Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Master Class for Creative Writing

There are endless debates about whether or not good writing can be "taught" and numerous creative writing programmes available where you can plonk down your money and take your chances. Many fine writers have graduated from these courses and gone on to publication and fame. However, a lot of the advice usually boils down to two basic things: read an awful lot and then just get down to the actual work and discipline of writing itself. So, for any aspiring writers out there here's a great and free way to get started.
I have long been a fan of Susan Hill ever since I read her WWI novel, Strange Meeting. Recently she's turned to crime writing and I'm anxiously awaiting the next installment of her Simon Serrailler series, the last of which was Risk of Darkness. This fall, Vintage Classics is also bringing out a new edition of her novel The Woman in Black. But in addition to writing, Hill is also the publisher of the small press Long Barn Books and is married to Shakespearean scholar Stanley Wells, so she knows a heck of a lot about the book business in all its various permutations. She used to publish a wonderful little literary journal/magazine called Books and Company, which I used to subscribe to and still miss. It was filled with wonderful articles about writers and the books they loved - many often sadly neglected. Hill has two blogs - one for Long Barn Books (which is wonderfully candid and informative on the realities of publishing, particularly for small presses) and her own writer's blog, where she has recently started an online creative writing course. She will periodically set certain exercises to challenge and improve both the reading and writing mind and a forum for discussion is shortly to be installed. Though the "course" has already started, it hasn't progressed too far yet, so there's plenty of time to either catch up (just read back through her archive for the assignments) or dive in with the most recent task. And unlike the fictional teacher in Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief, I very much doubt that Hill will be asking students to write a description of a piece of toast being buttered - from the toast's point of view. Her blogs are well worth a regular read, even if you aren't interested in participating in the creative writing - she muses often on the beauties of the English countryside around her home and is always recommending interesting books that she's read.

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