Ian McMillan’s Writing Lab is a six-part series of entertaining and inspirational 15-minute fully funded Open University programmes aimed at providing a fascinating insight into the creative writing process. The series will supply valuable tools and tips to help nurture the inner writer in us all.
The programmes will go out at 10.00pm on Fridays on BBC Radio 3 for six weeks from Friday January 5 2007.
Each week Ian will be joined in his writing lab by a leading expert in a field of creative writing. Aided by his guide, Ian will dig under the surface of the published page, unpicking the stages, drafts, pleasures and pains involved in the process of writing. Along the way he examines key examples from literary history as well as hearing from acclaimed writers - such as Julian Barnes, Hanif Kureishi, Rose Tremain and Mark Ravenhill – who reveal their tried and tested methods. Ian finds out about their top tips to aspiring writers, as well the pitfalls to avoid – don’t start writing too early; don’t litter memoirs with the words `would’ and `I’; beware showing off with pyrotechnics at the start of a novel.
This witty and often humorous series of programmes will also feature testimony from first-time writers, some of whom have come through creative writing courses themselves. Through their anecdotes and analysis, the series will offer listeners who write a sense of community, and encouragement and guidance beyond the borders of the page. Enthusiastic, engaged and highly imaginative, Ian McMillan’s Writing Lab is a creative writing class with bags of zing, zip and zeal!
Programme 1 – “Openings”
The first programme explores how to pull off the perfect opening to a novel and the importance of a good beginning. Ian is joined by John Mullan, Professor of English to examine successful beginnings to books through the history of the novel. This close reading exercise will place stress on the first couple of pages with particular attention to opening sentences. They discover the way an opening sentence can alert the reader perfectly to the world they are about to enter. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” Orwell wrote at the beginning of 1984, one short sentence making clear the dystopia which would be a hallmark of the ensuing novel.
Ian and John also hear from a selection of critically acclaimed novelists about how they construct the openings to their books, including Julian Barnes, Andrew O’Hagan and Tim Lott. Through their experiences we learn about the best way to use framing devices and prologues, why establishing the point of view is crucial, and of course how to decide what the title will be. Also running through the programme will be a first-hand account from new writer Tahmima Anam, who describes the various incarnations of the opening to her debut novel, The Golden Age, which underwent a complete rewrite at the eleventh hour.
Programme 2 – ‘Life Writing’
The second programme will be devoted to one of the biggest growth areas in literature over the last decade: Life Writing. Ian and his guide, the novelist and biographer DJ Taylor, explore the territory opened by a host of new `memoirs’ which incorporate techniques from fiction, autobiography and biography. They hear from groundbreaking biographers such as Michael Holroyd and Richard Holmes who revolutionised the genre, paving the way for contemporary writers to cross the boundary between the personal and the private, between fact and fiction. They also hear from the novelist Hanif Kureishi, author of Intimacy, about the pain the memoirist has to face when writing about family and loved ones. Is there ever material which is completely off limits, and how much should the wishes of the writer’s subjects be respected?
Ian and DJ Taylor also hear from younger writers such as Horatio Clare, author of Running for the Hills, a memoir about growing up on a remote Welsh farm. He explains the importance of unlocking memory with the use of `aides memoires’ such as diaries, photographs and objects. The programme also includes top tips on how not to overburden a book of life writing with the weight of its historical research.
Ian McMillan’s Writing Lab is a fully-funded Open University production for BBC Radio 3.
The series producer is Aasiya Lodhi . The Executive Producer for The Open University is Catherine McCarthy. The Academic Expert from The Open University is Dr Derek Neal.
The Open University and BBC have been in partnership for more than 30 years, providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late night programming for delivering courses to peak time programmes with a broad appeal to encourage wider participation in learning.
All broadcast information is correct at time of issue.
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Related Courses and programmes from The Open University:-
- A174 Start Writing Fiction
- A215 Creative Writing
Course Information http://www.open.ac.uk/courses
Programme Information http://www.open2.net