There is an old piece of wisdom that proposes that every one of us has a novel somewhere inside, just waiting to be written. There are times when I suspect that every one of us has now written it, had it neatly typed, bound in a blue folder, and has put it in the post, addressed to me. Like, no doubt, many writers, I receive through the mails quite a large number of typescripts from aspiring novelists; the not-yet-successful, the never-to-be successful, the ones who have tried to publish, the ones who wonder whether they should try to publish, and want, really, to know how to go about it. I also get novels – and parts of novels, and plans for novels – from my students at the University of East Anglia, as do, no doubt, many university teachers. And, because I run, at that university, an MA course in Creative Writing (devoted primarily to fiction, though with some attention to television and stage drama), I also get, around March or April, yet more typescripts, coming from those who are prepared to devote a year of their lives to a systematic course in the subject. It is an odd experience; when I go out into the streets and see them full of people, buying and selling, working and striking, I sometimes feel that, under all the macs and the sweaters, the suits and the dresses, there beats in almost every case the heart of a would-be writer.
This is an uneasy awareness, one that can produce very different responses. One might feel buoyant about it, joyous with the conviction that humankind, for all its manifest unpleasantnesses and selfishnesses, is essentially creative, that people are analysts of their experience, that each of us is the bearer of a