As you don’t need me to tell you, today’s the 72nd anniversary of D-Day and the commencement of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. 160,000 British, American and Canadian troops crossed the English Channel that day, with 10,000 killed, missing or wounded by nightfall. And in the middle of all that, aged twenty-nine, was my dad, Walter William ‘Wally’ Carver, a Corporal in the Pioneers.
One of my most popular posts last month was ‘How to Write a Novel.’ This was basically a plug for a course of the same name that I teach for the Unthank School of Writing, and although enrolment is buoyant, I’m guessing that a lot of the hits were actually people looking for advice on how to write a novel. In that case, as November is National Novel Writing Month, here are a few free tips to get you started…
This is not a review. This isn’t an earnest cultural study. This is just me… ‘Icon’ is an overused word, especially in music, but this week I got to see the real deal because John Lydon was playing in my hometown. He’d almost certainly despise me for saying so, but for my generation that’s like seeing Elvis or The Beatles – someone who represents a seismic change (arguably the last) back when rock ’n’ roll was still a serious, evolving art movement rather than simply cold, hard product – the only difference being that he remains a genuinely independent artist, not on the Fortune 500 or a grotesque parody of his younger self. This is why he was at a medium-sized campus venue on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday night in Norfolk.
I’ve just finished teaching a course called ‘How to Write a Novel.’ The idea of this was to go from first principles to actually revising and polishing a manuscript until it was suitable to submit to agents and publishers or to self publish. I’ve also just finished copy-editing a huge project for myself. I quite enjoy copy-editing, which is a skill I picked up as an academic, but some of my students found it maddening (at the same time gaining a new respect for the skills of professional copy-editors and proofreaders).
Where’s Sailor Jack? is by turns romantic, poignant, and extremely funny, exactly what I want from a family saga. Like its hero, Bob Swarbrick, this novel is charming, charismatic and complex, and reminds us that not all contemporary fiction has to mirror Hollywood, with metrosexual twenty-somethings charging about solving impossible problems. Where’s Sailor Jack? is measured and thoughtful, with a strong plot, believable characters, and an intelligent moral centre.
I recently wrote a piece about the on-going debate regarding whether or not ‘creative writing’ can be taught, being inspired by Cheryl Whittaker’s interview with my old friend Ashley Stokes. As this is a major part of my professional life, I was, of course, arguing that it could, while suggesting that the gainsayers tend to confuse the art with the craft.
Like the stale peanuts, the suspicious bottle of wine, and Noddy bloody Holder, I’m still here. Rest assured that I remain committed, and have a lot more to say about the business of writing. So, as another year slips away like an egg sliding off a skillet, I thought it might be useful to summarise where we’ve got to in the last few months in anticipation of all those New Year’s resolutions to finally write that novel. Nothing too heavy – just a few basic tips to get you started and keep you writing...
When I consider the sheer volume of creative writing courses, masterclasses, retreats, manuscript assessment and ‘author solutions’ services currently available to aspiring authors (for example when I can’t sleep), I am often reminded of the rapid rise of Spiritualism in the 1850s, a process that the mathematician Augustus De Morgan likened to the spread of smallpox.
Thank you all again for such an enthusiastic response to my list of Top Ten Writing Mistakes. I’m delighted that so many writers feel that this is of value, and thank you all for liking, sharing and re-blogging. You are stars. Number Nine (‘Bad Sex’) seems to have set fire to a fair few haystacks, so, as promised, here are some further thoughts on writing about sex. Not that I have all the answers - I just have my preferences like everybody else.
First off, let me just thank each and every one of you for such a positive and enthusiastic response to my post on ‘Top Ten Writing Mistakes.’ For a new blog the response was overwhelming – I think more people read this than all of my academic publications combined. It just goes to show what you can achieve if you distil your life’s work into ten bullet points. Point Number Nine (‘Bad Sex’) seemed to have touched a nerve, and I have more to say on the subject, but not today...