Thursday, 1 March 2012

Creative nonfiction and Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind
On Tuesdays I teach on a module entitled 'Writing and the World' which is led by Carole Burns (editor of Off the Page). It is a module I am loving teaching, it is so diverse and is actually taking me back to my roots. I used to do a lot of creative non fiction writing but these days, as you know, my focus has been on young adult fiction.

This week Carole organised for our students to have a skype session with Lee Gutkind. Some (Vanity Fair) say he is the godfather behind creative non fiction. I have to say I loved every minute of the session and would probably agree with Vanity Fair. He is also the editor of the journal Creative Nonfiction. Well worth a read if you have a moment.  It was an incredibly stimulating session with our students asking some very interesting questions, particularly the one about the festival and drunken horses. (best not to go there!!)

The session started at 11.45am our time but was some unearthly time in the morning where Lee was, poor man, but it didn't stop him being totally engaging. He spoke with enthusiasm and honesty for nearly 90 minutes. I thought his ideas of getting out there into the world and writing about it plus finding people, ideas and places that interest us were pertinent and not necessarily just for those who write creative non fiction. These are important aspects of any fiction writing based in the real world.

Creative non fiction, as he also pointed out, is about writing about the obvious in a non-obvious way. This may include looking at the bigger picture/story whilst finding something that the reader is just not going to expect. He highlighted that as writers we often write because we have something to say that will make a difference or have an impact on others. One part of the discussion that particularly fascinated me was the idea of looking at the intimate detail. Finding something small that no one will have thought about. You may remember in a previous post about the exhibition This is my home now, I spoke about a film that had been created which was just the hands of refugees holding things that reminded them of home. It was all about the small details again. We are all so often in a rush that we can miss these details if we don't take a moment to stop and look and listen and think.

Perhaps the most important thing I took away, which was a reminder more than anything else, was the fact that when writing creative non fiction you are thinking in terms of narrative. It should have a story, a beginning, a middle and an end with scenes that move it on. Sound familiar? I then could have hugged him when he started talking about the importance of rewriting - students still don't always understand this concept!

These are just a few of the gems that came out of the session that I thought I would share. And I would also like to say thank Carole for organising it and Lee for giving us his time.

On a different note I had to include this clip of music following yesterday's sad news. It was the sound track of my childhood. My older sisters loved the Monkees and I loved them when their series was repeated.I am sure you have all done the 'Monkees walk'. I know several people who knew Davy Jones and all have said the same thing: he was a truly lovely man. Plus as writers, I think we are all daydream believers aren't we?


  1. I had not heard of the term creative nonfiction before but have probably (if I understand it correctly) read and enjoyed many books written in this way. As always a fascinating post.

  2. Thanks Amanda. It wasn't a term I was overly familiar with either. In the module we cover personal essay, memoir, travel writing etc. I have particularly enjoyed reading Chernobyl Strawberries by Vesna Goldsorthy for the course.