John-Paul Flintoff

Training With Keith Johnstone

(JPF, centre, in lilac shirt) doing impro with others on Keith Johnstone's London course 2012

This week I had an extraordinary experience – thanks to my friends Rob, Roses, Pernille, Olly, David and Barbara. I can hardly wait to say what happened, but first let me give you some background.

I first met (most of) these great people on a theatrical impro course run by the legendary Keith Johnstone, where I learned (among much else) that the material that comes out of more than one person advancing together without a script can be incredibly exciting.

The impro course took place towards the end of the summer – a time when, as it happens, I was being “coached” by my friend Fenella. (I’d never been coached before, and to be honest I had low expectations, but I trusted Fenella and in the event I was blown away. In fact, I started training as a coach myself.) Anyway, at some point in our sessions I must have mentioned to Fenella that I’d started work on a novel, more than ten years ago.

Do you still want to write it? she asked. Yes, I said. Why don’t you? Alright, I will. When? I’ll start on Monday, I said. OK, said Fenella, and when will you finish? End of October, I promised. (Not a very long time to write a novel, but I already had the plot very clearly set out.)

If I hadn’t been coached, I might not even have thought of that novel, far less decided to write it again. But that’s not all that came out of my session with Fenella. With five minutes left at the end, I said idly that it would be great fun to work up the novel with my new impro friends.

Why don’t you? Fenella asked.

Well, er, why would anybody want to do that with me? I replied.

Why wouldn’t they? Fenella helped me to see that it might just possibly be fun for them, too, and anyway they could always say no. (I felt stupid for not having seen this myself, since this is one of the things I always tell people when talking about my book How To Change The World. But I’m not interested in beating myself up about it.)

So I tested the idea on one of the improvisers, whom I happened to meet soon afterwards. Barbara’s response encouraged me to make a video, and send it to the others on the course.

The response was variable (some didn’t reply), but by and large it was very encouraging indeed (“I absolutely love the idea!”). So I set a date in early December – determined to finish the novel beforehand. And this week the big day arrived…

Posted: December 14, 2012

Keywords: robert twigger, steve chapman, impro

John-Paul Flintoff headshot, with Yours Truly written across it John-Paul Flintoff is author of six books, in 16 languages, including How To Change The World and A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech. He worked for 15 years as writer and associate editor on the Financial Times, the Sunday Times and other papers and magazines.

Subscribe to Everyday Writing (monthly newsletter)

The work on this site is supported in part by paid memberships.