Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A guide to writing course dwellers

As a connoisseur of courses, here’s a directory of the type of people you will meet if you sign up for a series of evenings, or an inspirational weekend.


The Bookwife
She writes now the children are at school, or ideally have buggered off to university. She fits writing between school runs, food shopping, house cleaning, cooking, and dutiful love-making. Her one aim is to validate her life by achieving something. She is galled at her husband’s expense account lifestyle and important sounding lunches, and longs for something to show what she’s worth. That means one thing – publication. Bookwife wants to learn as much about the craft of writing as she can, as quickly as possible, and then churn out something publishable.

Output: she’s on her third unpublished novel.

Spends most of the course: frowning, and the breaks phoning in to check that the kids are alright.


The Lit-chick
She’s a girl on the town complete with glossy shoes and glossy hair. Writing is what she always wanted to do; it’s why she read Eng Lit (at Oxford, of course). She’s doing a job that she calls “dullsville” as an assistant to some big knob in advertising. The job's not important, just a way to earn a little pocket money, but somehow that, and keeping up with hundreds of friends, leaves little time to write. The party last weekend was such a hoot, she could hardly miss it. Her output of text messages betters the word count of most authors.

Output: she hasn’t a novel on the go and might never finish one, but if she does it will be an instant best seller.

Spends most of the course: giggling with the other Lit-chick sitting next to her.


The Bookfly
Each day he wears the same pair of scuffed leather jeans and the black tee shirt. To acknowledge his late arrival on the second morning, he grunts in the direction of the course tutor and then explains how he drank a whole bottle of whisky last night in some dodgy club in Brixton. When he learns that you don’t worship Bukowski, he sneers. Whenever one of the other writers reads their work aloud for criticism you can see him scratching his stubble and raising his eyebrows in feedback. His own idea, still in concept form, is for a novel about an altered political state based on a cult of violent sex.

Output: he’s got too much of a hangover to write today.

Spends most of the course: eyeing the Lit-chick.


Gramps
He’s been writing, on and off, for sixty years. Now retired from his job as an Educational Realignment Counsellor and Coordinator with Brent Council, he’s free to do so full time. He generously offers willing advice based on his vast experience to all, including the course tutor. He also shares from his life experience without reserve, in detailed anecdotes for the benefit of the whole class.

Output: Over three hundred “poems”, some published in the Brent libraries annual. Collection upon collection of short stories including a volume he had printed himself in 1967 which he’d love you to take a look at, if it's not too much of an imposition. A novel he’s been working on for five years, set against the background of the Boer wars, now standing at two hundred thousand words.

Spends most of the course: comparing his own narrative style to the great English diarists.


The Exotic
Her parents escaped from some war-torn hell-hole ten years ago. She reads from her work with a bowed head in a voice barely audible. Her words seep onto the walls and are splattered on the ceiling in a way that changes the whole atmosphere in the room. When she finishes, silence grips every throat as we absorb the horrors that have just been related. Finally, the tutor calls for a break. In the break, Gramps and The Bookfly can be heard agreeing that she can’t write.

Output: the book is nearly finished and she has an offer from a publisher.

Spends most of the course: taking feverish notes, staring at the page, avoiding eye contact.


The Gossamer Strand (can be male or female, or some combination of the two).
As thin as a sheet of paper. When Gossamer reads there is silence too: an awed appreciation of the poetic nature of the work. There’s a wispy translucent quality to the prose as she reads in a stumbling voice. In the breaks, when Lit-chick or Bookwife try to befriend him, he shies away, says he'll stay in the room, finish the exercise the tutor set. He doesn’t turn up on the last day of the course.

Output: carries a binder stuffed with manuscript pages, but it’s nothing worth mentioning, ‘Just an early draft’.

Spends most of the course: saying that she’s no good.



All of the above characters are entirely fictional and any resemblance to members of my writing circle is entirely accidental.

22 comments:

Derek said...

You must be psychic! Maybe that's a new category. Very well observed.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Rod, you must have been on the same course as me!

Samantha Tonge said...

So, which category do you fit into Rod?

Phillipa said...

very funny - except that I know of a lot of Type ones with lots of published novels, award winning, best selling to their name...

CarolineG said...

Oh dear :( I think I am closest to Bookwife.
Not entirely happy with that description Rod!

Very well observed anyway [even if I am mortally offended and thinkig of flouncing off....

CarolineG said...

Actually, am not her at all, reading it again! I won;t flounce off after all ;-)

Kathleen Jones said...

I recognised every one!!! But you didn't include the one who is recently divorced, looking for the big life-change (they're 'writing it all out') and sees creative writing as a synonym for a dating agency. S/he chats up the tutor, and any member of the group willing to go for a drink afterwards.

plentymorefishoutofwater said...

Hmm, you missed 'The randy 20-something male looking for MILF'. Or is that just me? Eek...

The Virtual Victorian said...

Oh my goodness - that is frightening - so knowing and arch and SO TRUE, Rod.

Deb said...

Excellent characterisation overview for a novel about a writers' group, Rod. Another type is the retired teacher who thinks she has enough material from her life to write a best-selling misery memoir:)

Roderic Vincent said...

Thank you so very much for the comments. I have to admit it was with more than a little trepidation that I posted this. Arch is nice.

And Sam, I'm all of them, of course - isn't that how it works with characterisation?

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Where were you Rod? I didn't see you on that course?!

Fabulous post which had me both chuckling and frowning - not going to say which one I am and why I was frowning...
F

Gillian McDade said...

Great post Rod - had me laughing a lot! :) Not sure what category I fit into though!

6p00e54eced2e18833 said...

Bless you, Rod, best laugh I've had in ages - painfully true!

emma darwin said...

Grrr - why doesn't Blogger do TypePad IDs properly at the moment?

That hexadecimal nonsense above was me...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Brilliantly funny, Rod! Ooh, we could set up a virtual writing group comprising these characters and any others we can come up with, and post examples of their work...
Susiex

Roderic Vincent said...

Thank you, Susie. And Emma, I love your new pseudonym - glad the piece tickled you. Rod.

Joanna said...

Oh god, I haven't laughed so much for ages. Or winced so much … but how do I stop myself looking around the next poetry course I go to, assigning types to the students?!

Rosy T said...

I loved this, Rod! Several of them could be me.

Caroline R said...

Thanks for lots more reasons never to go on a writing course!

Poppy said...

Susie and Fi, you are absolutely not allowed to comment any further!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

What about 'Steely Ambitious'? He or she maintains a low profile but actually, it transpires, knows more than the tutor and has 7 books published. This type gets louder and more opinionated as the course progresses. S/he latches onto The Exotic and becomes her mouthpiece.