Clueless About Writing

This week I have been thinking a lot about Romola Garai. Now don’t get me wrong – she’s very pretty, no doubt about that, but she’s not really my type. No, it was this extraordinary interview in Sunday’s Independent that set me off. There’s loads of stuff about her acting and all the wonderful people she’s worked with, which is all jolly interesting – and then she moves on to talk about her burgeoning writing career. This is what she says:

While acting is what she wants to do for now, she nonetheless hankers after writing, for which, she says, she needs to spend time in London. “I need to interact with the city,” she says, “to meet people, to have strange things happen to me – otherwise what would I write about?” She writes more and more as she gets older, feels that she’s improving and may end up doing the Open University’s creative writing MA when she can afford to take a year off.

What?! Did she really say “otherwise what would I write about”? Yes, I’m afraid she did. I have a feeling that she may have taken on board the “write about what you know” dictum a little too literally. Although to be honest, I would have thought that even at her tender years, as an international actress she’s probably had a few more unusual experiences and met more peculiar people than the rest of us who have spent our long working lives in open-plan offices and cubicles.

No, the crucial point about writing that she seems to be missing is that it’s all about imagination. Unless she can learn to put hers to good use, however many bizarre things that happen to her as she “interacts with the city”, chances are that the end result is going to be a more than a little flat. But I wish her luck anyway – I hope I’m proved wrong.

Curiously, you could say that it was in many ways a failure of imagination that resulted in the recent BBC adaptation of “Emma” (in which Ms Garai took the title role) being so uninspiring. Everyone involved seemed to be under the impression that it should look as much as possible like the Gwyneth Paltrow movie of a few years back, rather than something new. By contrast, the most interesting adaptation of “Emma” in recent years remains “Clueless”, a film that remained 100% faithful to the source material and yet created something completely original out of it.

5 thoughts on “Clueless About Writing

  1. Helen J Beal says:

    Jon – as you know I have been a fan of yours for some time but your citing of ‘Clueless’ has just elevated you to hero level. And of course the proposition that imagination is as, if not more, important than experience in fiction. I hope Penny is well. Helen

  2. admin says:

    Hehe. Who couldn’t love Clueless, though? I remember seeing it for the first time on some cable channel in the States back in the eighties nineties, having never previously heard of it. I was so pleased with myself when I suddenly realised that I’d seen this plot before.

    Penny (my daughter’s pet giant African land snail for readers who aren’t on Twitter) is still a bit subdued. Or maybe she’s just a particularly boring specimen.

  3. Cate Gardner says:

    If I waited for something interesting to happen here, I’d possibly start writing in 2109. Sigh!

    Loved Clueless.

  4. Stu says:

    And of course, if you reversed things to assume that all writers were writing only about things that had happened to them…

    Well, I’d have a very odd sort of life, for a start.

  5. admin says:

    @Cate Frankly, I don’t think lack of imagination is a problem with your writing 🙂

    @Stu Exactly. *shudders*

    And thank you all for being too polite to remind me that “Clueless” came out in 1995. D’oh.

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