‘Excellent for dipping in and out’ – On Writing by AL Kennedy

owalkAL Kennedy’s On Writing is, as you would expect, about writing. It is not, however a ‘how to’ nor is it a creative writing course. It is, mostly, a collection of her blogs for The Guardian spanning the time from the publication of her short story collection What Becomes to the publication of her last novel The Blue Book.

Her blogs cover a wide range of topics related to writing from how to actually begin to create a piece of work, the writing day, research, working with an editor, promotion, teaching creative writing, illness, taking a holiday, the state of the publishing industry and what the government is doing to the arts.

The blogs are written in a chatty style and are very engaging. She’s articulate and insightful on many subjects which she illustrates with examples from her own life and work.

However, the blogs weren’t designed to be read in the same way that you’d read a book and I think they suffer for being collected in this manner. Themes which thread throughout these initially intermittent missives begin to feel as though they are being repeated to a point where you begin to lose sympathy and start to feel annoyed instead. Kennedy spends some time bemoaning the state of the publishing industry and the amount of work and pay available for writers, particularly in relation to the creative writing students she works with at Warwick University. She always adds a note about how she’s grateful to be working at a time when many people can’t find work but there comes a point when you want to say, you know what? I’ve been doing my job for 10 years and I’ll happily tell you it’s not as good as it used to be, the whole system’s going to the dogs and so on. It’s symptomatic of spending a significant amount of time in one industry, isn’t it?

She pulled it round for me though when the coalition came to power and she attacks them for reducing arts funding, raising university fees and planning to sell off woodlands. We can all unite in being appalled at the destruction our current government are causing, so there’s a positive, eh?

The final quarter of the book contains a series of essays delivered to, or written for, a variety of audiences. Again, they cover topics related to writing and are illustrated by examples from Kennedy’s own life. There’s a particularly detailed piece on running creative writing workshops that should be required reading for anyone embarking on running any workshop of this kind, in any setting. Kennedy used to be a community arts worker and now, as previously mentioned, works for Warwick University, so has a wealth of experience on this topic.

Any Cop?: Yes but with reservations. It’s excellent for dipping in and out of either to read as you would a series of essays or, for someone engaged in the process of writing, to give direction and support on particular aspects. Don’t try and read it like a novel though – it’ll make you cross!

Naomi Frisby


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