British author Fay Weldon, known for feminist perception and wit in her stories about marriage, modern life, and mores, wrote, by her count, at least eight novels during a three-day visit to the Storrs campus recently.
Weldon, the Aetna Visiting Writer in Residence for the spring semester, worked closely with 10 creative writing students, most of whom were writing novels.
An hour at a time, she wrote with them and showed them how to construct their stories.
“It’s a much simpler task than people teaching creative writing believe, writing novels,” said Weldon, who has written 25 of them. Her latest, She May Not Leave, will be released in the United States next month.
Weldon, who has been nominated for Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize in contemporary
fiction, is perhaps most widely known for writing the initial episodes of the television series Upstairs, Downstairs.
In a talk at the Dodd Center with English professor Regina Barreca, her friend and host, Weldon said she told the student writers to start out by getting away from “I.” They should start their novel with somebody with a name, somebody different from themselves, she said, and ask, “What were their parents like?”
“My impression of you,” she
told students, “is that you all write phenomenally well.”
Weldon began as an advertising writer in London in the 1960s, working in what was then a wide open field, writing television
Weldon then decided she wanted to sell an idea, so she tried TV dramas.
She found that she could move stories forward through dialogue, and viewers would expect something to happen.
She likened her first novels to television shows in which she did her own casting.
| Author Fay Weldon, left, and Regina Barreca, professor of English, speak to students and faculty at Konover Auditorium. Weldon, this year’s Aetna Visiting Writer-in-Residence at the University, also worked with selected students on their novels during her three-day visit.
|Photo by Jordan Bender
She has since written several collections of short stories, novels, plays, and reviews.
Switching forms is “rather as if your brain is a computer – you have to be able to put in another program,” she said.
At first her work was “very disconcerting to men,” she said, because she “suggested that [women] were actually people.
“The world has changed so enormously since then,” she added.
Asked whether the birth control pill was responsible for the change, she said, “the pill and the invention of the Hoover, the microwave, and take-out.”
In her youth, said the 74-year-old author, sex meant babies, and one had to choose between a career and a personal life.
Today, she said, life has “turned us all into wage slaves.”
Writing is often not a solo task, she cautioned; an 80-page screenplay becomes a blueprint that others add to.
Writers, she said, like criminals, “require so many people to do the task.”