Burn Your Books and Write in Blood ; CREATIVE WRITING ++ A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty SIMON & SCHUSTER [Pound]11.99

Article excerpt

Can you write a novel in a year? Probably not, according to the introduction to this book, a collection of the columns of the same name published in The Daily Telegraph throughout 2006. Doughty writes: "In the feature that started the column, I was careful to explain that for many new writers three years was probably a more realistic estimate." But, of course, A Novel in Three Years isn't such an arresting title for a column or a book. Doughty goes on to say that she wouldn't dream of "being proscriptive", and that 90 per cent of her book will probably be useless for each reader, and that her own books are not perfect. If I were to continue this review in the same apologetic, timorous tone then I might comment on how nice Doughty seems (she really does), and how it's not up to me to decide whether this is a good book or not, and that maybe readers should make up their own minds, and so on. But then that wouldn't be a very honest - or engaging - book review. So I won't bother with all that.

This book does contain some good advice for would-be novelists, although much of it is commonplace ("don't tell, show"), banal (it's probably better to write than have the curtains dry-cleaned) and irritating ("A novel is written in increments, just as a weight- loss plan happens pound by pound"). It is also not quite as banal and irritating as many creative writing books out there. But since virtually every creative writing manual restates, usually in a tone suitable for a slightly simple child, what Aristotle said with more force and brevity in the Poetics, one tends to look for the extras. In other words, beyond telling the aspiring writer to use action not narration, and that metaphors can be quite useful, and that a work of fiction usually has a beginning, a middle and an end, what is this book actually offering? Although there are so many possibilities here (and we should not forget that once upon a time, before the creative writing industry flopped into existence, there were such exciting things as aesthetic theories and manifestos), what these books usually offer are writing "exercises". They don't tell you to make it new, or to burn your books if you realise they are irrelevant, or to write in your own blood or anything horrible like that. There's no need to get worked up about all this: it's only writing. It doesn't even matter if you can't write, or if you have nothing to say; the exercises will still help. …