Tag Archives: Ernest Hemingway

An on-line writing course: #1 purposes

Writers must take risks. Personally I hate those little motivational quotes that seem to flood through the twitter timelines of the writing community. Are there a lot of procrastinors out there, delaying the moment of getting down to it by searching for pithy emoticon-strewn one-liners?

Being a good writer is not about nailing it first time. It’s about not giving up until a piece is polished to perfection.

Thank you. I know. But how?

Easy reading is damned hard writing. (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Thank you. I know. But what does ‘hard’ mean? How do you write harder?

The successful writer listens to himself. (Frank Herbert)

Thank you. Are all writers men? And what on earth does this mean in practice? And here’s my all time unfavourite:

Smiling is the best way to face any problem, to crush any fear and to hide any pain.

Not helpful. Smiling has not helped me edit one single sentence. Why do people write this stuff? I probably have to accept it comes with roaming in twitterland.

Despite my impatience with this stuff, the quotes that resonate with me are the ones about taking risks. Anne Rice says it:

145 Risk quoteHere’s my risk – blogging, that is going public, about an on-line writing course I have signed up for. I plan to write about my aims and purposes, about the processes and the outcomes. It’s that virtuous learning cycle of Do, Review, Learn and Apply for those of you in the education world. And risk can be a good learning strategy. Although I’m keen not to make a fool of myself.

Here goes.

Preparation for the course – clarifying my purposes.

The course blurb boils down to an intention to help writers develop self-editing skills. It begins in January 2015 and last for 6 weeks.

Some introductory explanation:

A long-term reader of this blog may have wondered what has happened to my novel. Is it still in the drawer, resting its way to perfection? Has the success of Retiring with Attitude since its publication in July 2014 led me to abandon the novel? Has it quietly been improved and is now ready for whatever the next thing is? No to all of those.

58 Bird by birdI had completed the first draft of the novel. All first drafts are ‘shitty’ according to Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. She was quoting Hemingway. Little of my first daft was raw, first splurge stuff, but I was still conscious that it was not yet ready to be shown to anyone. It needed work.

So I read through it. And I made notes. I began to work through different plot lines. I made notes. I read parts of the chapters to my writing groups that relate to one of the two protagonists. They commented. I made notes. And I say to myself, I don’t really know how to go about this revision. But I have lots of notes.

I want to make my novel the best it can be before sending it to a literary critique service. But after all the actions I have described above, it is clear to me that I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do next. Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, according to the educationalist Guy Claxton.

145 inkwell on screenI know what to do. Find help! And this course, on self-editing skills will be the start of that help! I hope.

So here are my aims for the course:

  • To acquire the skills I need to move my novel on to the next stage.
  • To practise these self-editing skills.
  • To begin to identify the tasks and approaches I need to attend to to move my novel on.
  • To identify specific tasks I need to undertake related to these aspects: plot, character, voice, point of view and prose.
  • To connect with other writers through the Cloud who are involved in the same processes.
  • To blog about the experiences at least once more.

My very first task is to find out how to get to the course on-line. It looks daunting but I must be able to do it. I set up a blog for goodness sake. The tutors advise familiarisation and practice in advance. My faith in them develops. Not only are they published writers but they seem to know a bit about learning to write and learning on-line.145 old hands

Wish me luck and no procrastination. This is it. *Moves cursor to enter website.* Six weeks of writing and editing to the discipline of another’s drum. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’m smiling, by the way.

145 emoticonMeantime, you could tell me what you think I have missed out in my purposes/aims/objectives for the course.

 

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Filed under Learning, My novel, Writing

Let slip the novels of war

War novels have their own ‘best of’ lists on the internet. Frequently these lists have too many testosterone-fuelled novels and horror for me. The five novels I pick out in this post have something else. They use the best of the novel to reflect on something beyond the experiences of most readers. They show the bigger picture – bigger geographically, in scope and in meaning – through individual stories. They use the power of story to explore the urge to survive, the horror of what man does to men, women and children, and how humans react when faced with the vastness of war.

Here are my five (plus two) to think about.

