A few days ago we had the launch party for our MA anthology, Bedford Square 5. The anthology is a showcase of the work produced by two years’ of Royal Holloway’s Creative Writing MA, and includes a mix of prose and poetry. It contains the first chapter of my novel.
The launch was a lot of fun. It was great to see lots of my MA group there, and also to meet a number of other students I hadn’t previously had the chance to meet. The event was organised by Susanna Jones, one of the tutors on the course and whose latest novel, When Nights Were Cold, has just been published. Adele Ward, the publisher of the anthology, was there, too, as was Andrew Motion, the MA director. I spoke briefly to him about Angela Carter, as she is one of my literary heros and he knew her before she sadly died, and about the poety taught in schools. There was at least one literary agent that I spoke to, but as I had expected from such an event, she was only interested in literary fiction.
I see the publication of such an anthology as less of an ego stroke, and more of a momento of the course. As I’ve said before, an anthology of extracts is not the kind of publication that will fly off the shelves, but it provides an example of the MA’s work for prospective students and for potential agents and publishers. For me, the launch party was more of a chance to see my fellow writing buddies again, and to imerse myself in the creative buzz of such a crowd – something that’s always energising to me.
But it’s also nice to know that part of my novel is already ‘out there’, waiting for the rest of it to join it one day…
It is useful to see course reading lists before the start of term, though most universities don’t provide a lot of time for this. So in case you are starting an MA and want to get ahead with the reading, or if you’re generally just interested in reading more theory about creative writing, then I hope this reading list is of use to you.
From our very long reading list, these were the core books, the ones we referred to again and again.
- Atwood, Margaret, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, Virago, 2003
- Culler, Jonathan, Literary Theory—A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 1997
- Eco, Umberto, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, Harvard, 2001
- Lodge, David, The Art of Fiction, Penguin, 1992
- Baxter, Charles, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, Graywolf Press, 1997
- Forster, E M, Aspects of the Novel, Penguin, 2005
- Wood, James, How Fiction Works, Vintage, 2008
As well as the books listed above, we’d also often refer to the following (or at least they would crop up in conversation or be recommended for something specific):
- Bennett, Andrew & Royle, Nicholas, Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory (2nd Ed.) Prentice Hall, 1999
- Booker, Christopher, The Seven Basic Plots, Continuum, 2004
- Lodge, David & Wood (eds.), Nigel, Modern Criticism and Theory—A Reader (3rd Ed.) Longman, 2008
- Rivkin, Julie & Ryan, Michael (eds.), Literary Theory: An Anthology (2nd Ed.) Blackwell, 2004
- Pope, Rob, Creativity—Theory, History, Practice Routledge, 2008
- Prose, Francine, Reading Like a Writer Harper Perennial, 2007
These weren’t on the list, but from the many books about writing that I have read, I have found these the most inspiring. They mostly deal with the philosophy, motivation and creativity of writing, rather than academic theory (though I have seen Short Circuit on university reading lists).
- Gebbie, Vanessa, Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story, Salt, 2009
- King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, New English Library, 2001
- Morgan, Nicola, Write to be Published, Snowbooks, 2011
- Naimark-Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Shambhala Publications Inc, 1988
It is important to understand the theory of writing. Much of it is conflicting, and you might not agree with all of it, but it is useful to know what is being said and understood by informed individuals and literary movements, so that we, as writers, can take the most appropriate and informed direction in our own work.
Have I missed out your favourite book about writing? Leave some recommendations in the comments section.