Thursday, 18 September 2014

See Me After Class



I want to talk about the Arts for a moment - don't worry, it has a direct bearing on writing. Honest.

Recently, the actor David Morrisey, in an interview with The Radio Times, lamented what he calls the "intern culture". His viewpoint is that only those with access to financial support can afford to do acting internships, so those from a poorer background are generally excluded. 

The actress Julie Walters also shared similar sentiments. Actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Freddie Fox have also commented on the issue and, rather than having me paraphrase and risk misquoting themyou'd be better served by reading the BBC website piece here: 

Who is right and what has this to do with writing?

All of them and none of them. Everything and nothing.

The US Declaration of Independence includes a very interesting phrase: "...The pursuit of happiness..." Not, you'll notice, a guarantee, a promise, or even a modicum.

However, let's not kid ourselves that the Arts was ever a halcyon democracy. Or even a meritocracy, come to that.

Money creates opportunity. Education creates opportunity. Class creates opportunity.

David and Julie are speaking from personal experience, but so are Benedict and Freddie. They both come from acting families and relative wealth, but that would only get them so far without them having developed their talents.

Following a recent rejection of one of my thrillers - We like the beginning very much, the writing is good with a humorous tone. But then it continues with too little edge-of-your-seat action. For a thriller it feels too little thriller-ish, and we feel it’s too long, so I’m afraid we’ll give it a pass. - I went through the familiar soul-searching about whether the book actually is good enough to be published. From there it's a short hop, skip and jump to 'Am I wasting my time?' and a reflection on the fact that I'm now writing my fifth novel. 

Is education stifling my ability to write well? (Well enough, I mean.) 

To quote Peter Cook out of context: ...I never had the Latin.

Had being the operative word. A writing education, of sorts, is now available to anyone with internet access. Similarly, the proliferation of ebooks gives would-be writers and readers an opportunity to read the classics, or any genre, from the comfort of their own living room (or lounge, or front room, or front parlour, if you prefer). Time and money are less of an issue, I think, than motivation.

For example, I came to Thomas Hardy when I was 25. I'd simply never encountered him until then and I've loved his work ever since (especially Jude the Obscure). Every author I read informs and influences my writing. How could it be otherwise, since my writing is an amalgam of all my experiences, ideas and imaginings?

Class is part of that too. I believe as writers we should embrace who we are, where we've come from and what values and perspectives we've inherited. But...that shouldn't define the limits of our experience - on the page or off it. Education can expand our horizons by lifting our expectations and showing us what is possible.

I also recognise that the writer's pursuit of happiness is merely that - a journey. You may or may not get published (by whatever means). You may or may not make any money at it. Fame, fortune and artistic opportunity may elude you. 

But be true to your pen, and your writer's instinct, and you life will be a unique adventure.

Which novels have you read that changed your writing for the better, and which would you recommend?


5 comments:

Chloe said...

Reading is definitely the best education for writing! All good books can teach something. I recently read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and feel I learned a lot about how to write original, simple descriptions. I also always think of The Grapes of Wrath because the writing is sparse and tight and beautifully alive. John Steinbeck is incredible.

Derek Thompson said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Chloe.

Abe Books seems to agree with you - they sent me an email showing a whole range of Steinbeck covers. http://www.abebooks.co.uk/books/legends-of-literature/steinbeck.shtml?cm_mmc=nl-_-nl-_-U140918-h00-steinbAM-123314TG-_-01cta&abersp=1

Sandra Davies said...

Different books teach different things - I recently finished the third of a trilogy by Chris Brookmyre and on finishing the third immediately started reading them all again, so excellent was the structure, but I've also hung onto books I've disliked, or thought bad because they contain things I Must Not Do.
Sometimes I get a hint or a straightening of the voice I want to use (NOT plagiarising it)

Derek Thompson said...

Hi, Sandra. That's an interesting idea to keep 'what not to do' books. I also like the idea of voices travelling with us after we finish reading the book. A good book is a welcome guest!

Joan deSales said...

I like your approach on this! In my blog I tend to focus on a lot of the same things. How does a good story really help influence the lives of an audience? Great stories that have influenced me were "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Grape of Wrath."