Writing

Creative Writing

I am writing this post in an angered response to the “writer’s advice” that I read online this morning. The author in question, Ray Bradbury, claims that “you can’t learn to write in college”. This ridiculous statement was provided by a man who turns ninety-one this year, and is out of touch with the brilliant learning experience and outstanding platform that writing at university today can give you.

Au contraire to Bradbury’s opinion, you can certainly learn to write well in college. Writing courses at university are there to encourage and develop creative ability. Bradbury paints writing tutors as disgusting, repugnant people for daring to have the nerve to be renowned experts in the creative fields. “The teachers always think they know more than you, and they don’t.” Excuse me, Mr. Bradbury, isn’t that the purpose of having a writing mentor? Someone to guide and shape your work, offering criticism and positive feedback, not only helping you to improve it for publication, but also increasing your belief in your capabilities? Surely you can only strengthen your chances at establishing yourself as a writer by pushing your writing limits, as well as attending seminars and lectures on your chosen art form, and by talking to those in the profession who you would otherwise not have access to? Creative writing at university is undoubtedly a marvellous opportunity for this.

Bradbury defends his assessment by stating, “They [creative writing lecturers] have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time.”

The writers that we study in college are successful for a reason. Their techniques are there, for the taking, to emulate. You don’t have to like what they have to say, you don’t have to agree with their philosophies or opinions, but you can learn something from them. Just because my mentor happens to have a soft spot for John McGahern (looking at you Dr. John Kenny) does not mean that he forces said writer’s short stories down my throat. In fact, in my experience, creative writing teachers are always open to discovering and discussing new authors. College writing courses are shaped to bring out the best in you as an author, whether your specialism be in poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, fiction, non-fiction, or even all of the above. Having a working and professional writer as a mentor is really important, because they have been in the same position as you – with the bonus that they’ve experienced the publishing game and know how to enforce the word ‘EDIT’.

I am currently undertaking Creative Writing as an undergraduate at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and having a bloody fantastic time doing so, which is why I find Bradbury’s criticism of this so infuriating. I have learned more about writing over the last two years in my course than I have in the total of fifteen years that I have been pursuing this passion, and I’ve gained a lot more confidence in my writing than if I’d dismissed it as a mere hobby and not continued it to third level. I’ve met people who thankfully are just as enthusiastic about writing as I am. Writing in a group has made me less coy about focusing on my writing future, comfortable in the knowledge that I will be spending next year working solely on my writing portfolio. Studying it at university has made me realise that writing, for me, is far more than a pastime. I want to make it my career, and thanks to college, I have mentors who are not only flourishing in terms of their own creative abilities but who are determined to help me do the same.

Marése O’Sullivan

National University of Ireland, Galway

Link to Ray Bradbury article in ‘Advice to Writers’: http://www.advicetowriters.com/

Travel

La France

For the next year, I will be crashing a country where they are renowned for chomping on snails, where they have multiple forms of saying “you” and where they invented the guillotine.

Nervous, me?

While I certainly will be adjusting to a lifestyle quite unlike the Irish one I am so accustomed to, France will be a welcome change. It is undoubtedly a country with a past. Centuries of bloodstained history define my future home: tales of beheaded Kings and battles to the death, tested rivalries and colossal challenges to the defence of the country’s borders from seemingly unconquerable foreign armies echo throughout the ages.

Battle of Castiglione, 1796

France would not be the country it is today without the horrors it has witnessed and the wounds it has attained from bygone eras. The French have a strength, a distinctive toughness, that is evident in their everyday life.

We all feel that our past has marked us somehow – maybe not in an obvious way – but the scars are there, unseen to the human eye. The French, as a people, are a remarkable embodiment of the struggles and pain that their country has endured. Their solemn pride in the rich and magnificent landscape of France, the graceful beauty of the countryside and the shining brilliance of the cities transcends any language or cultural barrier.

Brittany, France

Akin to the Irish, when young and old French soldiers alike were heading into battle, ready to lay down their lives in wars that extended far beyond themselves as individuals, they had to fight to the bitter end for a cause they believed in. They fought for their families, they fought for their freedom, and most of all they fought for their wonderful country that they called their home.

I have realised that the similarities between Ireland and France are more important than their differences. Going to a new country does not mean rejecting the established ways, accepted practices and traditional approaches there. It is about respect: an endeavor to embrace the diversity of a culture more alike your own than not.

