Q. So, Robert, now that you’ve come to the end of the experimental fiction chapter and completed all the exercises, I wonder if you’d mind answering a few questions?
Q. Here we go then: has your attitude to your work changed?
R. This chapter has taught me that, although it’s fine to push back the frontiers of literature, it’s also worth bearing a few things in mind. The first thing is that if you’re going to experiment it’s good to equip your reader with the ability to make the journey with you. The best experiments don’t just blindly go where no writer has gone before and expect others to follow, they lay a trail of breadcrumbs so that they can both be followed (in terms of being read and being emulated) and be able to make their way back home. There’s nothing worse than going out on a limb only to find that it is too thin to support you. It’s necessary to know what path you have taken and be able to make your way back home afterwards. This can take the form of being able to experiment one day and write a conventional story the next day. Or it can be in terms of knowing the methodology of your experiment so that you can repeat it in the future and, more importantly, other writers can too. (in experimental methodology, reproducibility means an independent researcher should be able to replicate the experiment, under the same conditions, and achieve the same results) A second thing I have learned is that it’s good not to tick too many people off with your experiments. For example, I spent a couple of hours this afternoon writing an experimental piece about the Hillsborough Disaster. I made the mistake of treating the subject flippantly. This doesn’t work unless you can show that the humour has some purpose; something that helps heals or transforms the situation.
Q. Hmm; deep. Thanks for that. Will you incorporate any of the experimental approaches you’ve tried out into your work in future?
R. I think that I already incorporate experimental approaches into my work. It’s just that I do it so inexpertly that they’re indistinguishable from the ravings of a madman. Not that I have anything against madmen, mind, it’s just that I need to learn more about the art and craft of experimenting than this chapter has taught me. Still, I have some avenues that I can explore. Practising is one. Reading more contemporary experimental fiction is another. I have a long way to go here before I practice with any kind of competence.
Q. Appreciate your thoughts. What have you learned from reading and critiquing your fellow students’ experiments?
R. There’s a great mix of talent here on this course and this is brought sharply into focus for me by this chapter. Some, like me, need more practice, but others have mastered the art of experimental fiction. It’s actually quite illuminating to critique someone’s work. It shows me how well I’ve absorbed the teachings and it allows me to see more clearly what I need to do to improve. Exemplars are very useful, whether they follow the criteria in the teachings or not. I specifically have learned that it’s important to follow instructions closely when completing exercises and that punctuation, sentence length and even genre style make big differences in how a piece of writing is interpreted/perceived.
Q. And finally: how might this feed into your critical and reflective writing?
R. I find that the more critiques I do, the easier they get. The more I reflect on any kind of writing, whether it be that of established authors, that of fellow students and even my own work, the more insight I get into the process of writing. TMA03, in particular, was a huge learning experience for me. For perhaps the first time in my life I read (and reread) books whilst thinking consciously how specific effects were achieved. I don’t think I did a particularly good job of the TMA, but I still took a lot of benefit from doing it. It’s strange, but I find that I can either read a story for the enjoyment of it, or reading it whilst thinking how it works, but I can’t do both at the same time. I would like to know how to do both simultaneously. Any tips? Anyone?
Q. Well, thank you, Robert, for your thoughtful and illuminating replies to my questions. I’m sure our readers will join me in saying that it truly is worth reflecting on the things we have learned.
R. Thank you; I’m sure you’re right.