Doing a Grisham

Today on the blog Dr Russell Schechter talks about the MA devoted entirely to Writing the First Novel being launched at St Mary’s University this September. And be sure to head back to the blog on Tuesday to find out what David Towsey has to say from the alternative perspective – the point of view of someone who has completed an MA and had their work published.

A while back I ran into an old professor of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in years and amid our 60-second catch up on life, work, etc. I told him I had published a few novels.

‘Yeah,’ he said, nodding knowingly, ‘I’ve been meaning to do a Grisham myself.’

I nodded back, not really knowing how to respond. Each of those novels had taken me the better part of a year – not to mention more than a tad of heart and soul – to complete. But my prof friend had the charming/ludicrous idea that writing a bestselling novel – ‘doing a Grisham’ – was something that could be knocked off as easily as reheating takeaway pizza.

‘Oh,’ I think I said. ‘That would be good.’

And it would be good – if only he had been serious about it and considered what might be required to plan and write a novel. There are lots of horrible untruths about writing: everyone has a novel in them, write what you know, never judge a book by its cover . . .

What is the truth about writing, and writing novels in particular?

It is hideous hard work.

Okay, it’s not digging in a mine, or assembling widgets on a factory floor, or scrubbing airport toilets.

But it is digging through your mind. And assembling handsome sentences out of thin air. And sometimes scrubbing the smelly bog of your own existence for truth and meaning, and maybe a little decent action and snappy patter.

For the past nine years, I’ve been teaching Creative Writing at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. As you might imagine, I’ve read an enormous range of writing, from the exciting to the execrable. I’ve seen a lot of energy, a lot of desire, a lot of talent and a lot of . . . confusion.

We are launching a new MA at St Mary’s University this September, devoted entirely to Writing the First Novel. Just that: no poetry or screenwriting or journalism (though we love those things, too). Just the novel. Our goals in creating this postgraduate degree are to nurture talent, usefully channel energy and desire, and attempt at all times to alleviate confusion about the process of drafting a novel. Too many aspiring writers misunderstand the requirements of a novel. They believe that passion is a substitute for hard work (though of course you need passion to do the hard work) and that inspiration is a stand-in for planning, structure, discipline. We at St Mary’s – novelists all – plan to offer new writers the tools, ideas and rigour of thought and deed that can help them progress from vital first sentence to final full stop.

We have no snobbery about what people want to write. I am a proud writer (and reader, of course!) of genre fiction. Nothing would make me happier than to see one of my students produce a manuscript worthy of Jo Fletcher Books. I think people should – indeed, must – write the kind of story they are moved to tell, regardless of which section of the bookshop it lands in. If you don’t love what you write, who will?

Can we succeed in this challenge? I hope so. I think it will be a fun and exciting venture as we try to hone the talent that walks through our door and begin to build a small community of like-minded writers.  If you are at all interested in joining our MA, you can email David Savill for more details. Or click here.

And then maybe you, too, can ‘do a Grisham’ . . .

Dr Russell Schechter
Strawberry Hill,
Twickenham

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