Monday, 26 September 2011

‘Felt-likes’, revolving doors… and other ideas I've pinched from someone else

This is slightly nerve-wracking. A first blog post. My first blog post. Years behind the curve…

So why have I started?

For about eight years, I’ve taught creative writing at the University of Westminster. And for the last five, I’ve worked with students moving from their first to final years across a whole degree. In that time, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with their work – which has often been brilliant, funny, inspiring and surprising – and also with a huge number of visiting writers, for whom exactly the same can be said. But I’ve never made any record of it. I’ve allowed these interactions to happen in the present tense – which has been exhilarating. But this summer I realised I wanted to have something to look back on...

That isn’t the only reason. I also want to write something ‘live’. Active. Something that people, if they want, can follow and respond to, and which tries to give some shape to the collective experience of a creative writing degree. More personally, I want to think about what it means for me, as a playwright myself, to teach what I do. How it feeds back into my own practice. How it inspires it. Blocks it sometimes. Frees it at others.

These are the sorts of things I hope to include:

- a sense of how the weeks play out. Today is day 1, week 1, of the autumn term, 2011. For some students, it’s the first day of their degree. For others, it’s the beginning of their final year. I hope for both these groups – and the one stuck in between - some of what ends up posted here may actually be quite useful

- the chance to share some of my experiences. Plays and books I love (and don’t love). The work I’m engaged in myself. Challenges, problems and breakthroughs

- a record of the conversations I have with the writers (old-hands and brand-news) that pass through the same doors as me everyday.

With the first of these points in mind, here, literally, is what this week means for me: it’s the week I start teaching two groups of second years for my playwriting course ‘Making Plays’; it’s the week I’ll be teaching two ‘Writing the City’ classes - a course looking at London as a place of literary inspiration and production; it’s the week I teach my first MA playwriting class, ‘Conflict and the City’; it’s the week I (re)meet the six third-years I’ll be tutoring for final year playwriting projects. And then there’s all the other theatre/writing-related stuff that fits in around it all, which I’ll try and cover as I go along…

In the spirit of sharing experiences, I’ll kick off by just mentioning two plays I saw this weekend: The God of Soho at The Globe and The Wild Bride at the Lyric. Both exuberant, funny, full of panache. The first had some unfair reviews, I think. There was something delightful and anarchic about it, even if the script has the sort of structure dramaturgs get very exercised by. Something iffy too, about the structure of the The Wild Bride - but otherwise the macabre mix of bluegrass and torture worked just fine for me... Unfortunately, The Wild Bride finished on Saturday - but I'd really recommend going to the next Kneehigh show, whatever it is (here's their website: ). There’s one more chance for The God of Soho (this Friday), and the director Raz Shaw is worth watching out for...

I'll sign off with a couple of ideas that have stayed with me from the last week - when the corridors filled with students as if a damn had suddenly burst nearby. On Wednesday, I met forty of them with my colleague Nick Johnstone and we talked about the differences between literal and artistic truth. Nick also introduced the concept of ‘felt-likes’: a phrase his daughter uses to describe what the rest of us would probably just call fibs. Only, for her, ‘felt-likes’ aren’t untrue at all. They’re just a much more interesting way of expressing the world as she understands it. (If you want more context to this discussion, check out this article about James Frey’s controversial ‘memoir’A Million Little Pieces:

Finally, Nick had another nice metaphor that I wanted to remember/poach. He described writing over a lifetime as like spinning around in a revolving door. With the hope that, if you’re lucky, you might be flung out the other side a very slightly better person.

Ok, enough for now. Off to the first class of the new year...


  1. The first comment, a rare privilege on the web, to be the first. I have been thinking a lot about the coming winter and the potential which seems to be coming with it. It seems, whatever the trigger- the new academic term or something akin to what I have felt for the past couple of weeks now it is darker quicker and colder- you have added to this exciting potential. The post has the very honest and easy tone of your classes. A tone and enthusiasm I would have missed, perceptive and astute yet always with a sense of wonder- at times endearing, at others infectious. So with the rest of potential that I hope will come to fruition over the next few months I look forward to this blog becoming. Well wishings and good luck.

  2. Welcome to the, erm, blogosphere! I look forward to reading. xxx