How to Write a Novel: be lambasted, reviled and lose your sanity

Once upon a time there was a seminar in which students who thought they might be the next Jack Kerouac or not the next Jack Kerouac but better, or different ,or something else  entirely, paid a lot of money to be taken apart by a blustering foul mouthed ex-novel author and perhaps put together again?

So what was this seminar? Well actually, it was a play written by Theresa Rebeck and performed at the Hampstead Theatre with Rebecca Grant, Bryan Dick, Charity Wakefield and Oliver Hemborough playing the students who had paid their money to Roger Allam as the tutor to learn how to write the next best novel.

Theresa Rebeck says the play looks at how authors find their own writing niche and is very pragmatic about how to become a writer and what needs to be done.

It explores the feelings when your writing is rejected and how each rejection and criticism is like having a layer of skin removed. Oh that feeling when yet again, something that you have laboured weeks or months over, edited again and again, checked the submission requirements and are sure that this time you have got it right, comes back ‘Rejected’. I know this feeling from my academic work. I have published it is true, several (academic) books and articles, but I have also been rejected many times. Each time it hurts worse not less as each time you think you have learnt from your last rejection. I can quite understand why people give up and say ‘No More’, ‘it is more than my ego needs – no more layers to be peeled off please’.

The play comes with the most marvellous programme in which they interview the play’s author; have an article by Anthony Horowitz about his writing; re-issue another by Jack Kerouac; and give a guide to writers’ seminars in the US – where the play is set. there are also some wonderful quotes on writing:

Ernest Hemingway; Erica Jong; Barbara Kingsolver; and William Faulkner.

So the programme is good in itself and really interesting to read.

So I wondered if my favourite book about writing had anything to say: Dancing on the Edge of the World: thoughts on Words, Women, Places, by Ursula Le Guin who taught writing at university but unfortunately I had only copied quotes about narrative – in that it a beginning, a middle and an end amongst others. so no help there…. Although some authors might disagree as some novels don’t go in this order at all.

Anyway, we liked the play at the Hampstead Theatre and would recommend people to go.



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