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An oddly dual-purpose endeavour. . .
on 29 September 2014
I'm writing this as a provisional review after one reading, because I think I need to read it again, but I have a few problems with the book. It's clearly a class job, but. . . Is it primarily a handbook for running classes in creative writing, or is it a self-help course for aspiring writers? Primarily the former, I suppose, but it tries to be both. Certainly the budding writer can pick up all kinds of hints, but only by a sort of bricolage. Maybe two separate books are needed? (I'd better say very briefly where I'm coming from: I wrote some things in my 20s and 30s which were published and did quite well, but my inability to keep turning things out began to weigh on me, and annoy some editors who were waiting for them, and I simply stopped. Now after another 20 or 30 years I really would like to come up with something half-decent to leave behind me when I croak, and I read this among other possible books in the hope of getting a kick-start, but I fear nothing short of a brain transplant can help me.) David Morley is very keen to stress not only that creative writing can be taught, which I suppose it can up to a point (I've done it myself, and my students were shamingly grateful, but I felt something of a fraud.), and to make a special case for higher-degree courses like the one at UEA. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?! I'm thinking back to the early 1970s, and remembering my friends and I reading Ian McEwan's first books with some incredulity: how on earth did he ever get published, except presumably on the recommendation of his teachers?! Despite what Morley says, academic hothouses have a questionable record of producing the "quality" he talks of. He does at least refer to "mendacious" publicity! I have problems with the whole idea of "creativity" which is tossed around everywhere today. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone creative, and I'm certainly not. I can put bits of knowledge and emotional insight and comment together in what may be slightly unusual ways to make a coherent whole, but I don't call that creativity. Probably nothing more than appropriation and intelligent recycling. But I suppose we're stuck with "Creative Writing" as a thing, or perhaps an industry. I'm also not clear what Morley is saying about the quality of work to be produced. It's not that he doesn't talk about quality, but he also tries to give would-be writers with more modest aspirations something to go on. There are "games" or exercises in every chapter, and some of them are frankly a bit silly for anyone trying to come up with serious work. Also, because the book concentrates on writing classes, Morley suggests many exercises where you are required to read out your work to other students and/or the tutor. No. Just no. If I'm attempting a poem (incidentally, some of the exercises blithely order "Write a poem": if only) I take a lot of trouble over it, it's not just something to be bawled out at a slam. Most poetry is read privately, and if you can't hear in your head whether it's working, perhaps you shouldn't be producing it. I wouldn't do writing in a group like that, any more than I woul;d accept group therapy if I had depression, etc. No thanks. As I said at the beginning, I shall now re-read the book because I think it merits it, and I'm sure I shall pick up helpful pieces of advice, but there does seem to be some possibly crippling confusion over its aims and intended audience(s).