Attraction of authorship

Attraction of authorship

New first-year block Telling Stories at UCM popular: how do I write a short story?

22-04-2024 · Background

Many students from University College Maastricht feel the attraction of authorship, as is testified by the huge popularity of the new first-year block Telling Stories. No less than 69 enrolled and ventured into writing a short literary story. The lecturer: “I am impressed with their level.”

The comments come from the maker of the (English) block, Josje Weusten, senior lecturer of Literature and a writer herself. She was slightly overwhelmed by the huge turnout. “Normally, I work in groups of up to fifteen people, because then it is fairly easy to create a safe environment where students can give feedback on each other’s work. In a group of 69, you are not going to read from your own, newly written, work. That is why Jan de Roder (her colleague, ed.) and I had them work in pairs to discuss each other’s writings. By giving feedback, you will look at your own work more critically, you are practising your senior editor’s eye.”

2000 words

Weusten points out that, in addition to writing a short literary story (two thousand words), elaborate attention is also paid to literary analysis. Literary Theory and Creative Writing are, after all disciplines that can strengthen each other. “If you learn how a text is put together and how that produces meaning, how that works for the reader, then you can apply that to your own stories. A dialogue, for example, speeds up a story, whereas a description of surroundings or the inner life of a person slows it down. Student Lainey Djajakusuma, for example, wrote a detective-like story about an ‘enchilada thief’. It consists almost completely of dialogue, so it reads ever so fast.”

No dropouts

Weusten realises that it was hard work during the seven-week course. “There were practically no dropouts, motivation was high, as was the quality of their stories.” Take A Car Drive by Nynne Breschel, which was written from the perspective of a five-year-old girl. “She is in the car together with her mother and her sisters. It seems innocent but as time passes you realise that they are on the run from their violent father and husband. Both the vocabulary and the observations match the age of the main character.”

Klein’s blue by Caroline Wang is a Sally Rooney-type of story (the popular Irish writer of books such as Normal People) shows how difficult it is to know what someone is feeling or thinking, or to really know each other. “A mix between dialogue and inner monologue. A lot of show don’t tell. After all, the reader is not stupid, you don’t need to spell everything out.”

Short stories are essentially different from novels. “Sketching multiple characters or showing multiple perspectives, won’t work. You have to choose and really know what you want to summon up in the reader and focus entirely on that. You have to choose each word really well.” A number of short stories have been published here .

Dutch and English

Both Weusten and De Roder are Dutch and not native English speakers. Is that not difficult, certainly because this block is all about language? “I have been teaching in English since 2004 and I also write fiction in that language. During the Covid pandemic, I took a writing course at the Faber Academy in London. Participants are selected, as there are fifteen places, I was the only non-native speaker of English.” Writing in a foreign language takes more time, she says, “but it also forces me to think more carefully. Sometimes, it creates a distance to the text which can be helpful if I am writing autobiographical fiction and dealing with difficult subjects.” By now she thinks in English when she writes, but also continues to be very Dutch: “During my training in London, I noticed that the British have to cross a threshold to be able to write about sex. That is less difficult for us, we have so many examples in Dutch literature: old hand Jan Wolkers, but also recently Hannah Bervoets and Manon Uphoff.”

No longer a hobby

For a long time, she saw writing as a hobby, until her department chairperson said to her that she had left the hobby phase behind long ago and she had to take it seriously. Laughing: “I started to write more. When I write, I am really in my element.” The first results are there: she published three short stories, in Litbreak Magazine, in Low Hanging Fruit Literature & Art, and in Flash Fiction Magazine, where she was nominated for the ‘best micro fiction’ prize. Her first novel, Fake Fish, will be published by Sparsile Books this autumn. The story is based mainly in Maastricht and fake news plays a major role.

Author: Riki Janssen

Photo: Shutterstock

Tags: ucm,creatve writing,writer,students,josje weusten

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