This is me...and this is it!
An amazing day yesterday, with the launch of the new Exeter Writers Anthology, 'The Coastal Zoo' (including two of my own stories), and the presentation of the very first Exeter Novel Prize. Set up by the Creative Writing Matters team, who are Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James and Sophie Duffy, shown here with the judge, Broo Doherty of DHH literary agency, and Ben Bradshaw MP.
I was delighted just to be on the shortlist, and when Broo Doherty talked about the six finalists, they all sounded like winners. I hope they all will be: congratulations to Anne Summerfield, Barbara Hudson, Sonya Weiss, Joan Brennan and Heather Reed. But the first trophy is staying in its home town...on my mantelpiece. And I shall do my very best to do it justice!
It was a great occasion for Exeter too, as Ben Bradshaw said: a new cultural landmark for a city that's survived the recession and is getting cooler by the minute. We were in the ancient church of St.Stephens on the High Street, beautifully restored (as you can see) by architect Allen Van Der Steen. Lots of people came, as well as Exeter Writers who sponsored the prize and helped to set everything up - and special mention to members of the Write-Group and my Book Club, who took over the gallery and were very noisy. Thank you all!
So says my friend and co-writer Daniel Knibb, http://danielknibb.weebly.com/1/post/2014/03/small-is-beautiful.html … talking about George Saunders, who has just won the Folio Prize with a collection of short stories. Good for him! Short stories have languished in the margins of literature for a long time, except in particular genres like science fiction and romance. And there's no earthly reason for that any more, just as there's no need for a novel to be 80,000 to 120,000 words long.
Nowadays, with epublishing on the rise, the old strictures have lost their raison d'etre. In print, the publisher needed to know how long the book would be, for reasons to do with cost and storage space. If you'd written something too long or too short, you had to cut it down or pad it out to fit. It had nothing to do with the writing itself and, while cutting bits out usually improves a piece of writing, adding bits in is more contentious. But now, that's all going out of the window. Your novel, or novella, or short story, or flash, can be as long or short as you like - though small is definitely more beautiful these days, and even tiny weeny flashes are getting more popular; just the right length to read on your phone while you're waiting for a bus.
So there's everything to play for. And I'm looking forward to going out to play; just as soon as the novel is
“"A lot of them [students] don't really understand," said Kureishi. "It's the story that really helps you. They worry about the writing and the prose and you think: 'Fuck the prose, no one's going to read your book for the writing, all they want to do is find out what happens in the story next.'" Here's the rest:
Wise words, Mr. Kureishi. That's why JK Rowling is a very rich woman; she's a superb plotter. And it's true, the two most popular genres are crime/thrillers and romance, both of which are plot-driven, more or less. But if you only paid attention to the plot, and forgot about characterisation, voice, writing and so on, the result wouldn't be very readable. Would it?
I suppose, as a beginner, you do tend to focus on the writing itself, especially if you've started on the self-expression road to writing, rather than the 'what do people want to read?' road. But good writers, writers like Hilary Mantel or Philip Pullman or Hanif Kureishi himself, to name a few, actually pay attention to all the 'ingredients' in the writer's cookbook. Of course they do. They all matter, and as a good writer, you can't help working on them.
Some of the rest of what he says is a lot more contentious, of course. I'd take particular issue with 'creative writing courses are a waste of time'. If you judge them in terms of number of 'successful' writers they produce, maybe so. But they are hugely productive of learning, stretching, enjoyment, friendships, and all sorts of other unexpected treasures. In any class about anything, most of the students will either not 'get it' at all, or won't go on to become leaders in that field. It doesn't matter. That's not the point at all.
For the record, this is the link http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk for the classes I went to when I started writing fiction again after a long pause. I found all the treasures I've just listed, and more, and along the way I became a better writer too. Now, whether I become a commercially successful one is up to me.