Tag Archives: Creative writing

Man Booker at Birkbeck – Kazuo Ishiguro

This post was provided by Emma Curry, a PhD student in the Department of English and Humanities, working on Dickens’s representations of objects and body parts.

Last year’s inaugural Man Booker event at Birkbeck was an entertaining and fascinating evening, and this year’s discussion between Prof. Russell Celyn Jones and Kazuo Ishiguro (or ‘Ish’ as he was happy to be referred to) continued that high standard. The talk was warm, witty and wide-ranging: Ishiguro spoke at length on his connections with Japan, his writing practices, his use of different voices within his novels, his interest in both individual and collective memory, and the place of art in an exploration of what it means to be human.

As someone with an interest in the process of novel-to-screen adaptations, it was particularly fascinating to hear Ishiguro talk about the film versions of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. He amusingly revealed that whilst he is credited as ‘executive producer’ on Never Let Me Go, he has very little idea what this title actually means! It was also interesting to hear in this part of the discussion about the process of writerly exchange: whilst Ishiguro writes screenplays, he prefers not to adapt his own work: instead the screenwriter for Never Let Me Go was Alex Garland, who in turn is himself an author, having written the novel (but not the screenplay) The Beach. Whilst some writers dislike the film adaptations of their work, Ishiguro praised what he called the ‘natural’ alliance between the novel and the cinema, suggesting that it was an important connection to both cement and develop in an age of somewhat formulaic, brainless blockbusters.

The discussion was followed by questions from the audience, all of which Ishiguro answered generously and thoughtfully. All in all, the evening was highly enjoyable and a fascinating exploration of a writer’s motivations and inspirations. It uncovered fresh approaches to Never Let Me Go, as well as providing some encouraging suggestions and amusing thoughts on the creation of fiction in general. I look forward to reading much more of Ishiguro’s work!


The Writers’ Hub: Self-Publishing – Vanity Fair or Brave New World?

This post was contributed by Catriona Jarvis, an alumna of Birkbeck’s MA Creative Writing.

Attendance was high and the audience attentive at this Room 101 panel discussion deftly chaired by Julia Bell, senior lecturer on the MA Creative Writing at Birkbeck who introduced us to the panel: Orna Ross, Irish writer of both novels and poems and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors; Alison Baverstock, writer and lecturer on the MA in Publishing at Kingston University, and Karen Inglis, children’s author.

It was extremely heartening, not only to hear from such a talented and successful all-woman panel, but also to hear their unanimous message that self-publishing works, and that it is most certainly not the option for those who can’t cut the mustard. Far from it! It puts the author in the driving seat and brings her closer to her readers.

Orna, who was a journalist before becoming a published novelist, (encouragement for those of us who have been many other things and are now striving to become published novelists…), unhappy that publishers were, in her view, selling to retailers such as supermarkets and chain stores rather than readers, wrenched her two-book deal away from Penguin and e-published instead.

Perceiving the need for a non-profit organization to represent and support writers, Orna launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the latest London Book Fair. She had last been there as a writer and felt there was a gulf as the only writers there seemed to be the celebs. This year, however, there was a big ‘e-section’ and a most definite sense that there is a place for both e-publishing and other self publishing, with flexibility for authors to move between self-publishing and the more traditional route.

Although we are watching the re-arrangement of the deck chairs, they are not on the Titanic, says Alison Baverstock. Self-publishing is not just for those who comprise slush piles. There are huge numbers of good writers out there, but publishing houses are culling their lists. In what is now a vast proliferation of media, authors are required to market themselves. But she was firm that the industry is not on the run and certainly not dead. Rather, this cloistered world is opening in order to share the bread and wine and this is an exciting time. Writers need to have a blog and be seen and heard on Utube and twitter (NB. Alison reads book reviews on twitter). (Caution: use one form of social network properly rather than all of them badly. Spend no more than ten minutes, three times a day networking). Above all there must be professionalism. Services are now available from those such as professional publishing for the self-funding writer and the Society of Editors and Freelance Proofreaders. As Alison pointed out, well-managed publishing is invisible and any self-publishing must be highly professional. One option is to build a profile through self-publishing and then turn to the traditional publishers for professional publishing and marketing services (although most authors do not come into public view until their third book…). In what is another big change of policy, the Society of Authors will now admit you if you have self-published and sold at least 200 copies of your work in a year.

Karen Inglis wrote The Secret Lake and Eeek! some ten years ago and they sat on her hard-drive. Although Bloomsbury had liked what she wrote they said it was too short for a children’s book. She writes professionally, works on web design and has a blog (have a look at wordpress blog – it is free and easy to use!). She took the plunge and self-published with the benefit of help from The Advice Centre for Children’s Writers, both in hard copy (on demand) and online(see for example ‘lightning source’). A freelance artist found via the internet designed her book covers. She sells about 100 copies per month via Kindle, (Kindle also provides a lending library service, free to the reader with a small fee to the author). She designed the layout, picked the typeface and did all her own PR (for example through her local paper and her local bookshop- Waterstones). Be under no illusion that it is very hard work, but it brings 70% royalties instantly; there is no such thing as ‘out of print,’ and you are not ‘remaindered’ after a few weeks. (Caution: check the terms and conditions of any contract with great care).

Julia reminded us of the writing community that has grown from Tindal Street press.

Do not under-value your work. At 2.99 it equates to a greeting card, but at £4.99 it remains under the psychological £5.00 (or $5 barrier).

The writer was a resource to be mined but is now a partner with the publisher.

It is a nonsense that self-publishing is vanity, says Orna: vanity is embodied in intention.

It was also hugely affirming to hear from Alison that what fascinates us is what we want to read about, and that self-published authors are happy people.

Keep writing.

Get out there.

Catriona Jarvis (not out there yet…)

MA Creative Writing (Merit) Birkbeck, 2009


Man Booker nominee Sarah Waters visits Birkbeck

This post was written by Hannah Merritt on behalf of the Department of External Relations.

On Monday 14 November, Sarah Waters, the award-winning author of Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith and The Night Watch, visited Birkbeck as part of the Man Booker Foundation’s University Initiative.  I arrived early to secure my seat, which turned out to be a very good thing indeed.  More and more people poured through the door until the crowd spilt over into the gallery above as well.   They had all come to hear Sarah Waters talk about her latest book, The Little Stranger.  Many, including myself, had copies of the novel firmly in hand.  I read the book in the week before the event.  It was the first time I had read a Sarah Waters novel and it won’t be my last.  Sarah’s writing draws you into the period she writes about and her descriptions of the crumbling house Hundreds Hall make you feel like you’re watching its decay yourself.

Russell Celyn Jones, Professor of Creative Writing at Birkbeck, hosted the event.  Russell and Sarah had an existing connection: he was a judge for the Man Booker Prize in 2002 when Sarah’s previous novel Fingersmith was nominated.  Sarah kicked off the event by reading two extracts from The Little Stranger.  The first was the opening scene, in which Dr Faraday, the narrator, describes his first visit to Hundreds Hall as a child.  The vision of the house in its prime sets the scene for the despair of its later crumbling state.  The second extract came from about a third of the way through the book, when Roderick describes the spooky happenings in his room, where collars and cufflinks jump from the dresser to the wash basin behind his back.  I remembered this scene vividly from my first reading of the book: it was the first (though not the last) time I felt shivers run down my spine and made me grateful that I was sitting in a well-lit room!

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