TEXT review

Reflective practice

review by Jeremy Fisher


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Amal Chatterjee (ed)
Creative Writing: Writers on Writing
Creative Writing Studies Imprint
Professional and Higher Partnership, Newmarket, UK 2013
ISBN 9781907076114
Hb 216pp GBP75.00


What a good idea, I thought when I first received my copy of Creative Writing: Writers on Writing. Amal Chatterjee has collected creative works from himself and seven other writers, Colm Breathnach, Fred D’Aguiar, Jane Draycott, Philip Gross, Kathryn Heyman, Sabyn Javeri and Emily Raboteau, and then asked each writer to pen a reflective piece about the creative works. The original literary works cover poetry, fiction and translation. The writers come from Australia, India, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Most of the material is written in English, though Colm Breathnach’s poems are presented in Gaelic as well as English.

The original creative works are short enough for seminar use. The reflective pieces are also reasonably digestible. I am already using different chapters in class because they provide practical insights into what I expect when I ask students to complete an exegesis. Undergraduate writing students frequently clamour for exegesis examples. This book offers multiple solutions, since both the original literary works and the exegeses are greatly varied.
Fred D’Aguiar starts off the collection with a rollicking short story, ‘Grandfather calypso’. A drunk Grandfather is intent on killing his wife, who has been having an affair with the local bar owner. The grandson-narrator tells the story. In his reflection, D’Aguiar writes about ethical choices in writing. For him, stories ‘heighten awareness of shortcomings in society and help to raise the ethical fibre of a community’ (32).

Jane Draycott’s literary works are two poems, ‘De somniis’ and ‘Why some people like to keep chickens’, which both feature stairs. Her reflection is titled ‘The staircase’ and she talks of how the poems, written six months apart, were influenced by an image of a staircase. She then writes about her writing process, seguing into dream theory and the works of other poets including Les Murray.

Australian Kathryn Heyman’s creative work is ‘Wood for the trees’. Her male narrator is in Prague, visiting Klara, a girl he had sex with while in London. She’s a doctor, working most of the time, so her father shows the narrator around Prague, but the narrator tires of the old man and runs away from him. The father has a heart attack trying to keep up with him, but the narrator takes him to hospital and Klara thanks him for saving her father. The story takes place as Czechoslovakia is dividing into two nations. Much of Heyman’s reflection concerns the decade-long gestation of the story and the context of place.

Philip Gross returns to poetry with ‘Cave diver in the deep reach’, a twelve part poem about a diver choosing death to a chance for life. Gross’ reflection is one of the strongest in the book, nurtured by what Gross terms ‘an uneasy but creative balance [that] holds between the idea of rhetoric and that of reader response’ (71). The poem was written for a children’s collection and Gross’ musing on this particular fact is lucid and thought provoking. He also includes a thirteenth verse that was omitted from the final version and explains why.

His work is followed by Sabyn Javeri’s short story ‘A malady of the heart’, an account of a consultation with a hakim sahib, a spiritual healer, in Karachi. Her reflection is more magic-realist than the story, though quite brief.

Next up are Colm Breathnach’s poems ‘Poem 300 (and seven)’, ‘Good night, ya bastard’, ‘If you could see her after drinking wine …’ and ‘The ancient book’. The Gaelic versions are printed first. I loved the look of them with the accented letters, the unusual (to me) combinations (gceantar and dtugaid, for example), and for the fact that Beaujolais Nouveau has no Gaelic translation. Breathnach reflects on writing in two languages — though he only writes in Irish now — and the musicality of language.

Emily Raboteau then presents the story, ‘Rapture’. In her reflection she notes she wrote the story in 2011 shortly after giving birth to her first child. The story has a grim humour. Raboteau writes about how she wrote the story, her reasons for wanting to write, what she used as supporting and source material, and how she arrived at the character of the narrator. It is clear that ‘Rapture’ is not the story of her giving birth, though there are parallels. She gives an interesting insight into her writing process when she writes: ‘During the plotting stage I allowed my imagination to begin playing and to untether the story from reality’ (163).

Finally, the editor, Amal Chatterjee offers his story ‘A simple recipe’. He writes in the voice of a woman married to Sachin, a Calcutta businessman. The couple move to New Delhi and a life of middle-class luxury. The story is an interesting insight into a changing India. Chatterjee’s reflection on the story demonstrates how he used consistency of knowledge and character to anchor it. He also uses prejudice, which seeps seemingly unconsciously through the narrator’s voice. It is a fitting conclusion to a book that offers a great deal to teachers, and students, of writing.

The book is available as an ebook, paperback or hardcover. The print versions are made available through Lightning Source, so they are printed on demand in Australia. This book is not only a good idea, it is a good read, and also very useful for teaching. What more could you want?



Jeremy Fisher teaches writing at the University of New England, Armidale.


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Vol 17 No 2 October 2013
General editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Reviews editor: Linda Weste