‘Writing and the Problem of Will: The Creative Writing Workshop and the Stanley Milgram Paradigm.’ In New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing 6:1 (2009), 57-66.
But my plea to my students to authorise themselves draws painfully from my own situation, for in terms of the empowerment explored by [Colin] Evans I have more in common with them than with my colleagues: I do not have an office or computer or phone, I am not given the resources I need to research, and I am insecure in the very literal sense that my contract allows me to be replaced without cause. And I am concerned that a growing number of creative writing specialists, qualified to the same level as their critical colleagues, and with comparable records of publication, may be remaining on untenured contracts well into their careers, enduring
economic uncertainty and poverty and subjected to the worst behaviour of which academics are capable.
For such people, as Evans comments, writing itself might address this power imbalance, for creative ability is not related to academic status. Beyond that, their alternatives are to remain in their posts for as long as they can, and hope that their employers will learn the lessons in humanity that Milgram’s paradigm offers to teach, or to quit, and take their abilities elsewhere. If they remain, I suppose at least they will be well placed to explore the relationships among teachers’, students’ and institutions’ authority. If they leave, their years of untenured service will have given them plenty to write about.
The difference between Robert Olmstead’s ‘The Contas Girl’ and Richard Ford’s ‘Children’ lies in their characterisation and tone. We have seen that Ford’s characters, with their differing temperaments and complex motives, offer more interest to the reader than the relatively simple and undifferentiated figures in ‘The Contas Girl,’ and that Ford’s character-bound narration is more intimate and tender than Olmstead’s detached examination of Harley’s and Dunfee’s experience. In Olmstead’s story also we are strangers to the only character who expresses pain. Focussing on the Contas girl’s outburst and Harley’s indifference, we conclude that she seeks as an anodyne the spiritual and intellectual oblivion which, in those around her, causes her suffering, and
this does seem to be an adequate interpretation of the story. In George’s attempts to understand what has happened to him, we encounter something more problematic. At the age of seventeen he is conscious of what is going on around him, able to conclude that Lucy is ‘someone who could be by herself in the world’ in a way that he and Claude will never achieve, that Claude is a fool because he ‘didn’t know what mattered to him in the long run,’ and that he himself has only ever thought about himself, and that this will make him ‘bitter and lonesome and useless.’ There is an expectation of unhappiness here that his older self does nothing to contradict, and any attempt he is making to reinterpret his childhood experience in the light of adulthood seems to be largely fruitless. They
were simply young, he concludes at the end, and when you are older, nothing you did when you were young matters at all. The tone of ‘Children’ is one of despair and self-alienation, in a condition which is entirely conscious of itself.
‘Rewriting the Individual: A Critical Study of the Creative Writing Workshop.’ In Writing in Education 26 (Summer 2002), 23-25.
My doubts and uncertainties about the creative writing workshop grow out of my feeling that the individual writer or critic, as opposed to any attendant official, must retain power. I’m ruefully aware of the fact that this same feeling has contributed to the development of the creative writing degree, and the workshopping process it endorses. Colin Evans describes how he abandoned lectures in favour of the small group seminar because for him it addressed the imbalance of power between students and their teachers.
The Creative Writing institute holds great power over its students. It can award of withhold degrees on which much money and time have been spent, and in the personal impact this decision can have it holds far more power than any publisher. The workshop group proclaims itself as the champion of students against this power, just as the institution proclaims itself as their champion against inscrutable market forces. Since I demand to be served by such mighty apparatus, since I seek outside authorisation for my work while remaining mistrustful of authority, I cannot complain at the sense of vulnerability which sometimes I find disconcerting.
I am the author of three short story collections.
For His Warriors,
originally published by Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon, with Welsh Books Council support, now join
Prayer at the End
in revised editions at Cockatrice Books.
My anthology of fiction, Dangerous Asylums, including work by Gee and David Williams, Glenda Beagan, Carys Bray, Simon Thirsk and others, was published by the North Wales Mental Health Research Project, October 2016. I am a contributor with Nigel Jarrett, Rachel Trezise, Tristan Hughes and others to Brush with Fate, an anthology of Welsh fiction translated by Hala Salah Eldin, and to Land of Change, an anthology of radical writing forthcoming from Culture Matters. My work has appeared in Albawtaka Review, Annexe Magazine, Blue Tattoo, Cambrensis, Catharsis, East of the Web, The Harbinger, The Interpreter’s House, New Welsh Review, New Writing, Otherwise Engaged, The Swansea Review, Tears in the Fence, and elsewhere. I am a member by election of the Welsh Academy.
I am the translator of Going South: The Stories of Richard Hughes Williams (Cockatrice, 2015),
Hallowe’en in the Cwm: The Stories of Glasynys (Cockatrice, 2017), and
A Book of Three Birds, the seventeenth-century classic by Morgan Llwyd (Cockatrice, 2017). In addition, I have translated fiction by D. Gwenallt Jones, Angharad Tomos, and Manon Steffan Ros.