I went to see crime writer, Sara Paretsky, speak at the library last night. She was engaging, warm, entertaining and interesting. And her passion for mixing a sense of social responsibility with her writing was infectious.

Why write? To communicate? To communicate what? Our story which we feel compelled to tell, that's often where people start. And, then, maybe, our view of the world, our questions and, perhaps, some of our solutions too.

Why read? Certainly not to be shouted at or lectured to. To be informed, to feel a kindred spirit, to be entertained. What Sara Paretsky manages so well is to interweave the political comment into a story which carries us along and enthralls. That's where her skill lie. It's one I'd like to emulate more.

In her new novel, Hardball, her detective, VI, becomes entangled with a group of socially active nuns, based on a real collection of activist nuns from Chicago. Her description reminded me of my time volunteering in New Orleans where I met the Caritas nuns, the first time I'd spent any significant time with women from a religious community. They impressed me greatly. They had been the first racially mixed order in the deep South and still lived in one of the poorest districts of the city, cheek by jowl with families beset by drug addiction, alcoholism, pitiful housing and lack of hope for the future. The nuns' commitment to quietly working for human justice, through their way of being and actions, was humbling. They also cooked me up the most delicious corn bread I ever tasted.


I'm tethered down low,
yet the trees still grow boldly,
bone straight and stretching.

My lovely volunteer in my WEA funded therapeutic creative writing class hands me an article. Ex-poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, and author David Lodge arguing over whether the growing plethora of creative writing courses being run by universities have any purpose.

It's a discussion that swirls around and comes to the surface every now and again. Yet we never see art or music or drama degrees being questioned. It's as if an aptitude for writing, alone of the creative arts, has to be divinely given and then developed through a lonely apprenticeship in a garret.

Can talent be taught or is it innately present? In my experience, there are some students who appear to have a particular feel for words and are able to experiment in evocative and innovative ways. But is this because they have given themselves permission to explore, play and commit themselves to their creative process?

Even if the spark is present - whether naturally or by design - more is required. Motivation; openness to feedback from others; technique; a voracious appetite for reading; regular practise - a writer is one who writes; an awareness of, and engagement with, the literary movements of the time. All these should come from a well taught creative writing course.

Interestingly, Lodge's main gripe was that universities were churning out writers who could only produce formulaic pieces. I think he is shooting at the wrong target. Publishers and their - our? - obsession with celebrity and product are doing that quite unaided. Students may decide to write to a formula, but that's because that's what will get them published. Lodge claims that in publishing originality and good writing will out - who is he trying to kid?

The article gave the number of authors who had been on short lists for literary prizes and had also been on a university creative writing course. It was high - especially for poets, that side of our demon art which is supposed to be more god-given than any other. Now surely that must be telling us something?


The first day of the second month of the first year of the second decade of the twenty-first century and last night the lightly gilded full moon hung heavy over the fulminating waves.

I go to pick up my collages. I am led into a back room, a small square holding cell, with a large wooden scaffold of shelves along one wall. A morgue for creativity. The un-chosen are propped against each other, flat fish filleted, waiting to be smoked.

I take my precious pair back out into the lobby and begin to wrap them gently for the journey home. The woman behind the counter addresses me. I recognise her. She was one of the choosers. "Perhaps," she says brightly, "you would like to go up and see the exhibition?" Would I hell. I smile back sweetly and say I don't have the time.

Don't they teach empathy at art gallery curator's school?