Soc Hopping: Failed Novelists

Student Life

I think the event I was most nervous about attending this Halloween was The Failed Novelists’ meeting at Teddy Hall on Sunday. With a name that sounds like the somewhat pretentious undead, and the promise of fatally scrutinising the secretly, lovingly nurtured works of hopeful writers, it sounded like my worst nightmare. What if the Novelists were all super critical geniuses who revelled in the literary torture of freshers; analysing and critiquing their innermost thoughts until they lay quivering on the floor, their little literary souls battered?
But my anticipation was sorely misplaced. The Failed Novelists are really nice people. Almost as soon as my fellow Soc-Hopper and I walked into the JCR Welfare Room we were offered Lyons Raspberry Roll. Then later, despite discovering our journalistic tendencies, we landed the plum roles of Little Red Riding Hood and the Stage Director (ok…my plum role wasn’t quite so plummy) in a play that was being read out – written, I might add, by Freshers who did not look at all quivery or scared. The little room was cosy, and decorated cushion, curtain and carpet in green- perhaps a nod to the eternal growth and springing fruitfulness at the nib of a novelists’ pen? Poetic licence much? Perhaps not. I don’t know. We began by delving into the lustfulness of one member (through her poetry of course).  The analysing bug started to bite me hard, and I found myself arguing defiantly for the place of the word ‘cardiogram’ in the penultimate stanza of a poem about meditation by the side of Chinese lakes.
Jenni Hunt, the Novelists’ President, who was wearing bright green socks, admits to some trepidation similar to mine when she first joined. “I didn’t read anything out loud for at least a term” she tells me. “I’m normally so shy!” But Selena Wisnom, the five year founder of the Novelists and hostess of sporadic social writing retreats the crew takes to South Wales, thinks overcoming shyness is one of the best things that being a Novelist can provide. “There’s always good points to someone’s work – they’re passionate about it!” she says. US visiting student Morgan agrees, emphatically nodding “It’s so important to have a society like this – I have to have someone read my stuff before I revise it! I can’t imagine making any changes until they’re pointed out, and then I’m like ‘Of course that’s weak! How could I ever have put that?'”
The group seems extremely comfortable together, and each member has their own, courteous in different ways, critical style. The room quivers with laughter as polite James enquires tentatively of the dramatic Freshers, “Was that supposed to be funny?” I felt incredibly welcome, and like I had been in the room, getting up close to these students’ ideas and imaginations for years, not just the 75 minutes I was there. They were in their element chatting about how they get writing, and the “Nanowrimo” competition coming up to write 50 000 words in a month. This massive undertaking is seen as a fun challenge, and it is clear that the Novelists don’t take themselves or their writing too seriously. When I asked the crew what inspired their works, the first answer was “fame and glory!!” and the most memorable piece of the past few terms was agreed to have been an extended dialogue between a dragon and a group of lesbians. One guy explains his cheeky novel idea about “a space age supernaturalist, who is a medium and can bring people back from the dead” as propelled by ‘giving up being the next James Joyce…I’m going to be P G Wodehouse for a while’.
Interestingly, very few of the Failed Novelists are English or Drama students -there is a wide variety of scientists, linguists and historians. “We like to be friends with everyone!” says Selena. They haven’t failed too much either –member Leonore Shick recently published the novella Lizard, and Novelists have landed columns in Time magazine as well as the Guardian. They invite everyone to come hang out with them, Wednesday afternoons in Blackwell’s, to share a cup of tea and read a poem or two. I’m just waiting to get my courage up enough to say those fatal words: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…”
The Failed Novelists meet in Teddy Hall JCR Welfare Room on Sundays at 2.30.