On September 26, 2011, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and Black’s Club, with support from Fiction Uncovered, launched Off the Shelf, a new series of monthly, one-day residencies for fiction writers. Off the Shelf’s first event featured Fiction Uncovered 2011 author Lindsay Clarke, author of seven novels, including 2010’s The Water Theatre and The Chymical Wedding, which won the Whitbread Award for Fiction in 1989.
Held by the fireside at Black’s Club in Soho, the event began over coffee with Lindsay reading from his work, followed by his account of deciding at the age of six he wanted to be a writer—and then taking the next 41 years to get published. In between, he worked in education in the UK, the US, and Africa.
Lindsay then rather charmingly shared some “unworldly and possibly contentious thoughts” on the nature of the novel and its purpose today. One of the best definitions of the novel that he has heard is “that a novel is a long piece of prose that has something wrong with it.” Postmodern novelists can no longer rely on the certainty their Victorian counterparts possessed; Lindsay quoted J.G. Ballard, who said, “the writer knows nothing any longer. He has no moral stance. All he can do is to devise various hypotheses and test them against the truth.”
Lindsay believes that “true originality doesn’t come from mere ingenious innovation for its own sake. There’s nothing more deja vu than the avant garde in my experience. But we get it by returning to the deep origin of things.” In his own fiction, he looks to myths and traditional stories, which may make him seem old-fashioned, but it is an attempt to write stories that offer “an imaginative correlative to a rite of passage” for our time. He was once told by a man in a pub that The Chymical Wedding had changed his life, but Lindsay muses that the transformative nature of reading comes from “what’s happening inside your own imagination as you enter into meeting with the imagination of the writer.”
A podcast of his talk can be found here.
Jan Woolf of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Books Committee then led a discussion of Lindsays’s writing process and themes of his work, including the unconscious and a reconciliation of the opposites.
After a delicious two-course lunch, attendees were invited to read short extracts from their own work aloud in an open-mic session and receive feedback from other participants and from Lindsay, a seasoned creative-writing teacher with an impressive ability to impart off-the-cuff constructive feedback.
The creative, varied format of these residencies, as well as the authors invited— Fiction Uncovered 2011 author Jake Wallis Simons, Jemima Hunt, and Frederick Douglass biographer Richard Bradbury in autumn 2011—and the small size (23 people maximum) make these events cozy, friendly spaces in which to hear a writer read his or her work, ask questions, and receive feedback on your own.
On Monday 27 February, Off the Shelf will feature Lucinda Hawksley, biographer, art historian, award-winning travel writer, and Charles Dickens’s great-great-great-granddaughter. January’s event featured Carol Topolski, and 19 March will bring Welsh poet Owen Sheers to read from and talk about how his novel Resistance was adapted into a film. Alan Franks, an accomplished poet, novelist, playwright, songwriter and journalist, will be the featured writer on 30 April. All events are in association with Fiction Uncovered.
To book a place, email firstname.lastname@example.org or, for more information, visit the event website or email email@example.com. The day starts at 11:00am with coffee and ends at 4:00pm after lunch and the open-mic session, and the cost is £25 (£20 to Writers Guild members). This includes coffee, bread and olives, a two-course lunch, and all day and evening membership of Black’s. You will also get automatic reference if you want club membership.
All events are podcasted and available here.