‘Creative WHAT?’ – The different reactions I get from saying I’m a Creative Writing student

As the second term of my MA Creative Writing comes to an end, the boot camp element of our learning experience has been completed and we’re pretty much off on our own now, intermittent workshops and tutorials along the way. At this point, being part of a writers’ community is an undeniable and wonderful part of my life, which most of my friends and family know and accept. But it’s quite funny what sort of diverse reactions you can still get from saying you are on a creative writing course to other people. Apart from encouraging words of support, which I of course appreciate very much, there are several types which I’d like to describe here quickly:

  1. The ‘Creative WHAT?’-type
    More common among non-British or non-native English speakers, mostly because the concept of creative writing as something to learn in an academic setting, is often unheard of abroad. The “what?” can range from neutral ignorance to a derisive judgment that clearly in their eyes, creative writing cannot be considered a subject to study. We’re not naïve/stupid enough to believe we can be taught how to be a best-selling authors, but there’s still a lot in the art of writing that can be taught, much like even the best musicians or artists are not only born with a natural talent but have been taught along the way to grow that talent. Equally, if you’re absolute rubbish, throwing money into courses will only get you that far and we know that too.
  2. The ‘Are you writing about ME??’ paranoia-type
    Prevalent especially among my work colleagues, there seems to be some deep-rooted fear/paranoia that we must be writing about the people around us. To that I’d like to say, 1. Seriously, I have more interesting things going on in my life and 2. I did say CREATIVE writing, right? Although for some characters/scenes/ideas, I may draw from real life experiences, fiction is fiction because it’s fiction. Get it? So, while I might concede that some things are drawn from reality, a reason why I like writing is that writing can go beyond reality, bending time and space, allowing for anything to happen on a piece of paper.
  3. The ‘Oh, I’ve got a great story you can write about!’-type
    In stark contrast to the previous type, this one WANTS us to write about them and then goes into great detail about their story idea. You can tell us your idea and I really don’t mind. The more I know about the world, the more material I have. But do bear in mind that someone who has decided to become a writer hasn’t done so because he has one idea he wants to write about. Most of us just want to write A LOT and have loads of ideas and if anything, are struggling to choose what to write about within that. Still, thank you for any of your suggestions.
  4. The ‘So, are you going to be the next Man Booker Prize/Nobel Prize in Literature winner?’-type
    This can come in various tones from absolute sarcastic joke to naïve belief that this can just be done like that. To those that joke, I’d like to say, why not? It could be! More likely me than you, who is not writing, right? And to those that believe it’s possible, I thank you for that belief in me but I’d also like you to understand that it’s not that easy. Just like you could be an office worker who never gets promoted, we could be writers who never get published. The spectrum is large and while most of us wouldn’t say no to a prize, we’re equally happy to accept that we can be writers (even good writers!) without that.
  5. The ‘I always wanted to write too!’-type
    Well, go on! Write! You can write for yourself or join a group and if you choose the latter, there are endless opportunities from short one-day courses, through to regular creative writing groups and university-certified courses like mine. I encourage anyone who ever thought to write, to write!

Anyone wants to share their experiences? Write me! 🙂

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A Tale for the Time Being – bending time and space

How often does it happen that the narrator’s great-uncle died in the same way as your own, sharing the same ideals? My great-uncle was a Sky Soldier (a Kamikaze pilot) too who was a pacifist at heart and was forced to die for his country just like Nao’s great-uncle, Hiroki #1 as she calls him. My great-uncle was a student of German studies and kept a German book  with him until the very end. And like the secret diary Nao discovers, the book which contained his handwritten notes was salvaged later and returned to his sister in the 1970s. I only learnt about this last detail now asking my mother more about him, after reading Ozeki’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel “A Tale for the Time Being.”


For the past ten years, whenever anyone asked me whether I had a favourite book, I said Goethe’s Faust. That’s because at some point in time when I was perhaps eighteen that might have been true but mostly because I really didn’t have a favourite anymore. I could also never truly identify with a character in a novel nor share their cultural values. This all changed when I read “A Tale for the Time Being.”

Everything Ozeki writes about Japan is so true, so real (no matter how disturbing and unreal it may sound in a Westener’s eyes) and a reflection of contemporary Japan while incorporating the traditional values, all from the viewpoint of a true 帰国子女 (Japanese returnee students). I’ve never been bullied in the way Nao has been, nor did I have any other painful experiences but having lost my father at a young age, I once attempted to integrate into Japanese society as a high school student… And failed miserably. I loved the details, the stories within the stories (like the former soldier who donated money to save whales) and wondered which details were based on the author’s own life and which weren’t but that’s always the secret of a writer. In a way, I wish it would all be true because the world would be a wonderful place if it were so magical.

 

Summarizing the story, telling you Ruth in British Columbia discovers a lunchbox washed up on the shore that contains the diary of a 16-year-old suicidal girl, Nao Yasutani, living in Tokyo, and gradually gets sucked into her life, does this book no justice at all. Reading precisely this sort of plot summary is what put me off this book in the first place. What this story really does is effortlessly bend time and place, and in the process create a magical world, where everything is somehow connected and anything is possible. The reader becomes the writer, the reality fiction and vice versa. 

 

I’m not religious nor do I believe in many things, but I do believe in some sort of destiny (like the one that brought my pet garden snails, my turtles and my dog into my life) where we’re all connected and can’t help but believe I was meant to read this book. I always had a totally unfounded negative bias towards English-writing Japanese authors and I would have never read this one if it wasn’t for Philip Palmer, who in one workshop on alternative worlds in my MA Creative Writing, couldn’t stop praising this book. 

 

Do you feel like I’ve told you absolutely nothing at this point? Then, there’s only one thing I can tell you now: read this book.