Gok Wan, the cast of Wicked, and the York English department; what could they possibly have in common?
I’ll give you a clue – it’s not their dress sense. In fact, they are all helping contribute towards the current literary revival, apparent in recent months. At the end of January, earlier this year, the iPad was unveiled, along with a new and extensive iTunes library, leading the way for literature to become technologically relevant. In terms of online opportunities, the success of Txt Lit (www.txtlit.co.uk) shows the appeal of creative writing in a modern way. It holds a unique monthly contest, challenging contestants to write a story based on a certain theme, within 160 characters – the length of an SMS text from a mobile phone. Clever, right?
However, e-books and ridiculously short stories aside, paper and ink books are rapidly increasing in popularity. In popular media, this is reflected in the Channel 4 programme, TV Book Club, which was first aired at the end of January. The premise of the show involves Gok Wan, along with other celebrities including Jo Brand, Dave Spikey, Nathaniel Parker and Laila Rouass, discussing and reviewing a different book each week. The term ‘celebrity’ may be a tad tenuous here, but nonetheless, with the debut episode reaching an impressive daytime peak average audience of around 350,000 viewers, this televised book club highlights a new popular interest in reading, and the beginning of a literary resurgence for this generation.
It’s not, however, simply the reading aspect of literature that has proved popular so far this year – creative writing is making a comeback. The importance of introducing creative and imaginative outlets early on can be seen in the launch of the Young Writers’ Award. Former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo, with the support of the musical Wicked, is launching this contest as a re-embodiment of the WH Smith Young Writers’ Competition, which was discontinued twenty years ago. Clearly the relevance of creative writing is being placed in the foreground – and, if you need any more convincing, well-known previous winners of this contest include Helena Bonham Carter and Kate Beckinsale; clearly proof that it pays to be poetic.
If this seems a little too childish – to be fair, the competition is open to those as young as five – then there are more sophisticated literary trends also on the rise, providing a more adult approach to literature. The most successful of these appear to combine a social night out with a passion for reading – and a dash of alcohol for good measure, of course. An example of these modern literary endeavours is apparent in the book-reading nights that are held at Shoreditch House Literary Salon in east London – a place which claims that ‘not since the Marquis de Sade has reading been this sexy.’ Cocktails and Coleridge – sounds like the making of a great night to me. And, according to Facebook at least, over 1,500 people agree. The future of book clubs may lie in these ‘literary salons’ – showing that literature can evolve in a way that makes it both approachable and enjoyable, and not simply for an educational environment… Thank goodness.
On a smaller scale, or within our own campus, to be specific, the effects of this literary revival can clearly be seen. At York, the English department has introduced an annual anthology, The Looking Glass, and there is even a newly founded Creative Writing society. Combined with the increased interest on a national scale, this could mark the beginning of an entire literary revolution – or make reading and writing a little more popular, at least.
But why is creative writing making such a comeback? Speaking to Nouse, former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo believes that “it allows people to really say what they want to say and in a form that suits them. It’s not a rigid rule that they need to follow or something they have to do to get to the next stage of their education. It’s much freer and allows them to be themselves perhaps.” Michael also feels that not only is creative writing experiencing a revival, but creativity of all kinds may benefit from this new-found interest, saying that “most of us find our own creative outlet, that suits our feelings. Some will do it by writing, some by talking, some by dancing and painting. I think it’s something about freedom to express.”
Yet can this resurgence be maintained? Michael believes that unfortunately “we are still hamstrung by the limitation of the testing and exam system in schools which very often smother creativity”, perhaps threatening the future of the interest in writing. However, he also extols the virtues of encouraging personal writing, explaining that “it’s a good sign that an award such as Wicked Young Writers has been established to allow young people to write what they want to write and have an outlet for creativity.”
So, what are you waiting for? All you have to do is pick up a pen, or even get on your phone, in the case of Txt Lit. You might just have the opportunity to win some cash for yourself as well! And if writing doesn’t quite appeal, then just grab a book from the library, or go along to a trendy night in Shoreditch to enjoy a sneaky glass of wine (or four) along with some exclusive readings.