72 all q

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarques

The First World War will be the subject of much remembrance as we reach the centenary of its outbreak. In Britain literary merit seems to be the preserve of the poets. The novel of choice is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarques, written, of course, in German. I did not read it until 2012, having been presented with extracts on a writing course. It was published in 1929, eleven years after the Armistice.

Paul Baumer tells the story in the first person. He and his school friends enlisted in the German army in 1916 as 18 year olds, on the encouragement of their schoolteacher. The story opens on the battlefield and hardly leaves it, except to go home on leave and for a spell in a military hospital. The narrator is killed in October 1918, feeling he has nothing left in his life, that the young person he was has been destroyed in the war. It has killed his friends one by one, and his country has been reduced to sending inadequately prepared raw recruits into battle to die. There are vividly descriptions of battle, but also some lighter scenes such as the theft of the goose, or the canal swim to be with some girls one evening.

72 3 books

The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

My choice for a novel set in the homefront in the Second World War has to be The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen – the subject of a Readalong on my blog earlier in 2013. You can find my review here. One of the best novels of the twentieth century I believe.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The fate of the author (in Auschwitz in 1942) and the location in war-time France meant I was initially reluctant to read this book. But I was charmed and thrilled by it.

Part 1, Storm in June, concerns the flight from Paris in June 1940. The story follows several families as panic hit the capital and they scrambled out as the German army advanced. It’s an amazing exploration of what people do in a crisis, how some have great generosity and others think only of themselves. There is lovely humour, black in places, great tenderness and overall an affectionate look at people through the details of their lives.

Part 2 called Douce concerns life in a village in occupied France a year later, when German troops are billeted on the population. Here the story picks up some of the characters from Storm, but mostly concerns the relationship between a young woman whose husband is a prisoner of war and the young cavalry officer, Bruno. The development of the relationships between victors and conquered, between occupiers and residents is beautifully observed, as are the accommodations that people make to this situation in order to preserve their own values and lives.

The manuscript was carried by Irene Nemirovsky’s daughters, taken in haste to remind them of their mother. It was only produced for publication recently.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

For a novel from the battlefield (or the air battle in this case) in the Second World War I must nominate Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This book is one of my desert island choices because it is so inventive, so rich in detail, so brilliant at showing the absurd in absurd situations. The title and some of the characters have entered our culture.

72 Disp

Dispatches by Michael Herr

Some brilliant writing came out of the Vietnamese War. The novel that made the strongest impression on me was Dispatches by Michael Herr. It’s a searing condemnation of what happened to the fighting men. It convinced me that war is never an answer to anything. The damage inflicted upon the participants is as futile in the Vietnamese war as all others, despite individual acts of heroism.

And the first other one:

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

On publication it was celebrated as the work of a new voice, creative and strong. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers is about US soldiers in the (second) Iraqi war. I read it in preparation for this blogpost. In my reading log I commented, ‘nothing to like here’. Too much of that male stuff here for me. Geoff Dyer was more critical of it in a review of another (non-fiction) book about the Iraq war. You can find his comments here: Thank You For Your Service. He includes these comments:

Kevin Powers served in Iraq but his novel reads as if he were the veteran only of serial deployments in MFA writing programmes. … [His novel is] inadequate as a form of response to the subject matter.

Here’s an example of creative writing class fiction perhaps: ‘while we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer.’ (p1) There was plenty more like that.

72 YB

The title comes from a US Army marching cadence:

A yellow bird
With a yellow bill
Was perched upon
My windowsill

 

I lured him in
With a piece of bread
And then I smashed
His fucking head …

And the second other one:

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

This one is on my tbr pile, having been recommended by a friend. Have you read it? Have you an opinion about it?

And a few more recommendations from browsing the web

Ernest Hemingway For Whom the Bell Tolls (Spanish Civil War)

Leo Tolstoy War and Peace (Napoleonic invasion of Russia)

Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse Five (Second World War)

D.M Thomas The White Hotel (Second World War)

And there are countless excellent non-fiction books as well.

 

Powerful stuff. What have you read that spoke to you about war? I was disappointed to find nothing outstanding in the twenty-first century. Have you come across anything you would recommend?

 

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Filed under Books, Elizabeth Bowen, Reviews