May 22, 2010


Greg W.

Nice to see you are coming out to Nebraska.

Rod W.

Yes, you do have Nebraska readers. Delighted to know you will be in Lincoln for the writers conference.


How would you characterize the response to your first novel class at UCLA? Were there any surprises or things you'd do differently going forward?


Thank you Greg & Rod! Niall, the response was incredibly gratifying. I recently got the final student evals I was rated pretty much 9s (the top of the scale) across the board. Out of 10 students, one gave me 7s the other nine were all solid 9s. And they seemed to feel that the class was thorough and well-presented. There were minor requests - a few more handouts, etc. But in the main, I could not have asked for better.

I did tend to overstuff each lesson - I always underestimated how long things would take and each class was a dash to the finish. I didn't realize how long things like opening introductions can really take. So, although I always live in fear of coming up short, I will probably stuff the class a little less next time. And I will probably introduce workshopping a bit earlier in the term, as the students did seem to enjoy that. But substantially, the class will be the same one.

Now I need to start thinking about what to do in Novel 2, which I will teach in the fall ...


I'm glad it was such a good experience for all concerned. For round 2 would you consider having them read at least one example of a bad/mediocre novel? I find that tends to be a better learning experience for writers than reading only the good stuff.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."