18 June, 2013

The Writing Class by Stephanie Johnson [Zoë, Central City Library]

Apparently Stephanie Johnson first titled this book "A Novel: How to Write a Novel". Which would have been brilliant. As it is, even by a different name, The Writing Class is so clever as a work of fiction, it's almost vulgar. On top of that, it's a pretty cute writer's manual too. So perhaps the more commercial title makes the whole thing a little more accessible.

What's clear is that this novel, like all great art, has a sense of inevitability about it - reading it, you feel that this is a book that had to be born; someone, somewhere, someday just had to write it. And apparently Stephanie Johnson was the woman to do it.

Stephanie Johnson has a depth and breadth of writing experience that spans poetry, short stories, literary and historical fiction, theatre, and radio. There are lots of "ins" to her work; my fandom was secured by her funny, tough short fiction, but yours may equally have been won by quite a different genre. No matter; The Writing Class stands alone as the summit of Johnson's literary experience and prowess, poured forth genrously into delicious, bite-size chapters.

The novel's structure itself is laid bare in its chapter headings, which read like a writing guide:Ways of Beginning”, “To Be Going on With”, “The Writer’s Life”...The book embraces the gamut of upcoming and established writers' experiences too: mentoring, rivalry, writer's block, creative writing classes, and the challenge of e-publishing.

To say that it work self-consciously calls attention to itself would be an understatement - it's a blow-by-blow account of how to write a novel, played out by willing characters. Yes, it is heavily self-referencing (Johnson even mentions herself by name at one point, and much of the material reads as veiled autobiography), but never uncomfortably so. The narrative is wry, there's tenderness and warmth for the characters, and enough intrigue in the plot to make this book as readable as it is clever.

Title: The Writing Class
Author: Stephanie Johnson
ISBN: 9781775532590 (pbk.)
Published: 2013
Publisher: Random House New Zealand

 - Zoë, Central City Library

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