Monday, June 17, 2013

The Oxford Covered Market

New Court, Pembroke College

Back in the 1990s, I had a unique opportunity to teach creative writing to American high school students on a summer program at Oxford University. For four weeks, I lived in Pembroke College, one of the over forty self-governing colleges and halls that make up the university. Five mornings a week, I met with the creative writing “majors” for three hours to read, talk about writing, and write. Three afternoons a week, I did the same thing with the “minors,” who were all majoring in something else – English lit, law, archaeology and so on.

The Eagle and Child

We were encouraged to take the kids out into the city. I took my group down to the train station, where I asked them to pick someone they saw and imagine where he or she was going. We went to the Eagle and Child pub (whose nickname is The Bird and Baby), where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis hung out and discussed their writing.

We got kicked out of the pub because the kids weren't old enough to drink.

One day, we went to the Oxford Covered Market.

The market was built in 1774, and it’s a warren of small shops, about half of which are food retailers. I assigned the students to think about a chase scene through the market. Who was running, and who was chasing? What would they have to dart around? I asked them to use the five senses to catalog the sights, smells, sounds and so on of the market.

The first episode of the new season of Inspector Lewis featured a climactic chase scene took place – in the Covered Market. Art imitating life? Or art imitating an assignment? Who knows, maybe one of those students grew up to become a screenwriter!

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