Barbara Bleiman works at the English and Media Centre in London, which supports teachers by providing teaching materials and resources. On these pages you will find links to articles she has published on the EMC webpages about creative-critical modes of teaching, especially those of imitation and textual transformation.
The English and Media Centre is a charity which supports English teachers across London and the UK, providing them with teaching resources, running courses in continuing professional development, organising resources, and publishing the emagazine for A-Level teachers, which is co-edited by Barbara Bleiman. Barbara has been at the forefront of the EMC’s work in promoting the uses of mixed creative-critical teaching practices in schools.
As she writes in her 2017 article, Learning how to write critically…by writing creatively, ‘there is a long history, however, strongly supported by EMC over the years, of bringing the two [creative writing and criticism] together, in recognition of the fact that not only are the boundaries blurred but also the two complement each other.’ To write, one must read; but to read, one must also write. Not only does ‘teaching about texts helps you to write’, but ‘Writing yourself helps you to understand better what other writers do. This might be discovering more about how a choice of narrative voice or point of view works, or learning more about a literary idea like symbolism, or it might be about discovering how a particular poem, or set novel, is using, adapting or subverting a style or convention, making it unique and special.’
In her 2015 article, Reading as a Writer, Writing as a Reader, she offers further reflections on the practice, and makes the point that ‘one key element of both reading as a writer and writing as a reader is the idea that small experiments, tests, trying things out, having a go, being playful, taking little unrisky risks, is extremely valuable, regardless of the ‘success’ of the end product. The end product of these little experiments is not to produce a great piece of writing (though it’s amazing how work like this can spawn great stuff, as was evidenced by the work read aloud by the teachers at the NATE [National Association for Teaching in English] conference). But that’s not the main point. Something that doesn’t work may still teach you something about the text you’re reading or the process of writing.’
Both articles describe processes of ‘textual transformation’ – that is, shifting writing from one style to another – which are central to Barbara’s vision of creative-critical teaching in schools: for example, transforming a passage of spare dialogue in Jane Eyre by re-writing it in the narrative voice, or entering into Pip’s voice in Great Expectations. Here, in the 2021 article Power in (creative) potentia, two final-year A-Level students, Emma Leigh and Olivia Rusholme, describe an experiment with studying and writing Gothic fiction. ‘In conversation with our Year 13s, we created a set of gothic ingredients which took into account tropes, epochs, intertextual references and each of their names. Students paired up, and so did we. Using a wheel of fortune, students learned their creative fates …’
Finally, in the below passage, you will find a fine example of textual transformation as performed by Barbara Bleiman herself, in which she re-writes the opening of Pride and Prejudice into the style of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Creative writing based on reading – writing one text in the style of another
He studied the sky. There were days when the ashen overcast thinned and now the standing trees along the road made the faintest of shadows over the snow. They went on. The boy wasn’t doing well. He stopped and checked his feet and retied the plastic. When the snow started to melt it was going to be hard to keep their feet dry. They stopped often to rest. He’d no strength to carry the child. They sat on the pack and ate handfuls of the dirty snow. By afternoon it was beginning to melt. They passed a burned house, just the brick chimney standing in the yard. They were on the road all day, such day as there was. Such few hours. They might have covered three miles.
He thought the road would be so bad that no one would be on it but he was wrong. They camped almost in the road itself and built a great fire, dragging dead limbs out of the snow and piling them on the flames to hiss and steam. There was no help for it. The few blankets they had would not keep them warm.
Cormac McCarthy – The Road
A man had come to the neighbourhood. Alone. He wanted a wife, or at least that’s what the local people thought. The big house had been let and the woman found that interesting. She had heard all about it from her neighbour. She tried to interest her husband in the subject but he didn’t seem to want to know. She kept coming back to it: the house, the man and the man’s desire, his yearning for a wife. Again and again she told him. The husband grew tired of her words. She wanted him to visit the man but stubbornly he refused. He was weary and unwilling to go, out to the far side of the village, in the greyness, with the rain falling. The house and the man and the man’s desire for a wife – they were all as nothing to him. Finally, he thought that his one daughter might do, the second child. His wife had plans for the eldest. He felt more for the younger. The younger child’s quickness of wit matched his own. His wife’s temperament, by contrast, left him cold and her interest in the stranger was of no concern to him.
@ Barbara Bleiman
English and Media Centre