Amateurs, Professionals and Bullshit Going Forwards

The new academic year has started at De Montfort University, and I’m teaching a course on Professional Writing Skills. It’s good to be back in the swing of teaching, and a pleasure to see my students from last year once again.

This is a course that I love teaching, because of the way that it directly mixes philosophical, technical and practical issues. But the longer I go on, the more I’m a little worried by the notion of a professional writer. In my lecture today, I said that I’d like to teach another course alongside this one called amateur writing skills. It got a muted laugh, but it was not really a joke.

The trouble with many widespread notions of professionalism (what I would call faux-professionalism), is that they can be so very narrow and restrictive. They conjure up drab images of suits, ties, boardrooms smelling of stale coffee, and that awful bureaucratic-speak that is properly categorised as bullshit (or bullshit going forward). In this context, ‘professional’ and ‘unprofessional’ (or ‘amateur’) are often terms that are used to maintain a very restrictive range of behaviours, and to limit what can and cannot be thought about and talked about. None of this seems to encapsulate a state of being towards which anybody, writer or otherwise, should aspire.  Read more

Productivity and Failure with Éireann Lorsung

For all those who are concerned with their writerly productivity, you absolutely need to listen to this terrific talk by the writer, Éireann Lorsung, given recently at the University of Iowa. It’s a hugely thoughtful reflection on the problems with the issue of productivity, the obsession with publishable outcomes, the importance of dormancy, and the role of failure in life and writing.  “I’d encourage you, if you can, to try to conceive of periods of low productivity, or of not writing… as times where the work you are doing is invisible, rather than nonexistent.”

So put your to-do list to one side, put down your manuscript, take a break, and have a listen. It sounds like there’s also some great doodling taking place on the blackboard as the talk unfolds: but the talk is only audio, so you’ll just have to imagine the doodles!

(Incidentally, the image accompanying this blog post is called “Idleness Opening the Door for the Lover” and dates from 1405. I like the idea that what I take for idleness may actually be opening doors. Find out more about the image here).

A Book of Changes

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that I’ve just signed the contract on my novel-of-sorts, “A Book of Changes: Sixty-four Chance Pieces” with the excellent Earnshaw Books, purveyors of all good things China-related.

The book should be out some time in the first quarter of next year, and will be available in the UK, USA and East Asia. This project has been a long time in the making — it started out seven or eight years ago with an interest with Calvino’s literary experiments, and the idea of playing with the I Ching (易經) as a literature machine capable of generating new and surprising stories: because what is divination, I asked myself, if not the creation of new and surprising stories? Read more

Because we are too menny?

A couple of weeks back, the novelist Javier Marías wrote an article for the Independent on the subject of why to not write novels (and one reason why you might want to write them). Briefly, the reasons were these: i) because there are too many novels in the world; ii) because more or less anyone can do it; iii) because it’s unlikely to make you rich; iv) because it’s a hopeless way of courting fame; v) because neither will it bring you immortality; vi) because it is not flattering to the ego; and vii) because of the sheer suffering that it involves. As for the sole reason for writing novels, Marías says, “Writing novels allows the novelist to spend much of his time in a fictional world, which is really the only or at least the most bearable place to be.”

I’ve mentioned the torment and suffering before, in a recent blog post, so I won’t go back over that. And there’s a lot that could be said about the rest of the list as well (particularly the peculiar reason Marías gives in favour of writing novels). But what I want to talk about here is the idea that there are too many novels in the world. Read more

Unmapped: Flesh and Stones

I’m very pleased to have another article in Unmapped Magazine. This time the subject of the magazine is books, and the piece is a short story about corpses, cherries, perilous roads in the north of Pakistan, and one of my early encounters with Buddhism, by means of an old and mildewed book that I picked up in a second-hand bookshop. You can read the article here, and if you like it, I recommend you subscribe to support Unmapped’s fantastic work.

Louis de Bernières, Iain Sinclair & Sara Maitland at DMU

I’m very excited to be involved in organising this series of events, with award-winning writers Louis de Bernières, Iain Sinclair and Sara Maitland, all of whom will be talking about aspects of the relationship between writing and place. The events are being hosted by the Leicester Centre for Creative Writing at De Montfort University. The talks are all free of charge and open to all.

3 June: 6pm – 7.30pm — Louis de Bernières

5 June: 6pm – 7.30pm — Iain Sinclair

12 June: 6pm – 7.30pm — Sara Maitland

All talks are in room 3.03, Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Bonners Lane, Leicester.  If you want to go to the Facebook event page, here is the link.

You can download a poster here (it’s quite pretty):

Download.

Young Writers’ Summer School

I’m very pleased to be involved in running the Young Writers’ Summer School at Warwick University, along with writer Naomi Alsop. The summer school is being organised by the lovely people at Writing West Midlands in partnership with the Warwick Writing Programme and Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning at the University of Warwick, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Authors’ Licensing and Collection Society.

The cost of the summer school is £50, and there are bursaries available. Visit Writing West Midlands website if you want to find out more.

On Pakistan, Bicycles and Religious Experiences: Unmapped Magazine

I’m delighted to have another article in the most recent edition of the truly wonderful Unmapped magazine. Unmapped, for those of you who haven’t come across it, is a magazine for travel writing from all those hidden places that are off the map (whatever this map might be). The piece is called The Domed Heaven, the Domed Earth, and is about a strangely religious experience in the tomb of Ali Mardan Khan in Lahore, Pakistan. It is a piece I’ve been thinking of writing for about a quarter century, so I’m pleased that the editor of Unmapped pushed me into it!

Do pay Unmapped a visit and, whilst you are over there, subscribe.They are a fabulous publication.

Complete Writing a Novel Course: Teach Yourself

Since this time last year, I’ve been working on writing a beast of a book for Hodder & Stoughton’s Teach Yourself series on the art, the craft, the mechanics and the business of writing novels. As the book has now been announced on Hodder’s website (see the link here), I thought I’d announce it on my blog as well. Although the link at the moment says that the book has zero pages, this is only because they have not yet received the manuscript yet. It will weigh in at something around 130,000 words, so it’s a weighty tome, and it has been huge amounts of fun to write.

I’m just polishing the final draft of the book, and I am looking forward to sending it off at the end of the month. The publication date will be some time in the first half of 2015.

Doing Literary Nothing

An email arrived in my inbox this morning, and in the email was a fantastic life-enhancing tip that I simply had to share — because you too can lose pounds and pounds by doing literary nothing!

And the best thing of all is that it really works! I have been doing literary nothing for years now, and can’t even begin to calculate the number of pounds that I have lost as a result.

Literary Nothing
Literary Nothing
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