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Writing Course: Novel Problems

Last year I attended "Novel Problems" at the Irish Writers Centre. The course was conducted entirely online, given the pandemic. The course is run by Niamh Campbell, whose debut novel This Happy has been getting very positive reviews. I had previously attended Fundamentals of Fiction, which combined a didactic aspect with workshopping of work, whereas Novel Problems focused more heavily on workshopping throughout.


The quality of writing at Novel Problems was very high, and some of the participants were progressing quite well in the publishing game; one person in particular had already secured an agent, and their novel was in the process of being sent to publishing houses. Whereas the participants at Fundamentals worked in a mix of genres, the pieces workshopped on this course tended to be more grounded in realism (in contrast, my current work combines the surreal, hyperreality and magic realism, so I felt like somewhat of a black sheep in this regard). During some of the discussions I realised that I would have benefitted from reading through the circulated extracts a few times; a lot of subtleties of people's work can go over one's head at a first read.


For the last week, we spent some time talking about an interesting article by Zadie Smith which led to much discussion around issues of identity, and authenticity in writing. I think this discussion was very pertinent for many of the writers in the group, whose work had a semi-autobiographical quality. My current work in progress is a totally fictional piece that is not based on anyone I know, but the article by Zadie Smith does make a fair point that the writer's personality will come through in their writing (regardless of how outlandish their story might be).

This course is geared towards writers who have been working on a novel for some time, but I wouldn't write it off if you're starting on something, as long as you're passionate about it. If the course is running again, it's a great chance to get feedback from other motivated writers.

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