Not every book is a novel!

Novelists, and English literature graduates working in radio and television, continually talk about "books" and "writers" when they actually mean exclusively novels and novelists, and I'm fed up with it!

When the BBC launched a viewer participation series in 2004 they asked people to vote for their favourite book, but when I went to the BBC website to take part I discovered that only nominations for novels were allowed. I complained about all the publicity continually referring to the nation's favourite “book” when it meant exclusively a novel. My message was, of course, totally ignored and there was no reply And no mention of the point in any broadcast.

At some point in recent times I decided to look into the possibiity of once again trying my hand as a novelist, or as a writer of some other kind of book so I started to collect books on writing. One such book was The Practice of Writing by David Lodge, who had also written The Art of Fiction which one might have assumed had covered that subject. Here again, in the title of this book, and in that of one of its chapters, "Creative Writing: Can It/Should It Be Taught?", we find the self-obsessed, navel-gazing attitude to writing of those who assume that the only creative writing — indeed, the only writing at all however, creative or not — is of fiction: of novels, and plays, and screenplays; and perhaps of literary criticism itself.

Just the same narrow view can be found in The Way to Write by John Fairfax and John Moat. They don't address writing in general, only the writing of fiction.

Surely the vast majority of writing that is done in the world, and in the English language in particular, is non-fiction. There is, to begin with, journalism both general (in our bulky daily and Sunday newspapers) and specialist (in the host of weekly and monthly magazines on every hobby and specialist subject imaginable). Then there are all the multitude of non-fiction books that are published every year -- though perhaps one should leave aside anything as mechanical as tables of reference and directories which, although still representing a lot of hard work, are only in very small measure creative; but even a new dictionary certainly involves a heck of a lot of writing, and if its compilers are not to copy the definitions from rival publications, they must surely be fairly creative in capturing each of the meanings of each word as accurately and precisely as possible and in a new way! Then there are the myriad instruction manuals for products of all kinds produced by companies for their customers; the glossy annual reports produced by big public companies for their shareholders: somebody has to write them, and to be pretty creative in trying to make them interesting, too, I reckon. There are the insurance policy booklets, and explanatory booklets about how to use today's novelty bank accounts; the holiday brochures that describe in lyrical terms each destination and luxury hotel. There are even the leaflets, booklets, and other explanatory documents written -- nowadays with an enormous effort to use plain English and remain really easy to understand -- by civil servants on all official matters from how to fill in your tax return or claim a certain welfare benefit, to the obligations placed on industry under health and safety regulations or on farmers under legislation about nature conservancy. Possibly the greatest body of writing ofall is that comprising all the (no doubt millions of) internal reports written by anybody in a white collar job.

Many of the people writing all that vast body of material have to spend most of their working week writing. For the internal reports, writing might be only an occasional chore that they undertake with a groan; but for both groups, if they are conscientious, those people might well seek guidance on how to do the work of writing those documents better than they do already, and they might hope to find it in books like the two mentioned above. They won't.

These facts of life the likes of Lodge, Fairfax, and Moat, and all the others of their ilk who write books on how to “write”, seem to utterly ignore, even though one of Lodge's novels (Nice Work, which was dramatized for television) is all about the encounter (and unlikely romance) of a young woman academic in a university English department with an industrialist, and for which one might have expected Lodge to have made the effort to raise his nose above his literary parapet and notice this huge amount of other writing (which is not of novels, poetry or plays) being done out in the real world.

No. The Practice of Writing begins with “The Novelist Today: Still at the Crossroads?” and is about novelists like Graham Greene, D.H.Lawrence, Henry Green (who he?!), and of course Joyce and Nabokov. Hardly anybody can understand the strange games with language which the strange expatriate Irishman played in Ulysses and (especially) in Finnegans Wake; but Lodge can't avoid a chapter on him (“Joyce's Choices” is not about Miss Grenfell) which will be of about as much interest to those hoping for illumination of the practice of writing for work in the real world as a history of the cult of thousand-year-old eggs in the orient would be to a trainee cook in Torquay.

Verdict on the Lodge title? Interesting if you are studying “The English Novel” in some rarified college preoccupied with exclusively precious literary fiction, but not actually about the practice of writing at all.