That does not mean, however, that I will be trying any snails.

Marése O’Sullivan

Books

My Top Five Reads of All Time

I’m quite enjoying this blog-writing escapade. So I have decided to embark on another. 🙂

My Top Five Reads of All Time:

1) The ‘Harry Potter’ Series by J.K. Rowling

Anyone that knows me is painfully aware of how much I worship the Harry Potters. It is not enough to say that the series encompasses a variety of fully-formed, well-rounded characters with strong opinions, fight-to-the-death battle sequences and the trials of true love. What I love most about Harry Potter is both the sheer integrity and respect with which the author treats the characters and their friendships, and also her beautiful, poignant tone that is clearly woven throughout the narrative. The characters have grown up with me, from a little girl of ten years old to a stubborn bibliophile of twenty. Jo Rowling’s words have seen me through the worst and best of times – the death of my grandfather, new starts in life (college in a different part of the country, meeting new friends and keeping old ones) – and helped me through perhaps one of the toughest times of them all, dealing with my grandmother’s onset of Alzheimer’s. Nothing can ever change the impact that the Harry Potter books had on my growing up and development through the years of my adolescence, and I suppose that’s why I have such a special connection with them.

 

2) ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks

I attribute part of my recent re-appreciation of history to the wonderful novel that is ‘Birdsong’. Faulks combines the horrific descriptions of trench warfare in World War One with a beautiful and eloquent captivation of true love in the early twentieth century. His story is so vivid and rich that I really felt as if it was real. I loved his mixture of powerful English and scatterings of French, which appealed to the linguist in me and revealed his gift with language. Some day I hope to emulate his fantastic writing ability and career, and I really can’t give him much more praise than that.

 

3) ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan

I think I saw the film before I read the book, but my mind was blown by both. It was a really original story for a rather short novel. Of course, McEwan is renowned for his writing prowess and this book is a tribute to his fantastic ability with the craft. I loved the choice of name for his main character, Briony, and the fact that she too is an author. The plot is touching and enduring for the reader and relentlessly challenging for the characters.

 

4) ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by C. S. Lewis / ‘The Hobbit’ by J. R. R. Tolkien

  

I am obviously enthralled by fantasy, which is why I adore both the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ series and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and have given them equal pride of place on this blog (I just couldn’t choose!). I am ashamed to admit that I have not yet tackled the immense volumes of the latter, but I have read their predecessor ‘The Hobbit’, which I thoroughly enjoyed and I look forward to seeing the two-part films of it. The screen versions of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, I thought, were pretty fantastic and I wanted to see how the books compared, particularly as I am usually an advocate of book over film. Both of these authors are world-famous. Their stories appeal to many generations of people and I am really glad that these writers are so appreciated as they are.

C. S. Lewis seems to be more concerned with character (especially with regard to the gentle yet strong-willed Lucy) while with Tolkien, the focus is plot. They both manage to contain many in-depth and fascinating characters in their work and, vitally, they never lose focus of where the story is going. I am completely in awe of the complex landscapes and unbelievable creativity that they exhibit in their novels. They appeal to the fundamental humanity within us, and there is always a sense of the authors just recounting a story of a journey.

 

5) ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen

For people that haven’t read her, perhaps the hype surrounding Jane Austen’s writing seems a little over-the-top, even unnecessary. I myself was not particularly a fan before I read her work. I knew that it was just remarkable what she achieved in the restrictive times that she lived in. Being a female and an author was almost unheard of in those days – she did both and she did it so well that her name is now eternally remembered. I was never fully convinced that she would live up to my expectations and her famous name. But she did.

Having read her classics such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and most of the others she wrote, my focus then turned to one of her lesser-known novels, ‘Persuasion’. I knew I would get a cracking story and fantastically vivid characters. But Anne Elliott was refreshingly different to Austen’s other heroines. Communication, as always, is central to the Austen story, but there was something rather unique about this tale. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Perhaps because I hadn’t seen a film or other adaptation of ‘Persuasion’, I went in to it pretty blind, and came out awestruck by the captivating prowess of the renowned mistress of English literature.

I believe rereading Austen is essential to realising the full extent of her capability. She sets up plot twists early on and evokes real characteristics of human beings, and these resound with her readership even centuries after she walked the earth.

Marése O’Sullivan