Recommended Summer Reading: A Booklist from Jonathan Barnes

InterviewsSummer is here at last! Words, Pauses, Noises suggests that the best way to spend a lazy summer afternoon is with a good book. One of our students, Jasmine, asked Kingston University’s writer-in-residence Jonathan Barnes for his recommendations on books to read this summer. He gave us a great list of some of his favourites as well as those he’ll be reading over the holidays. So, pull out those deck chairs, grab a cool drink, and get outside for some sunshine with a good book!

Jonathan Barnes’ Summer Reading Recommendations

I have been reading a lot for review lately so it will be an enjoyable break over the summer to experience some fiction purely for pleasure. However, books that I’ve read and written about lately which I would also recommend include Julian “no relation” Barnes’ memoir Levels of Life – heart-breaking in its candour; unflinching in its depiction of an almost unbearable grief – and Patrick McGrath’s deft, stylish Constance. McGrath is one of our most underrated novelists – I’ve been a fan ever since the early works: his short story collection, Blood and Water, his first novel, The Grotesque – and his latest, about a brittle, troubled young woman in 1960s Manhattan, is as elegant and subtly potent as I’d expected. I’ve also written a short piece on the new edition of J B Priestley’s 1927 classic, Benighted (filmed twice as The Old Dark House) which remains, almost a century after it was written, chillingly effective. His description of some primal evil which might lie behind even the most tawdry of domestic horrors is unforgettable: “his mind… found an opposing presence, an enemy… a density of evil, something gigantic, ancient but enduring… it was working everywhere, in the mirk of rain outside, here in the rotting corners, and without end, in the black between the stars”.

When going away for the summer, my suitcase often strains towards the upper limit of the baggage allowance due to the volume of books that I’ve crammed into it. This year, I’ll be bringing (for review) the late Iain Banks’ last novel, The Quarry. For research purposes I’ll have with me Arthur Conan Doyle’s Tales of Unease and that strange, ghost-written nineteenth-century text Awful Disclosures, composed, supposedly, by the wronged nun “Maria Monk”. For sheer fun I’ll be taking two books that I’ve never read but which have been on my list for a while: Julian Maclaren-Ross’ novel Of Love and Hunger and F Scott Fitzgerald’s Collected Short Stories. I’ll also have with me – and for this, I make no apology whatever – Stephen King’s splendid-looking new novella, Joyland.

Next Sunday, join Words, Pauses, Noises for more original content to help make summer a little bit sunnier.

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Confidence, Creative Writing, and Careers: A Conversation with Adam Baron – Part 1

Pen-and-Paper

Adam Baron is a principal lecturer in Creative Writing at Kingston University,teaching on the undergraduate, MA and MFA programs. During his versatile career he has been an actor, literary editor, comedy writer and performer. Adam is a published author and his crime novels Shute Eye and Hold Back the Night were both adapted into drama series on BBC in 2009/10. Here he shares his thoughts with Words, Pauses, Noises’ Boyana Petrovich about studying creative writing, feedback, grades, how to get published and more.

Adam, you’re a very experienced tutor and students love your workshops. What can Creative Writing MA students expect to learn or shouldn’t expect to learn during their course? 

I suppose you can’t come here thinking I will have to do that and be a published writer. But what you can learn is to write from your own voice, to find that voice as a writer. You can learn which genres work for you, which kind of writing works for you, in a way that you will discover all sorts of new ways of writing and thinking about writing. And from my perspective, you can learn the practicalities of structure and form which you can then apply in your own work. And that is what I see most creative writing students do. Encountering feedback, feedback generally being about structure and form of a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a longer piece of work, they then see similar structural problems in the work of other students that means the work of other students isn’t as successful as it could be to them as a writer, and that makes them think, aha, I need to take this on board myself.

Students can also learn to take themselves seriously as writers, to gain confidence, to say – this is what I’m interested in as a writer – which is very hard to do. It’s very hard to have confidence to say I will write and this will be interesting. And you can see this growing confidence in students who get a good mark, then a better mark and genuinely see that other people like their work and it’s that boost of confidence that they can learn as well, learn to take themselves seriously.

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