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14 Women and a Man

Posted by on May 22, 2014

I signed up for an Faber Academy writing course to help me to find time in my regular working week for a writing commitment while I prepared to start a part-time MA at City University in narrative non-fiction writing later that year.   The course was billed as concentrating on research and technical aspects of writing family history.  I have learnt much more.

Lesson One – Protect Writing Time like a Starving Dog.

It is hard to believe that it is over three years since I sat down at a large table with fourteen other eager, but at that stage, timorous people.   A now loquacious group of eleven of us still meet up once a month.  We listen to each other’s challenges and achievements, give feedback on recently written pieces story side tracks and keep up with each other’s non-writing lives.   ‘Life’ has an awful habit of bashing in to the precious writing flow like a lollipop lady who continually stops the rush hour traffic politely but firmly to allow the children to get to school safely and on time.   With a board smile and bold blandishment of her bright florescent sign she firmly steps out on to the pedestrian crossing in the face of the fraught stream of traffic.   She is not concerned about the safety or timeliness of the adult working force.    The first lesson for a writer is to protect their research and creative time with the determination of a starving dog with bone.

Lesson Two – Read Like America’s Greatest Living Author.

I had not realised that the American author Philip Roth had retired from writing.   Now he is happy to give in depth television interviews about the process.  This week BBC aired the first part of a two-part series of interviews with Roth by Alan Yentob.   Apart from understanding how his books could be considered to be a continual personal memoir I felt a sense of relief to hear Roth say that he reads everything all the time.  For enjoyment, to get ideas, to help with a stalling writer’s mind and so on.

Currently I have Reading like a Writer – A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose (yes really!) as my book of the moment.   She has four pages of books she suggest to read immediately ranging for Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century to Philip Roth currently considered America’s greatest living author.    I always told those who enquired about my education that I had had a polite one.   Now I have to say that I think I had no real education.   In the endless English Literature classes with the perky girlie nickname of Millie Miles, when in reality our teacher was old, grey and very bored with us, I cannot remember being assigned with studying the theme of blindness in Oedipus Rex and King Lear.   Or asked to look at a paragraph of Lord of the Flies, one of our O’level books, to work out the single words and phrases that William Golding used to build the different and changing characters of the boys stranded on the island.   People who have been writing successfully most of their lives have usually had that good educational grounding to build on rather than the instinctive learning people like me cobble together as we go though life.    So with the renewed help of Francine Prose to read as widely like America’s greatest living author Philip Roth suits me just fine.

Lesson Three – Just keep writing regularly whatever .

No more to be said!


© Nicola Stevens 2014


2 Responses to 14 Women and a Man

  1. Clare Travers

    Nicola, you have reminded me that I too have Francine Prose’s book, in a pile by my bed waiting to be read. I shall get onto it immediately! Have taken Lesson Three to heart, thank you.

  2. Margaret McAlpine

    You were not alone in that English literature was very badly taught at school. We were supposed to read a chapter a week, but if I liked the book I had finished it by the next lesson so was always out of synch with any class discussion. And what was the point of trying to introduce T S Eliott’s Four Quartets to Year 10! I can still remember my exasperation 50 years on.
    But Philip Roth? Opinions are divided!

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