By Raviakash Deu
Doctors, nurses, scientists have all played their roles this past year, but for narrative non-fiction writers, what does it mean to serve on the front-line? I knew, without really knowing, the answer to that for some time. When done well, any writing grounded in the facts as much as in the imagination has a way of inspiring, energising and in some cases healing the minds of its readers. On deciding to pick up the pen, one begins to take control of those transformations not only in others but crucially within oneself.
I experienced this phenomenon in company and in spirit on City’s Narrative Non-Fiction Short Course, which might just as easily be termed ‘Therapeutic Non-Fiction’ – and not just because the group boasted a psychologist. In the wake of artistic absence in the world, City’s virtual offering brings together traditional storytellers, reporters and scholars from across the globe who, while seeking guidance on an outer narrative, inevitably end up fulfilling part of their inner one too.
Creative writing is a soul-bearing business. Setting weekly classes in the digital sphere might present students with additional complexities against the larger editorial goal of stripping them away. Yet this hasn’t stopped City, who’ve plenty of reason to trust in tutor-extraordinaires like Peter Forbes. As one of those under Peter’s stewardship over the last three months, I’ve been glad to convert a fairly demanding hobby into a more thoughtful practice, and beyond that, develop a confidence that had been desperately missing prior to week one. Starting out as a nervy penman amongst some sophisticated scribes, by week eight, I presented my changed state in the following journal entry:
‘A rare environment. One which appears to value personal growth, indeed community, over competition. In reading aloud our compositions, it’s a unique opportunity to bring alive the material for a bright-eyed audience, of which I too am an avid member. The talents of the group are unlike anything you’d expect. I sink into Roli’’s delicate depiction of makeshift graves on the banks of the Ganges, Monica’s rich reflections on ‘room-travel’ and Roz’s masterful musings on imitation, a lyrical style translated effortlessly into her diction. There’s Imran’s artful sketches on humans in the age of machines, and Robert’s endlessly entertaining travelogues.
The academics, meanwhile, seem to keep us honest. Both Katherine and Claire are as faithful to their subject areas as they are to the business of elegantly unfolding them for us mere mortals. Oh, and amidst all this, I’ve perhaps discovered my own capacity for spinning a good yarn.’
‘Good’ writing is, of course, subjective, and arguably, my hopes going into the programme were of unearthing something ‘real’ rather than ‘good’, a readiness – as spoken by Hesse – to ‘gaze into the fire, into the clouds and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak… surrender to them’. It’s thanks to City’s new expression of ‘bookbinding’ or a sharp sense of literary unity, I’ve been able to take meaningful strides toward that free and fearless outlook, and all its potentialities.
Raviakash Deu is a freelance writer from Birmingham. He holds an undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Nottingham and a Master’s in Shakespeare Studies from King’s College London. His regular features appear at ‘The Lipstick Politico’ where he is interested in bringing light to daring South Asian narratives across culture and the arts.
Narrative Non-Fiction runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from October 2021.