Two quite disturbing issues regarding writing and imagination were recently been brought to my attention, one by a student, the other in the press.
At my recent Prose Progression course a member of the cohort told me that they had come across a writer being heavily criticised for writing as the opposite gender. This it was considered an appalling subterfuge, in modern parlance sometimes termed ‘cultural or gender appropriation’.A few weeks later Anthony Horowitz claimed that an American editor has ‘warned him off’ including a black character as it would be ‘inappropriate’ as a white writer. The editor was from the US and I should point out that his publisher denies this was said. Horowitz responded ‘Taking it to its logical extreme all my characters will from now be 62 year– old white Jewish men living in London.’
When writing a novel, writers invent people, creatures, aliens and other worlds, it’s called making it up and it stems from cleverly employing ones imagination. I don’t think the majority of readers will be surprised to find that novelists make things up; when we embark on reading a novel we suspend our disbelief, just like going to the theatre or watching a film. I don’t know of anyone who believes that Maggie Smith has spent many years living in a van outside Alan Bennett’s home in North London.
Now reader, I hope that you won’t be too shocked to learn that my writing often contains people that I have imagined, people who are not myself, or like me in any way. Some of them are also children, I have been a child, some are very elderly, I am not yet elderly, some are men, I have never been a man. Others come from cultures unrelated to my own Scots/Irish/English heritage. Some of them are bad, they do dreadful things and one short story character in particular is a misogynist and consequently this has been hard to place and I am quite certain that this is because he has unpalatable character traits. Which brings me to another point, it is often thought that the writer shares the opinions of their characters, they do not, writers are quite capable of convincingly portraying unpleasant folk with great truthfulness this is one of the reasons we enjoy reading.
Ex-Cathedra is the name chosen by many of my former students from the Norwich Cathedral courses who went on to form their own writing group. They have recently published this splendid collection ‘Ten Minute Tales’ specifically written for those suffering from dementia and those that read to them. I was cautioned by one of the writers as the stories ‘…had to be ones that would not raise anxiety often associated with dementia…hopefully there is enough range to engage reader and listener, rekindle memories and promote conversations.’ Well there certainly is; WWII land girls, the abdication and recovering from grief through travel are just some of the stories that will engage readers and those reading to them, as will the scattering of poetry and photographs that aid memory.
My mother suffered from vascular dementia in her latter years and a book with short stories of restricted length, some poetry and illustrations would have been perfect for her. All the proceeds from the book are going to the Alzheimer’s Society. I will be donating my review copy to the local Docking care home. Perhaps some of you might purchase a copy and donate it to someone suffering with dementia or to your local care home, helping those affected and the great work of the Alzheimer’s Society in one modest purchase. Oh, and do tell your friends. Details of how to purchase a copy are at the foot of this post.
Ten Minute Tales — Graham Porter writes on how this project was realised.
Imagine the surprise of discovering that a drawer full of dross is really a drawer full of gems. That was very much the experience of Norwich writers’ group Ex Cathedra recently. Every week, Ex Cathedra members bring a short written piece to their meeting and share it with their fellow writers. It’s occasionally a poem, but usually a story. So, over the years, all the group members have accrued a store of flash fiction, not quite knowing what would become of it.
Then one of the authors encountered a neighbour living with dementia and discovered that her reading of novels had been curtailed by the inability to retain characters and plot from one read to the next. Thus was spawned the inspiration to select and edit the best of the group’s poems and flash fiction into an anthology, specifically aimed at those living with dementia. Norfolk County Council’s Public Health Team and the Library Service were supportive in trialling some of the material at Care Homes and Cafés, and with financial assistance for the initial publication. Thea Abbott, of Smokehouse Press was brilliantly helpful with editing and formatting, and on 15th May this year Ex Cathedra published Ten Minute Tales.
Ex Cathedra have their roots in a creative writing course at Norwich Cathedral between 2008 and 2010, tutored by none other than Patricia Mullin. When the course was completed, several participants remained together and started their own group, choosing a name that reflected their origins. Five of the seven authors of Ten Minute Tales took part in one or both years of Patricia’s course.
Shirley Buxton; Brenda Daggers; Lea Jamieson; Stuart McCarthy; Graham Porter; Avril Suddaby; Valerie Turner.
Profits are being donated to the Alzheimer’s Society and below are the ways of purchasing a copy.
The most cost-effective way for the charity is to purchase direct from The Smokehouse Press @ £7.50 plus postage (Jarrolds of Norwich have a few copies). ISBN 978-0-9576335-6-8 You need to click at the end of the blue link below to get it to take you directly to the company.
firstname.lastname@example.org The Smokehouse Press