Small screen: Novel programming

We all have a novel in us. Anyway, that's the view of the author, Nigel Williams, who presents The Write Stuff, a new three-part BBC2 series on the art of novel writing. "Everyone has the ability to tell stories," he argues. "Look at News At Ten. You get fantastic storytelling from eye-witnesses with wonderful natural eloquence. You even see it on Beadle's About." Surely not.

"Storytelling is one of the most primal urges," he continues. "It's part of how we communicate with each other and make our lives more interesting. You hear young kids doing it all the time. 'I went to the garage and did this and that,' they'll say. They talk in stories which are neither true nor false, but somewhere in between."

Williams dubs his series a "DIY programme". Rather more highbrow than, say, Home Front, The Write Stuff is nevertheless full of pragmatic hints and tips. "In some ways, writing is like changing a bicycle tyre, and certain handy rules can help. In the past, we had always used literary television programmes as biographies rather than guides to creative writing. There is a fantastic hunger for information which might help people who want to write a book. For example, talking seriously about writing is a way you can learn how to do it. Look at the incredible strike- rate of those creative writing courses. McEwan and Ishiguro came out of the University of East Anglia, for instance.

"Joseph Heller says soaking yourself in the environment is how you start, while Kingsley Amis's advice is always to read your work aloud, even if it's only to the wall. That stuck in my mind."

In the first episode, Williams also emphasises the importance of discipline. "Once you've found a ritual, sticking to it does help. Alan Bennett says that writing is really about making an endless series of cups of tea."

The significance of the novel's opening line cannot be underestimated, either. "The most important thing is that the first sentence should have life. Your beginning should make you feel as if someone you would like to be with has just breezed into the room."

In The Write Stuff, JRR Tolkein recalls the way in which he started one of the most famous novels in the world. He found a blank script in a pile of school exam papers he was marking and "I remember scribbling on it: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit'."

Some critics will no doubt contend that writing is much more about inspiration than perspiration and that trying to teach it is a waste of time. As you might expect, Williams disagrees. "I didn't want to say, 'Hey, I'm such a big cheese'. I just thought that writing can be taught. Those who say it can't be are denying their own education."

A former editor of both the Omnibus and Bookmark strands, and a novelist in his own right, Williams is well aware of the inherent problems of dealing with books on television. "There is obviously a conflict between television, a medium about visual images and the quick-fix, and novels. When I ran Bookmark, the better the films were, the further they moved away from the actual books. But TV must continue to cover books. It needn't just be four people sitting round a table discussing novels."

Williams laughs that he tries not to come across as an "evangelist", but there is no doubting his passion for novels. "Books give you the most direct contact with another imagination. It's like someone talking to you. You have to bring more to a book. Everyone reads a Mozart symphony in the same way, but you'll find people who'll argue that, say, Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby is a sympathetic character.

"That is also why repressive regimes get much more exercised about novels than cinema - because they can control cinema. But with novels, one guy like Salman Rushdie can produce this wave of challenging stuff. The novel is so vibrant simply because its creation is an incredibly uncensored activity. It is just the writer and a piece of paper, and then the reader and a piece of paper."

For all his enthusiasm, however, Williams does have concerns about the future of the novel. "It's paradoxical because we read more books than anyone apart from the Finns, but I still worry about a culture in which books are less important than they were.

"While European critics tend to over-praise books, we err on the side of saying 'That was a load of old rubbish'. The preference for the soundbite is getting stronger and stronger and undermining literary culture. Intelligent 16-year-olds today are saying: 'Books? yeah, but I'd rather watch Trainspotting."

'The Write Stuff' begins at 7.30pm on Friday on BBC 2

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

    £550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

    Data Insight Manager - Marketing

    £32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

    Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

    £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

    .NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape