Friday, February 27, 2009

Meera MURUGESAN talks to Jeremy SHELDON

Sheldon says that reading the work of aspiring writers is
like getting a window into their hearts and minds.

Get that ‘writing muscle’ toned!
February 25, 2009

Aspiring writers may need to work out daily, advises author, scriptwriter and creative writing facilitator Jeremy Sheldon. Curious MEERA MURUGESAN finds out more. Being grounded is a punishment any teenager can relate to but not many would have used it to such good effect as Sheldon.

THE BRITISH WRITER and former Eton schoolboy first developed an interest in writing when teenage rebellion in boarding school got him sent to his dorm room on Saturdays. At 16, bored and frustrated on one such Saturday, Jeremy Sheldon started writing about the things he would be doing if he wasn’t stuck in his room. This eventually led to a love for creative writing: two published books, a career as a scriptwriter, a tutor in creative writing and facilitator at workshops for aspiring writers.

“If they hadn’t punished me, I don’t know what I would be doing. I would probably be a lawyer or doctor or something,” joked Sheldon, 38, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently for a writer’s workshop organised by the British Council.

Alert and fresh-faced despite the long flight from London, Sheldon, who was on his first trip to Malaysia, was more than happy to share his thoughts on creative writing and his own journey as a writer.

Called City of Stories, the workshop, from February 11-20, targeted at both aspiring and developing local writers, aimed to help participants draw inspiration from their surroundings for the production of written work.

Sheldon said working with aspiring writers and having the opportunity to study their written work is similar to getting a “window into their hearts and minds,” an experience that still astonishes him every single time. His role, said Sheldon, is to function as the “external eye” and to show these aspiring writers not just the things they are already doing very well, but also to point out the few elements they may be missing.

But it’s a huge responsibility, especially when participants seek advice, said Sheldon. He still remembers pointers which his writing teacher gave him years ago. And the best piece of writing advice he received, which is quite simply “write every day,” has not been the easiest thing to follow either, admitted Sheldon.

Writing requires practice and writing daily, even if it’s only a little bit, can make a difference to aspiring writers. “You need to keep working out what a colleague of mine calls the writing muscle. You can’t actually touch it or see it working but you know it exists.”

Born and raised in West London, Sheldon credits his mother—who is Hong Kong Chinese—and her love of films for also sparking his interest in storytelling. His mother, said Sheldon, was quite happy to spend Sunday afternoons absorbed in watching the Technicolor movies of the fifties and early sixties. She was fascinated by such movies and by the great American film stars of that era, an interest she passed on to Sheldon, who also works as a scriptwriter and development consultant for scriptwriters and film production companies.

“I think her interest in movies came from her Hong Kong background. She said in those days, you had one day off and you ate dimsum and went and saw three films; that sounds like my ideal day too,” said Sheldon with a smile.

Sheldon, who counts Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie among his favourite writers, is the author of The Comfort Zone (published in 2002) and The Smiling Affair (2005). He has also written a number of anthologised short stories.

Sheldon is also a tutor on the MA in Creative Writing programme at Birkbeck, University of London, and at Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine.

But this year, Sheldon, with a third book in mind, is determined to focus as much on his own writing as he does on the work of others.

“Writing gives you the freedom to be an individual in a way which doesn’t happen very often with other ways of life,” he said.

Occasionally, to compensate for not writing enough during term time, he takes off for a week or two, stays in a quiet Bed and Breakfast, away from all the usual distractions and just focuses on his writing.

Otherwise, his day always starts with a dose of television humour. An avid fan of the sitcom Frasier, Sheldon never misses switching on his TV in the mornings for the half hour of laughter that the series promises before dividing his time between his own writing and preparing for classes in the afternoons and early evenings. He’s also quite taken with online chess, though he smilingly admitted to not having won a single game in three months.

“I go out a lot too. My friends are not people who tend to read books every day or want to sit in the pub talking about books, but I’m lucky because they allow me to take a break from either my own writing or from working with other writers,” he said.

Sheldon, whose mother suffers from multiple sclerosis and has been wheelchair-bound since 1985, is planning his next book to address the subject of being disabled. “There isn’t much written about being disabled because it frightens people ... that we are all so physically fallible,” said Sheldon.

His mother, whom he describes as “amazing, funny and brave,” lives independently despite her debilitating illness. Her attitude to life, says Sheldon, is very inspiring. “I’ve always shunned from writing about my mother’s illness but I think I have finally found an access point to the topic that works for me.”

Reproduced from the New Straits Times of February 25, 2009


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Sheldon's work is half as impressive as that other Chinese/European hybrid author, Timothy Mo, then he is set fair for the steady accretion of a dedicated fan base.

Friday, March 20, 2009 10:29:00 PM  

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