This post is about starting to write what I consider as my first ‘proper’ novel, but I’ve been whisked back into the world of poetry for a moment, after reading an article in Times 2 in which Libby Purves expresses her views on the row about the Oxford poetry professorship. I admire Ruth Padel’s poetry and when I first heard about her resignation I did wonder what the actual (as opposed to the reported) facts were.
I have to admit that it’s taken me years (decades, even) to stop and think before I make judgements based on a media story - there’s almost invariably an opposing way of looking at the same event, so it was nice to read Libby’s measured view of the incident. It’s one thing to hold politicians to account for what they say to journalists, but poets aren’t expected to be constantly on the alert in that way.
And now, back to what I was saying in my last post about feeling vulnerable on my MA course - it wasn’t until the following term that I began to feel more at ease with myself and with the others in the group. The main reason for my surge in confidence was Rosie Jackson, the tutor who took over our small fiction tutorial group of six. ‘Right, it’s time for a larger project now,’ she announced. ‘I want you to bring the start of a novel for next week.’
We all gulped.
‘This doesn’t have to be the actual beginning,’ Rosie went on, breaking a shocked silence, ‘You can start anywhere. The main thing is, to write.’
Then she explained the method we would all follow for giving feedback to each other. To start with, nothing negative would be written. Instead, a highlighter pen would be used on any sections that seemed to the reader to be genuine, to ‘sing’. Any queries or suggestions for improvement would be given verbally later.
This approach unplugged the block that had been building up in my head over the previous term. I wrote freely for the first time in ages, without striving to produce something that would be of a suitable standard for an M.A. course.
I handed it in the following week, and waited nervously for it to be returned to me. There’s something very positive about colours, any colour, but especially the green of the highlighter pen that Rosie had used across great chunks of my printed pages.
This was the start of what I think of as my first ‘real’ novel, In The Lamb-White Days.
When the fiction year of the MA course came to an end, our writing group (five of us, by that time) continued to meet to work on our developing novels. It was Helen H who’d suggested our monthly meetings outside of the official course times. She’d started her MA the previous year, so our first year had been her final one, and she’d realised the value of keeping in touch as a working fiction-writing group.
There was something a bit weird (as well as wondeful) in being part of the process of the making of four other novels in addition to my own. We all knew that the places, characters and plots that we were discussing were total inventions, but it was sometimes hard to remember that these stories weren’t yet ‘real’, and that their writers were almost as much in the dark about what would happen next as the readers were. At the same time, we were working on our next section of the MA course – in my case, poetry, but we still meet up to discuss our fiction writing.