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Archive for the tag “George Saunders”

Intentions: review and setting (week 27)

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Here is a review of last week’s intentions, and my aspirations for this week.

Health and Wellbeing

I ate healthy snacks in the evening and went to ballroom and Latin dancing. I also did more yoga and walking than usual.

I’ve noticed that my to-do lists and becoming too long and overwhelming, causing unnecessary stress.

This week: Reduce the number of items on my to-do list.

Personal Development

I made a list of the outstanding reading from my Critical Reading course, which has now finished. I will work through this in my own time.

Although I haven’t done any art journalling for a long time, I have been feeling a spark of creativity return but have a desire to explore with fabric and stitch rather than paint and paper. Inspired by this post on the Willow in Winter blog, I ordered the Craftpod summer box:

This week: Make a start on the embroidery in the Craftpod box.


I finished listening to The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey. The next books I need to read are The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley and Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse.

This week: Read The Hunting Party.


I finished working through the first section of A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders and wrote an outline for a short story I’ve already drafted in order to give it more structure. I’ve also signed up to a Making People course with Writers’ HQ.

This week: Begin working through the exercises in the course, applying them to my short story character.


I managed to tidy the spare bedroom and the kitchen.

This week: Organise my desk and workspace.

Five things I learnt from George Saunders

I recently bought A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders and so when I saw he was appearing at the Cambridge Literary Festival, I purchased a ticket. Here are five things I learnt.

One: He had many varied jobs before obtaining an MA in Creative Writing and becoming a professor at Syracuse University. Out of 600-700 applicants, only six are awarded places on his course. His novel Lincoln in the Bardo won the Booker Prize in 2017.

Two: He believes that every writer has to accept that they’re not as great as they aspire to be, which I find simultaneously depressing and encouraging. You can make mistakes in your writing today but come back to it tomorrow, and need to have faith in your ability to revise and rewrite.

Three: The workings of the mind operate in the same way as a novelist: it drafts, edits and revises. This is encouraging that it suggests that writing is not some different, magical process that needs to be learnt, but something that we automatically do every day.

Four: It is a fallacy that every writer sets out with an intention because, as you write, the story provides surprising moments. Writing can be a linear process with a series of micro-decisions along the way. This suggests that he is yet another successful writer who does not intricately plan his work in advance. I would disagree that writers do not have an intention in mind at the outset; however, I suspect that it is highly like that their finished work takes a form or course that they did not originally intend.

Five: Reading and writing aren’t separate activities but a communication between two different minds. I agree wholeheartedly with this; I believe reading and writing are two sides of the same coin.

George Saunders is an interesting person to listen to, who speaks with honesty about the reading and writing process.

Five things I learnt on a writing masterclass with Louise Doughty

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As part of the Cambridge Literary Festival, I attended a creative writing masterclass entitled Plot Your Novel presented by Louise Doughty, writer of Apple Tree Yard (serialised by the BBC) amongst other novels.

Before the session, I identified what I was hoping to achieve: a deeper understanding of a method or methods which can be employed when plotting a novel; an insight into the way a successful writer works; and snippets of useful and/or interesting information. The masterclass met these aims and more.

Here are five things I learnt.

One: All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, even if this is not immediately obvious as they might not appear in this order. This strikes me as a useful thing to think about when writing. The ending of a story might be ambiguous or inconclusive but it is still an end.

Two: Mystery is essential as it it the things the reader doesn’t know that are important to make them care and maintain their interest. I think that although this is obvious, it is worth paying particular attention to when writing: how much information are you going to give the reader and when are you going to release it? What are you going to withhold? What can you subtly hint at?

Three: Whether you are writing a short story or a novel, there must be some element of change in your character and a happening which effects this transformation. I have heard this on other courses recently and whilst I believe it probably happens subconsciously for me, it is useful to think about who your character is at the beginning, who they are at the end, and what brought about this change.

Four: Screenwriting techniques, which are quite prescriptive, are a useful tool for the novelist as they provide a structure with points when events happen (these do not have to be dramatic) from which there is no going back. I’ve never particularly been tempted to try screenwriting so have avoided these specific courses; now I’m wondering whether it might not be interesting and worthwhile signing up for one.

Five: Louise Doughty doesn’t begin writing with a fully-formed plot in mind. She comes up with ideas whilst she is in the process of writing. When I was at school, I was taught that I shouldn’t start writing until I had produced my plan. I found this impossible: how could I plan when I didn’t know what I was going to write?! Whether working on a piece of fictional or academic writing, I simply could not do this and if I had to submit a plan with my work, I would write it afterwards, somewhat defeating its point. Similarly, when I was teaching in a college and had to keep a file of detailed lesson plans, I would write them subsequent to the session. I knew the topic and had potential ideas and resources, but I let myself be guided by the learners; the lesson developed organically and try as I might, it would not follow a prescriptive plan. I am therefore always heartened to hear successful writers say they don’t produce a detailed outline before they begin writing. I feel my way of working is validated.

This was an excellent masterclass and Louise Doughty is a very inspiring, informative, interesting and encouraging person, who seems genuinely to care about helping aspiring writers.

I have been extremely impressed by the quality of events offered by the Cambridge Literary Festival and am very much looking forward to attending a session with George Saunders (author of Lincoln in the Bardo) on Crafting Short Stories and next month’s book club with Emma Donoghue (writer of Room). I might have another look at their schedule and see what else I can sign up for!

Top 5 anticipated 2021 book releases

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Here are five books due for release in 2021 that I plan on reading. They keep popping up in different places – book reviews, blogs and literature-related sites – which for me is an indication that I need to read them.

One: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. This is a book based on a class Saunders taught on Russian short stories, which explores not only how stories work but also how the mind works during reading. It’s said to be very readable even for those who are not particularly interested in Russian short stories.

Two: The Push by Ashley Audrain, which is a suspense thriller about a mother who becomes increasingly concerned that there is something wrong with her child.

Three: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi. Another novel about a difficult mother-daughter relationship, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize last year but is due to be released in paperback this June.

Four: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. There is something both scary and fascinating about advances in technology and where things are leading. This novel is about an artificial friend and I am drawn to it with both curiosity and trepidation. His daughter, Naomi, also has a book released this year and they are both ‘in conversation’ about their work via London’s Southbank Centre in April.

Five: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. This is Cambridge Literary Festival Bookclub’s May novel, for which I have a ‘ticket’. The paperback version is released at the end of April, giving me just enough time to read it. It is set in Dublin in 1918 where people are going down with an unfamiliar flu so it is a timely novel, which I will read even though I’ve had more than enough of pandemics.

These are just a few of the many books I am excited about reading in 2021.

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