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Whit by Iain Banks (Books 2021, 15)

The human memory is an amazing thing. In this case, it’s amazing what it’s possible not to remember.

To wit: I remembered almost completely nothing about this book. That the main character was part of an odd religious community based near Stirling in Scotland; and that she had to make a trip to London by slightly unusual means to track down a musical and possibly apostate cousin: that’s as far as my memory went.

It came out in 1995, so twenty-six years have passed since I first read it. I would have said that I had reread it once, which you would hope might lock things down a bit in the brain. But on the plus side, it meant it was almost like reading a new Iain Banks book, so in that way the forgetting was good.

As you’d expect, a great deal more happens than what I remembered. It’s another family drama, in the vein of The Crow Road1 and The Steep Approach to Garbadale. Also has a very endearing main character, as well as religion that doesn’t sound too bad in its beliefs, apart from its rejection of most technology.

  1. Which I note that I’ve never written about here, except indirectly. Is it time to rerereread that, do you think? 

MA Latest

I realised the other day that it’s a year ago that I was applying for creative writing MAs, before being accepted on and choosing the one at Birkbeck.

Well that went fast.

2021 feels like it’s being disappearing even faster than 2020 did, which is strange. Or maybe not. The pandemic is far from over, of course, many things are still up in the air, and it could all change again in an instant.

But I’ve been lax in reporting on what’s been going on with the course . The summer term was all an optional lecture series, which largely consisted of members of staff interviewing writers, along with one or two pieces about the craft of writing. One on the structure of the novel, and one a session with some agents.

That last one probably had the most practical value — at least potentially — but they were all interesting.

Other than that, My dissertation is due in a month. Actually now just under four weeks. It consists of 15,000 words of creative writing (plus or minus 10%, so up to 16,500), plus a 3000-word preface (also plus or minus 10%). I have 23,000 words, of which I can’t use the first five or six thousand, because I already submitted them for an earlier assessment. So there’s plenty to work with.

It feels a little odd to have paused the forward flow — I intend this to be a novel, after all — to work on editing what I have so far. But it ought to be worthwhile for the novel, as well as being necessary for my dissertation. This period of working over what I’ve already done should give me a firmer base on which to build the rest.

I think I miss classes. I only had two a week for the first two terms, and a slightly more erratic schedule averaging to one a week for the third, but they provided structure, as well as a feeling of connection with others on the course. So I’m looking forward to an informal workshop session some of us have arranged for this week.

But beyond that, the future. What’s next?