Dr Stacie Friend, from Birkbeck College, University of London, spoke to both branches of the Williams Project. She asked us why, when we know they don’t exist, do we still care for characters in stories and films? In particular, she asked if emotional responses to fiction are the same kind of emotions which we experience in real life, and, secondly, whether such emotions are irrational?
She set out these problems in the form of the ‘Paradox of Fiction’:
- We experience emotions toward fictional characters, situations and events.
- We do not experience emotions when we do not believe in the existence of the objects of emotion.
- We do not believe in the existence of fictional characters, situations and events.
It was a very interactive afternoon, with some very stimulating contributions. Stacie continued the discussion into the evening, and we are very grateful to her for her time and expertise.
Old Chigwellian Michael Pruss, Senior Vice President of Production for Scott Free Productions, hosted a special Williams Project meeting on the Friday before he gave the prizes at the school’s Speech Day. He spoke engagingly and in depth about his personal journey to Hollywood from Chigwell, and then illuminatingly and with passion and humour about the structure of a standard movie plot, even detailing at which minute certain plot-turns are best placed. The audience were spellbound, and asked excellent questions.
The second Williams Project this term was presented by Nicholas Spice, publisher of the London Review of Books. He began the talk with an introduction to the LRB, with samples handed out to give us an insight of what it looks like. Then he gave us an extract from the first draft an LRB writer had produced and the actual published version as an example to explain how the editors do their job. He raised many interesting points such as how our views on a piece’s reliability can be influenced by the way we use words. He also talked about the link between journalism and literature and how it has changed with time and the development of technology. In the end he took many interesting questions from us and told us the story of how he became a publisher. He also made predictions regarding the publishing businesses and the dramatic impact on the traditional bookstores from some new platforms like Amazon. The LRB has a bookshop with a wonderful selection of books, and Mr Spice told us stories of the authors he knew and some anecdotes about them. The talk was impressive and it was a rewarding experience for all of us.
On Tuesday September 25th Old Chigwellian Dr Nicholas Perkins visited the WP. He now teaches English at St Hugh’s College Oxford, and spoke about Old English poetry: what makes it special and different, and how it has inspired writers and poets through the centuries. Using an excellent handout he took us through the principles of the alliterative meter, as well as the heroic subject matter of this oral medium. We read some Beowulf and compared the Old English text of The Wanderer with Auden’s Old-English-style updated version. We then moved, through Tolkien, to Heaney, where we focused on how he used his experience of Old English poetry to cut through the English/Irish antithesis of his Northern-Irish upbringing when writing about the the “Troubles”. And finally some riddles.
Overall a scholarly, clear and wide-ranging illustration of the powerful insights we can get from a chronologically long look at poetic culture.
Former pupil and friend of Mr Fletcher, Charles is a novelist and psychologist. He spoke to the Williams Project about the links between psychology and fiction, in particular about how psychology informs writing, not so much through, say, an understanding of character, but because it shows us how to steer a reader’s mind to feel specific things at specific times. Writing fiction is like ‘writing software for the mind’.
Antony Sher stars in this chilling and disturbing hour-long BBC production of J.G. Ballard’s short story The Enormous Place. A man decides never to leave his house again, and video-diaries the ‘experiment’. Tulips and cats will never taste the same again.