Sunday, April 09, 2006

Dismay at Weldon appointment

Also in today's blog

Titanic sinking and manliness
New book blog on the block
Down with "creative writing"
A short true story
The best kept secret

Next Saturday is the 94th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

At that invaluable resource Arts & Letters Daily, I found a link to a story in the
Weekly Standard
"One of the least visited memorials in Washington is a waterfront statue commemorating the men who died on the Titanic. Seventy-four percent of the women passengers survived the April 15, 1912, calamity, while 80 percent of the men perished. Why? Because the men followed the principle "women and children first." "

"The monument, an 18-foot granite male figure with arms outstretched to the side, was erected by "the women of America" in 1931 to show their gratitude. The inscription reads: "To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic. . . . They gave their lives that women and children might be saved."
Today, almost no one remembers those men. Women no longer bring flowers to the statue on April 15 to honor their chivalry. The idea of male gallantry makes many women nervous, suggesting (as it does) that women require special protection. It implies the sexes are objectively different. It tells us that some things are best left to men. Gallantry is a virtue that dare not speak its name.
In Manliness, Harvey C. Mansfield seeks to persuade skeptical readers, especially educated women, to reconsider the merits of male protectiveness and assertiveness. It is in no way a defense of male privilege, but many will be offended by its old-fashioned claim that the virtues of men and women are different and complementary. Women would be foolish not to pay close attention to Mansfield's subtle and fascinating argument."

New book blog on the block

"Bit of a red letter day on Tuesday. I met Tim Waterstone", I read at Mostly Books, a new blog put up by the owners of a soon-to-open Oxfordshire bookshop, in their April 2 blog under the heading Meeting The Big Man. It promises to be a blog worth keeping an eye on.

Dismay at Weldon appointment

There are two possible reactions to the news that Fay Weldon, appointed C.B.E. for services to literature, has now been appointed professor of creative writing at Brunel University, West London, which last year had an income for research grants and contracts of over £10.5 million.

In case you missed the announcement, here are some extracts from the article I read in the Guardian newspaper.
"The British author has been appointed professor of creative writing at Brunel University in one of seven new posts at the institution's school of arts... Prof Weldon will be teaching students using traditional seminars and tutorials, as well as a new virtual classroom created for her on the university's intranet.
She joins novelists Celia Brayfield [see photo on left] and Sarah Penny in the rapidly expanding creative writing programme at Brunel, which includes a multidisciplinary undergraduate course and a new MA in novel writing to be introduced in the new academic year…Course Summary This course will give you a secure foundation in the techniques of writing fiction, drama and poetry, and introduce you to the idea of writing as a profession. Within a sound academic environment, you will be able to develop your own creativity and explore different genres of writing under the guidance of experienced staff and practising writers of international standing."

My first reaction to this news was one of sympathy that a writer in her mid-seventies, who is as well-known as Fay Weldon, should find herself in circumstances that oblige her, instead of devoting all her time to writing, to earn money in other ways.

My second reaction was less kindly : astonished disapproval that someone whose career began in 1967 is prepared to take on the job of teaching "creative writing" to today's half-educated undergraduates.

Fay Weldon knows as well as I do that what used to be a profession, but today is known as "the publishing industry", is littered with the trashed careers of people who could actually spell, punctuate and produce a well-presented and readable mid-list novel. Many of the still-published authors are earning half as much as they did ten years ago. The slush piles in publishers' and agents' offices are mountainous. The last thing the "industry" needs is an influx of starry-eyed university students with totally unrealistic ideas of what writing for a living involves.

In my view, the duty of any veteran author, when asked for advice by wannabe writers, is to be as discouraging as possible. This will not put off those who have the writing gene, but hopefully it will deter the ones who don't.

Fay Weldon is on record as saying "the more socially useful your job the less you get paid". As it's difficult to think of a more socially useless occupation than teaching "creative writing", I conclude her income from Brunel will be substantial.

In an interview in the Lady magazine, she also said, "I believe writing is just a talent, like music or painting or any other inherent skill - you either have it or not. I come from a family of writers so I definitely inherited it, although they never actively encouraged me. I learned by example."

The interviewer writes - "Her first novel, The Fat Woman's Joke, was published in 1967. Since then, she has published 24 novels, two children's books, six collections of short stories and five volumes of non-fiction, plus plays for radio, television and stage, and reams of newspaper and magazine articles. Her most applauded works so far have been The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Puffball and Big Women."

Another Weldon quote. "Free time is something that I do not actually have. If I am not sleeping or eating, then I assume I am writing. So, there isn't any free time at all. I used to play computer games, but I stopped all that. I am either writing, or thinking about writing, the whole time. It's a vocation - a complete style of living."
Precisely! Which is why I'm amazed that, at her age, she intends to waste time at Brunel. The very small number of good writers nurtured by UEA [the University of East Anglia] in the past 35 years proves what a waste of time and public money "creative writing" courses are.

A short true story

On 9 April 1951 - a Monday - a 22-year-old soldier and a 21-year-old journalist caught a bus to a village on the outskirts of Norwich and walked to its parish church. They were both atheists, but a simple church wedding seemed the best way of formalising their intention to spend the rest of their lives together.

Only four people and the parson witnessed their promises to love and care for each other. Afterwards the newlyweds took the bus back to the bride's mother's house where they had mugs of hot Bovril and Skippers sardine sandwiches before catching a train to London. They spent the night in an hotel near Victoria Station. Next morning they took the boat train and Channel steamer to France, their destination a small Left Bank hotel in Paris recommended by a Daily Mirror reporter the bride had met.

Half a century later, in April 2001, they returned to Paris to stay in the same balconied room at the same hotel. On the dressing table was a bunch of dark red roses from a publisher and an unsigned message asking them to be at a nearby café at five o'clock. The mysterious assignation turned out to be with their son and daughter-in-law, who, without telling them, had flown over from the UK and arranged a dinner party for four at the city's oldest literary meeting place Le Procope.

No prizes for guessing who the people in this story are. Mr Bookworm and me. Today is our 55th wedding anniversary. Usually we celebrate anniversaries away from home. This year, because we're going on a trip later this month, we decided to stay put. We've invited two other long-married couples to join us for lunch.

Nowadays newspapers, and novels, are full of divorces, broken partnerships, illicit relationships and other unhappy stories. It seems a good idea, occasionally, for people who have experienced lasting happiness to declare it. I suspect there are many more of us than the disaster-obsessed media will admit.

If you would like to read about all the adventures, travels, uprootings and re-rootings, delights and disasters that happened between April 1951 and April 2006, my current WIP [work in progress] is called "88 Heroes…1 Mr Right" and is the first of four autobiographical books being written mainly for my grandchildren, but which I hope will be enjoyed by other readers.

Meanwhile I'm looking forward to reading The Best Kept Secret - Men and Women's Stories of Lasting Love by Janet Reibstein, published by Bloomsbury in February this year.

No reviews up at Amazon UK yet, but here's part of the synopsis.
"Statistics show rising divorce rates and fractured partnerships, but they conceal another story: relationships that last happily. How such couples achieve their happiness has remained their secret - until now. Janet Reibstein, an internationally respected psychologist and relationship expert, has talked in depth to over 200 couples whose partnerships are happy and enduring. Here she pulls back the curtains on relationships: both partners in couples married and unmarried, gay and straight, talk candidly and profoundly about their lives together.

That's all for today. Should you want to contact me directly, my email address is