By Anita Sethi
“All the stories that human beings tell are stories of alliance and betrayal”, says Greg Mosse, who runs the Southbank Centre Creative Writing School which will be back in January 2012. I caught up for a chat with Mosse far from the shores of the River Thames, and instead beside the Khaled Lagoon in the emirate of Sharjah where the Sharjah International Book Fair this year celebrates its 30th anniversary and where Mosse gave creative writing classes. The appetite for learning how to write is clearly immense here: “There was a huge waiting list for the class”, explained Mosse. It was fascinating to see how the process of storytelling differs throughout the world and the ways in which it is the same as well as the obstacles facing all writers regardless of geographical location. “Everybody knows what a good story is; too often, instead of writing the story they start writing about the story”, explains Mosse. Events like these help since the chance to meet with other writers and readers offers a wonderful window for the “exchange of ideas”.
“You can’t teach imagination but you can teach skills of structure and development”, explained Kate Mosse, founder of the Orange Prize and award-winning novelist, also speaking at the Fair. Greg Mosse continues, “you can unblock people from the way they might be programmed. A novel moves really slowly – mastering a form that inches forward is really special and and not like learning to write a pop-song”. This month is National Novel Writing Month but Mosse says, “If it was National Plan a Novel Month that would be much better; if you came out with a plot and the first 5000 words. The novel is a slow moving form that requires lots of stamina”.
He describes his experience of teaching all around the world and helping people to take their experience and inspirations and transcribe it into novel form, describing strategies that are useful for all writers, regardless of their different cultural traditions. He also discusses some of the international writers he admires which offer an opening into another world including the Saudi Arabian novel The Consequences of Love. The Mosses have also demonstrated the immense power of the internet to reach a wider international audience with their various hugely successful web projects.
Returning to that tricky art of constructing a novel, Mosse says: “I ask students to understand that there is a possible next thing in everything you say – all the time, in everything, there is a story”. Without a story, “there is just now, there is no sense of something else about to occur whereas a novel maintains a sense that something else is about to occur”.
I stroll by the beautiful corniche contemplating the things that are about to occur including delving into more literatures and landscapes from around the world. As for the things that shall be occurring closer to home by the River Thames, I’m looking forward to chairing Book Club on “The Hare With Amber Eyes” on 23rd November and the event “Dark and Deep” on 25th November, with Louise Doughty and Vayu Naidu – hope to see some of you there. In the meantime, happy reading and writing!