Monday, September 05, 2016

Nature and nurture

I've come to this topic late having missed my post last week - sorry, sorry, an invasion of grandchildren put it right out of my head. But Rick's question about talent v tutelage, and the response from the others, really interests me.

If you've had a good agent or a good editor, you know that their comments and suggestions can improve your book. I've been grateful for that many times in the past, and some of what they have said has changed my writing afterwards. I've gone to lectures where a speaker has said something that has made a difference: I am still grateful many, many years later to Diane Doubtfire (yes, that was genuinely her name) who taught me that changing POV within a scene, unless very carefully managed, makes readers feel as if they are watching a tennis match from the sidelines, turning their heads first one way then the other.

The University of East Anglia with its celebrated creative writing department has alumni like Kasuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Rose Tremain. We can't know how successful they'd have been anyway, but it certainly didn't do them any harm.

I'm not sure I believe, though, that the magic could have been worked on someone without innate talent – that funny, sixth sense we all have that tells us when something we're writing sings and soars and when it's just trudging along in its sturdy shoes.

Like Barbara, I had no family background in creative writing (though I have fond hopes for one of the aforementioned grandchildren following in my footsteps!) and like her I began to read and write very early. I wasn't one of those children who tells stories to their siblings, though I always knew I was a writer. For me it was a very private occupation, a story I told myself as I wrote and saying it out loud would break the spell.

I had to write. And while I don't altogether go along with John Milton that it is 'that one talent which is death to hide' (DI Fleming isn't quite in the same category as Paradise Lost, after all ) I would feel guilty if I didn't use it.

But to be honest, if someone has no inner drive to tell a story, and no ear for the use of language, I don't believe that any training, however good, can make that person a writer. In the old Scots saying, which I guess probably has an American equivalent, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's lug. (ear).

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