new sense of freedom. This form has taken the burden of being "creative" off of my shoulders and allowed me to take real-life experiences into my work.

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We read passages from the original works of Barrie’s Peter Pan and found the locations of the birds, dogs, and mystical fairies that Barrie used to create his magical world about the boy who would never grow up.

For me, Barrie’s writing speaks volumes against the high society, bourgeois culture that London's history promotes. He wrote himself in Peter Pan: "On these magic shores, children at play are for ever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more."

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I think Barrie had an excellent juxtaposing idea of the loss of child-like wonder that the city can destroy. In this writing, he was very much trying to re-discover that for himself, and in doing so, inspired many other readers and writers to do the same. To perhaps not take life so seriously and remember that our experience as humans can be about building moments and playing within them.

Thanks Thaddeus!

Thaddeus's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA London Program

Topics: London, England, Academics Abroad, Study Abroad