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Creative Writing: Writers on Writing
Amal Chatterjee (ed)
Creative Writing: Writers on Writing anthologises original literary work by eight contemporary authors – Amal Chatterjee, Colm Breathnach, Fred D’Aguiar, Jane Draycott, Philip Gross, Kathryn Heyman, Sabyn Javeri-Jillani, and Emily Raboteau. Dealing with birth and death, love and ambition, domestic drama and foreign adventure, they take the reader to the country (Ireland, Guyana, England) and to the city (Delhi, Karachi, New York and Prague).
The pieces are accompanied by reflective essays in which the authors explore the creative process behind the writing. For readers, the essays provide insights into the works themselves; for writers, they provide insights into literary craft; and for students on creative writing courses, they provide diverse models of how to discuss one’s own writing.


Hardback edition: RRP £85 - available to NAWE members at £25 (70% discount)
Creative writing: writers on writing is the third book in the Creative Writing Studies series. It comprises eight original creative pieces with accompanying reflections  – poetry and prose but no drama – by well-known and emerging writers: Fred D’Aguiar, Kathryn Heyman and Emily Raboteau’s autobiographically inspired short stories; Sabyn Javeri and the editor Amal Chatterjee’s  prose pieces exploring cultural difference or rapid change for characters from the Indian subcontinent; and Jane Draycott, Colm Breathnach and, perhaps most impressively, Philip Gross offering poems and thoughts on the relationship between language, or in Breathnach’s case languages, and the forming of a poem from what Gross calls the “gravitational field of … memory”.

The collection claims three possible points of interest: the readerly pleasure in the creative pieces themselves; the critical interest in the thoughts of living writers into their own processes or views; and the usefulness of the material as pedagogical example, particularly for degree level creative writing where self-reflection forms a significant element of the activity. Whilst the first two of these claims are valid, it is difficult, perhaps, to see why a more general reader would be drawn to this book. Its selection, although representing diverse work of a very high standard, is by its very nature limited and random. And there are better, or at least more exhaustive books, in terms of genre or formal or ideological position, which concern themselves with the second of these claims. Not surprisingly, and in line with the first two publications in the series, it is in its third claim that this book really works: in different ways each author offers a model for the kind of reflective material which is required of degrees, but, hopefully more than that, is a means to a greater understanding of a writer’s own interests, ambitions and achievements.

The focus on mediated autobiography – what D’Aguiar calls “autobiography doctored for narrative success”, reminding us, as all the contributors here do, that, as an act of “fabrication” relying as much on lyrical imagery as biographical fact, his own story has less to do with his life than we might suppose – is particularly helpful. Given the cliché, many writers start from themselves, or are encouraged or compelled to do so. The reflections here show both the value and the dangers of that; and they show in a way which is necessarily more powerful than a lecture on technique or a mechanical modelling exercise how to shape the stuff of experience, memory and half-memory into writing that will be satisfying in itself but also has an eye to the importance of the reader and, crucially, the market. Heyman and Rabateau show how plot becomes, and must become, story, partly by design and partly by chance. Javeri considers her own shift from telling to showing. Chatterjee explores how to work with the opportunities and limitations of first person narration and the power of editing and avoiding commitment to what might become disabling conceptual frames. And all the poets share Gross’s intelligent and modest commitment to explaining the processes involved in shaping individual poems, or in his case poems in progress, in terms of what he sees as metaphors of space which touch upon questions of language, form and consumption. He also helpfully reminds us of the limits of reflection: “the material [which (in)forms a creative piece] no more accounts for [it] than the contents of a fridge account for tonight’s supper.”

In her own reflective account of the powerfully elusive nature of the creative process, Jane Draycott here quotes, amongst others, the poet Robert Frost. She shares his view that what a writer does is like “kicking ourselves from one chance suggestion to another in all directions, as of a hot afternoon in the life of a grasshopper.” This might serve as a kind of summary of the position of all of the writers in Creative writing: writers on writing. Although some are more concerned with the volitional shaping act of “kicking” than they are with “chance”, they are all aware of a necessary balance. It is perhaps, however, not so much Frost as his English/Welsh counterpart Edward Thomas who has become, as recent biographies and critical works attest, an unlikely representative of how we like to think of a writer, not least in his own struggles to make his way as a jobbing writer and reviewer (always a thankless task!) and his chance discovery that poetry of an immediate and accessible kind – solving for him a longstanding anxiety about the “connection between writing and speech” – might provide a way forward.

Paul Wright

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Additional Information:
Fri 1 Feb 2013
Professional & Higher Partnership Ltd
Issue Number:
ePub edition (2013): 978-1-907076-14-5; PDF edition (2013): 978-1-907076-33-6; Hardback (2013): 978-1-907076-11-4
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