Sunday, January 16, 2011
The write stuff
Leo Benedictus, Prospect magazine — Issue January 2011
Creative writing courses once suffered a similar reputation to media studies. But as their alumni start to swell the ranks of the literary elite, this is changing.
“I had a plain kitchen table,” says Ian McEwan. “A sort of small, pine, deal kitchen table. I laid out some pencils and pens, and a block of blank sheets. It was about seven o’clock in the evening, and I promised myself I would not leave this room, and I would not go to sleep, until I had written a short story.” At five the following morning, “a rather grisly tale” called “Conversation with a Cupboard Man” lay finished in front of him. In ten hours, spread evenly across the junction of his second and third days at the University of East Anglia, McEwan had written the first story ever to emerge from a British creative writing course.
That was the autumn of 1970. Today, McEwan is Britain's most successful literary author, UEA's creative writing masters is unrivalled as the country's most prestigious, and the legend of how one came immediately from the other has itself become a famous story. In its unlikely neatness, it almost looks like fiction.
To read the rest of this story online you need to be a subscriber to the magazine. I have a subscription and the January issue arrived in my post box this past week. It is published in the UK but can be bought from magazine outlets - NZ$12.50, A$10.95, US$6.99, Can$7.99.
It has a marvellous books and arts section every month and apart from Leo Benedictus' story on creative writing courses there are also lengthy, thoughtful book reviews and this month Robert McCrum recommending five books on the English language. I recommend the magazine to you.