Would-be authors know that there are plenty of how-to courses and books about writing but there are very few novels available on the subject – Stephanie Johnson’s latest novel, The Writing Class, is one.
Set in an unnamed New Zealand town, it focuses on Merle, the teacher of a university Creative Writing class and those who are involved in it, whether directly or indirectly.
Having written six novels a long time ago, she is married to Brendan, once a renegade documentary director, now down and out. Having found a doctor to say that he is unfit for work, he spends his days hanging around the house. In order to make ends meet, the couple have taken on a German boarder, Jurgen, who has mysteriously been on the run for 20 years and is just beginning to return to civilization.
Passionate about the craft of writing, Merle tries to impart her knowledge and experience to her class of fledging writers who are working towards submitting their final manuscripts. Their various personalities and motivations for writing make her job a hard one – including Rob, the lesbian in lycra, Helen, the big-bosomed mother of five and Tosh the Rastafarian.
She shares her teaching with Gareth, also a writer, who appears to be crossing the teacher/student relationship with the beautiful (and married) Jacinta.
Each section of the book takes the reader through the writing process: beginning, plot and structure, the writer’s life, inspiration and sustenance, and ways of ending the story.
For the reader, The Writing Class is a delectable read that needs time and attention to fully appreciate its complex characters and elegant writing. For those who write as well as read, it is a reminder that ‘…some of us are not satisfied with one life . . . writers take what we learn of human nature and, fuelled by our longings for other existences and other times, forge new identities…’
The Writing Class. Stephanie Johnson (Random House, $37.99)
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