Many writers have penned essays about fiction and memoir: E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, Milan Kundera, A.L. Kennedy, A.S. Byatt, to name just a famous few. Indeed, it seems essential at some point for authors to write critically about creative writing. What makes a novel, memoir, or story work?
Interestingly, writers don’t necessarily put pen to paper about their own work. Instead, they write about the authors who influenced them, both those from decades before and those working contemporaneously. Sometimes this results in critical essays that examine the craft and themes of a classic writer’s work, giving us knowledge of how fiction works in general. Other times, writers respond to influences with a new piece of creative writing.
T.S. Eliot is paraphrased as saying: “Good Writers Borrow, Great Writers Steal”. In this module, we will look at how writers steal: how they draw upon other writers for knowledge about craft and for inspiration. We will look at two pairings of creative work, seeing how a contemporary writer responded creatively to a classic book. We will also look at related critical essays by writers about those works. In doing so, we will go backward to examine a writer’s influences; inward to a writer’s own writing; and forward to the writers they have influenced, analysing as we do so ideas of theme, structure, inspirations, and the craft of character, place, and narrative.