April 2009 Archives

Just as it would have been obvious to pick Elvis Costello or Ian Dury in Stiff Records week, I could have easily chosen Oasis or My Bloody Valentine to round off our look at Creation.

But instead here's Ride, who were one of the many floppy-haired indie bands I liked when I was a student and who are now pretty much forgotten. I like to think that they were the acceptable face of shoegazing.

Twisterella was a single from their second album Going Blank Again. Good tune.


It's the million dollar question. OK, maybe not the million dollar question, but certainly one that brings in millions of pounds worth of student fees to UK universities. Creative writing - especially in the north east - is a healthy, happy, swarming marketplace. It's written somewhere (of course) that everyone has at least one book in them. Question is: can writing be taught? If so, how?

My position is that, yes, creative writing can be taught. It's a skill that can be refined and improved through a range of techniques and methods of instruction. As both an educator and practitioner, I get kicks out of the creativity of devising new ways of teaching creative writing. Having taught a range of methods - characterization, scene writing, writing the ending before the beginning, rewriting a popular narrative - I've a bag of new tricks up my sleeve for my students this September. With so many new developments in creative technologies, there's a world of stuff to learn about interactive fiction, blogging (memo to self), online narratives etc etc. And I've a new module on Public Textual Art coming up, which gets the students thinking off the page and into public spaces, considering how poetry and prose interact with their environments, and to get them thinking even more creatively about writing and space.

But how does the prospective writer choose a writing course? More exactly, does a writer need to be taught in order to 'qualify' as a writer? Would a one-day workshop suffice, or does it take a BA, MA, or - more recently - a PhD to become a writer?

I believe that is the (multi)million dollar question.

A tradition of literary giants would argue with the dogs on the street that writing cannot, in fact, be taught, and that all this accredited courses nonsense is a symptom of late capitalism.

On the other hand, my own experience proved otherwise. I was always forced to write. Not, alas, by some dramatically overbearing parent, but by an inner compulsion to put pen to paper. I remember spending half-term, aged 10, hammering at the keys of my grandparents ye olde typewriter, producing a (rubbish) novella in just under a week. I also remember writing letters to publishers in pencil, on lined school notepaper, around the same age, begging for my latest Care Bears novel to be published. I kid you not. A degree in English allowed me to take a module in poetry, lead by Carol Rumens. At last, I got real, face-to-face, professional feedback. They didn't have full-scale creative writing degree programmes back then, just the occasional semester-long module. But it was enough to get me writing the beginnings of my first poetry collection.

The 12 week course with Carol Rumens did not involve anyone dissecting the guts out of Shakespeare. We were never pointed in the direction of a 'winning writing formula', how to write a bestseller, or any one of the 'how to' titles that line the shelves at Waterstones. What the course involved was an introduction to a range of poetic forms, including examples, and a consideration of what form actually did, how it liberates the writer. Had I opted for a module on 18th century literature instead of poetry, I probably never would have encountered a triolet, a sestina, or a villanelle. In other words, the stuff I was writing at the time probably would have chugged on for another couple of years into the vacuous pits of cliché, at which point I probably would have packed in writing for good.

Can creative writing be taught? The question for me is, why should it be taught? And how? My initial response to this is - based on my own experience - that it should be taught in order to broaden the writer's horizons, as it were, in terms of form, structure, and - believe it or not - to enforce the importance of reading as well as writing. As far as the type of writing course goes, degree programme or week-long Arvon course - it's entirely up to you.

How should it be taught? Hmmm. That's a question with a million answers.

What are your views?

Image credit: Linda Cronin


I saw Sugar play at the Riverside in Newcastle in 1992 - the year their Copper Blue album was NME's record of the year - and my ears might still be ringing.

Live, they were very intense and extremely loud but they were also pretty good at pop songs and (briefly) huge with indie kids like me. They were fronted by former Husker Du songwriter Bob Mould, who has since resumed a solo career and also, weirdly, wrote the theme tune to the Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

If I Can't Change Your Mind was their second single, reaching the dizzying heights of Number 30 in the charts in 1993.

The song that taught indie kids (like me) how to dance in the early 1990s: Loaded by Primal Scream is one of the great Creation Records singles.

Created when DJ Andrew Weatherall when he remixed Primal Scream song I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have with a drum loop from Edie Brickell song What I Am, Bobby Gillespie singing and dialogue from the Peter Fonda B-movie The Wild Angels, Loaded was the song that changed the Scream from a jangly indie band and set them on the way to making the dance album Screamadelica.

It's great.

The Prodigy, Metro Radio Arena

By Reviews on Apr 7, 09 11:16 AM

Mark Smith enjoys the Arena's transformation into Prodigy Central

They're back - and back with an almighty bang.

It is so easy to forget that The Prodigy have remained at the top of their game for so long.

They have rampaged the rave scene, hammered the hardcore and battered the breakbeat in a career spanning two decades, and their latest stadium tour shows no sign of the three-piece letting up.

Why - apart from the fact that they clearly couldn't be bothered - weren't Teenage Fanclub absolutely massive?

Never has a band produced such perfect pop music to such a lack of interest from the record-buying public. The music press loved them, other musicians would always praise them to the hilt but they never seemed too fussed about jumping through hoops for success.

This week's GP's Song of the Day will be devoted to bands on Creation Records and despite its mighty roster of acts, none could hold a candle to the Fannies.

I've always liked Paul Simon's music but only really latched onto Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard after it was featured in the Wes Anderson film The Royal Tenenbaums.

It's slightly amazing that there was such a fuss about Simon's move into world music on 1986's Graceland when you consider this Latin-tinged tune was recorded in 1971. It's also fairly ludicrous that people pine for Simon and Garfunkel reunions when his solo stuff is as good as this.

Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard tells the story of two boys who have broken the law in some way, though in typical Paul Simon style, it's all rather mysterious about what they've actually done.

Stand 'n' Tan, The Customs House

By Reviews on Apr 1, 09 10:34 AM

Emily Taylor basks in another (but this time rather more glowing) all-women offering from Open Clasp Theatre Company.

No stranger to packed houses, Open Clasp Theatre Company entertained another full auditorium at The Customs House in South Shields with its latest offering - Stand 'n' Tan.

The North East's only professional women's theatre company is now well established in the region and delights with high energy, usually side-splitting performances.

And Stand 'n' Tan is no exception.

Paddy Wells goes back to Tsarist Russia with Durham Musical Theatre Company's production of Fiddler on the Roof.

Young and old descended on the Gala Theatre in Durham last night as Fiddler on the Roof opened spectacularly to a full house.

This long-awaited production is the latest effort by the highly acclaimed Durham Musical Theatre Company, an amateur group celebrating its centenary this year.

The thrilled audience was swept back to the world of Tsarist Russia in 1905, where Tevye, an impoverished milkman, is struggling to preserve the values of his traditional Jewish community.

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