Colin Batrouney, according to his author bio, has never been to a creative writing class, but he has worked in professional theatre as an actor and director.
His comic-tragic novel, Creative Writing for Beginners, has two main characters: Joel, an aspiring writer, and Nomee, an aspiring actor. Nomee is rehearsing for the role of Nina in Chekhov’s play The Seagull; a play about an aspiring actor and an aspiring writer. The characters in the novel reflect the characters in the play and the themes and issues facing Nomee’s character, Nina, in the play, are important themes in this book.
Joel attends a Creative Writing course led by Mr Tamsin, who is not a great teacher. He is however a comic character and the descriptions of these classes provide much of the humour in a novel that also examines creativity, thwarted ambition, identity and love.
It is a novel, not an instruction manual for budding authors, but it does contain some fine examples of good writing and a few tips on craft, especially through the character of Mr Tamsin. A failed writer himself, he does know what makes great literature. He is cruel and discouraging, suggesting that he might rather see his dentist than read a student’s story that lacks conflict. He tells another to “make us care” about their characters. The author, Colin Batrouney certainly makes us care about Joel and Nomee.
Identity is a major theme throughout. Nomee’s real name is Naomi. She has chosen Nomee instead because that’s what her mother, who is in care with early-onset Alzheimers, calls her. It is appropriate: No Me. In a conversation with one of the other cast members she asks of her mother, “If I’m not her daughter anymore, then who am I?”
Joel treasures a small black and white photo of himself with his younger brother and father. He does not remember his father, who abandoned his family when they were young and he hasn’t seen his brother for ten years. The scene when his brother turns up made me laugh and cry.
There are stories within stories in this cleverly constructed novel. Each character is drawn with insight and sympathy, and the novel as a whole is beautifully written.
Pippa Kay taught Creative Writing at evening colleges for twenty years and is the author of Doubt & Conviction and Back Stories (www.pippakay.com.au).