Monday, 14 April 2008


"The local University runs a creative writing course," says Richard Madeley in his latest bulletin. “I’m tempted to apply for it.”

All my life, I’ve been the idealist type, believing that the driving force of literature is essentially one of inspiration. I rather thought that you had to have a devouring passion for writing, as others have for gambling (after all, the odds are the same).

But perhaps I am simply out of touch.

There are, apparently, alternative ways to learn how to write: one is to sit in a creative writing bubble and live in a time warp - a region whose boundary shrinks to zero if you have nothing else to add - and the other is to set off at a blistering pace, hoping one’s temporal lobes don’t shear off under the sheer thrust of adrenalin. Which is like landing and take-off at the edge of a precipice. Way to go. A kind of literary re-enactment of downfall and salvation, involving a season in hell and a vision of death and rebirth. But it’s the torments of catharsis rather than hours spent with S & W’s Elements of Style that reveal the inner life (even though I’ve always been trying my best to view it as a challenge). Of course, you can always go to the public library and take out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Fiction. The inspired sense of the art of the possible which has characterized all the greatest literary movements - the sanguine, the melancholy, the choleric and the phlegmatic - then becomes the limited longing for the literal lust of the language. No thought could be further removed from the notion of catharsis, but it helps to be artless. It could make your fortune.

So here I am, attempting to present myself as an inspiring muse while commiserating on my own experience as an accomplished failure. Alice reckons that if I keep climbing the pole at the
Spearmint Rhino, I’d sooner or later catch the eye of a nifty and resourceful fixer calling himself a literary agent. That’s typical of people who are all about instant gratification. Alice, of course is the protagonist of my latest book, and has opinions as to the pros and cons of literary procedure that no amount of logic can dispel. Quite unlike Richard Madeley who, much like myself, is at heart a humorist, and who very kindly suggested that I should start this blog. That took me by surprise. I doubted anyone was interested. But if I were to return a well-intended piece of advice, that would be to look beyond the agents of today to the agents of tomorrow. You are, commercially speaking, strategically placed, and literary internment is not a desirable condition. Nor is staggering aimlessly around the literary circuit in search of representation, with little more than creative writing seminars or workshops on synopses as your literary heritage.

"Don't loaf and invite inspiration.
"Light out after it with a club." -

Jack London


Richard Madeley said...

Ah Selena, there’s so much wisdom in this, I hesitate to defend myself and complicate matters by explaining my somewhat addled thought processes of the last few weeks. You also know me so well. You know that my writing routine is usually just to write. I sit down and throw myself into it as though I’m hurling myself from a precipice. I make free associations quickly and try to keep the momentum. I don’t need people to tell me how to write. I laugh at the very notion of being taught something so fundamental to my being.

Yet I was also told last week that being prolific can be seen as a bad thing by publishers. I was advised to channel my energies into a single project. That’s partly why I’m considering the course. I’d like serious feedback on the novel I lost last month but intend to begin again. I’ve also been reading James Wood’s ‘How Fiction Works’. I sit disguised on the train each morning on the way to the Channel 4 offices and I want to turn to the person in the next seat and discuss every point. Judy won’t let me even mention Wood’s name on the show. Yet every page fills me with excitement. And that’s why I’m considering the course. It’s about self-image. You must see how I’m getting very little writing done. From being prolific, I’m now doing next to nothing. Working in the offices at Channel 4 means that I’m isolated within a world of vacuous celebrity friends. There’s all this talk of being hardened by fire and being rejuvenated by trials, but I need affirmation. I want to mix with people who can talk literature. I want to be directed to go and read Henry Miller and to talk about it afterwards. I want to disagree with people, but, more importantly, I want to agree with them. I want stimulation to nullify the hours I spend in drudgery.

My temptation to enrol on the course is tempered by my knowledge that it will give me little more than a place to hang out and talk writing. That’s really why I feel that I need it but that’s also why I hesitate to send in my application form. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to pay a fortune for this basic human right.

Semaj Mahgih said...

All my life, I’ve been the idealist type, believing that the driving force of literature is essentially one of inspiration. I rather thought that you had to have a devouring passion for writing, as others have for gambling (after all, the odds are the same).

It comes and goes, Selena, like former blog visitors. :)

Selena Dreamy said...

Absolutely, James. Always delighted to receive you.

Which reminds me. Which one of your six blogs would be the most receptive to my courtesy call?


Selena Dreamy said...

“From being prolific, I’m now doing next to nothing.”

I know, I know. That happened to my tennis game. From being a natural, if average, player, I was reduced to a fumbling fool the moment I took instructions. I completely lost my serve! It’s the awkward transition from the unconscious to the consciously controlled play. Though, admittedly, once you overcome the debilitating demolition of your natural impulse, it will eventually pay off...

My opposition to creating writing courses derives from a much more general reservation. Personally, I believe that great writers set their stamps on the times, rather than constructing a creative-writing society of formulaic Eloy-like drones, writers in residence, poet laureates, and (Booker) prize winners, whose idea is that repeating a literary formula is a process of rebirth, when in truth it is but imitation.

And who are so are so placed, that they come to be the pooling reservoir for all contemporary cultural information, wit, bigotry and authority. Who are received as the media and wavelength of their day, being mediums of the innermost literary patterns of the principal sections of the nation, but who’ve got neither visions nor dreams to add...

For if this means we lose touch with real writers and treat their talent as 'inexpert', civilisation is the loser.

And in that spirit I pledge that I much prefer the cheerfully glum, literary endurance test that is your blog, Richard, than either Jordan, Jeff, Lee and Sophie or anyone else who just happens to have made the Sunday Top Ten...


Anonymous said...

I am with Dicky on this!!!

As in so much else.