A lecturer has just published a novel about car sex, family trauma, plane crashes - and creative writing courses.
Nicholas Royle, the author of seven novels, is senior lecturer in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. His latest book, First Novel, tells the story of Paul Kinder, another Manchester-based lecturer in creative writing.
Mr Royle was keen to point out that the details of the book - in which, among other things, one of Kinder’s students becomes a kind of stalker - have nothing to do with his own life or his experiences at Manchester Met.
However, he intimated that of course his experience of teaching a creative writing course has helped him to frame the novel.
“It’s just the life I have been living for the past seven years,” he said, “and one of the oldest pieces of advice given to writers is: write about what you know.” On the other hand, he admits, “there’s another also well- worn piece of advice: don’t write about writers writing because no one else will be interested”.
Mr Royle said that creative writing courses can stir up some pretty intense emotions.
“Although you don’t want to trample on students’ strongly held dreams and aspirations of becoming great writers, you do occasionally have to pop a few balloons,” he said.
“I’ve had a few cases of people getting upset, but many more of students realising slowly and in their own time that they are not necessarily on the right track. And I’ve also had the happy responsibility of telling someone that they are a real writer - and publication almost certainly awaits them.”
In First Novel, Kinder discovers that his students are working on a bizarre set of themes. One is considering “an experimental novel about a bear that shaves off its fur and joins human society”, and another is writing about “vampires on income support in south Manchester”. He meanwhile advises a third student “to abandon her historical novel of ancient Greece and concentrate instead on a mystery set in her native Trinidad”.
However, the book soon ranges beyond campus comedy and delves into some much darker themes.
One of Kinder’s students becomes a metafictional stalker when she writes a horror story about a creative writing teacher. Another student seems to know all about the terrible secrets of Kinder’s past and is determined to expose him.
Kinder himself also seems to be cracking up, his whole life afflicted by a kind of writer’s block that makes him unable to tell the difference between left and right, right and wrong - or even to remember whether someone in his class is called Lawrence Duncan or Duncan Lawrence.
Nicholas Royle’s First Novel: A Mystery is published by Jonathan Cape.