March 15, 2012 , 0
I’m deep into my next novel at the moment so my mind is rather preoccupied. I’ve been experimenting with several different narrative voices, but the current one seems to hit the spot. The prose is flowing more smoothly; indeed I’m having to get up in the night to commit the torrent of thoughts and words to the computer. It’s a good feeling.
But the better the fictional life goes the harder it is to psyche myself back into the real world. A good time perhaps to share a few more assorted gems gleaned from my catch-up of literary journals during the winter months. Today’s snippets come from Mslexia (‘a journal for women who write’) and The Author (the official publication of The Society of Authors). In no particular order …
On writing and living
Katherine McMahon, novelist: ‘When I was talking to biographer Hilary Spurling about writing, she said unequivocally: “If someone asks me whether they should become a writer, I always say: not if you can do anything else.” After all writers are by their very nature outsiders, watchers, not only of others but of themselves. There’s a touch of dysjuncture between living and writing … To be a writer is to contemplate one’s humanity in all shades from brilliance to murk. Living and writing: a dangerous, exciting, compelling combination.‘
Me: And satisfying and disturbing, and grounding and exhilarating, and zapping and invigorating.
On the definition of a writer?
Robert Hull, children’s poet: ‘The question pops up each time The Author arrives. To be able to say “I published a book last week” or “I’ve a collection/novel coming out next month,” would be a good answer: “Yes, of course you’re an author.” Whereas (to anticipate) to say in 2016 that “I published a book in 2011″ wouldn’t persuade anyone. In that five years my claim to authordom will have faded. …
But perhaps, if I’ve not published anything for a while, and am not likely to, I can still be a ‘writer’. After all many, many people are ‘writers’. They emerge from Creative Writing degree courses in their hundreds …
Evidently the noun is a problem. The verb makes less of a claim. “I’m a writer” says that existentially that’s what I “am”. But “I write” is both more modest and more accurate. Writing is one of the things I do. I also ride a bike, go to Greece when possible, do a bit in the garden, cook occasionally. I’m not thereby a biker or a gardener or a traveller or a cook. The verb fits, but the noun surrounds one with a kind of aura, intimating that the activity is all-consuming; it defines one. Which it can do legitimately only if it is all-consuming.
It is in a sense all-consuming to have to earn one’s living by an activity. “I’m a bus-driver,” sounds right; it can hardly mean that I occasionally drive a bus, when I’m in the mood or can afford it. Nor can I be a nuclear physicist at weekends. Not without making the neighbours nervous.
I do not need to be “a writer”. I can focus on the verb, on writing. I can make a psychological retreat from clinging to authordom to finding satisfaction in writing … ‘
Me: A comforting answer to a perennial question.
On the benefits of writing
Linda Kelsey, confessional writer: ‘Sometimes I feel I don’t know my true feelings about anything until I write it all down. Only in the process of writing, it seems, do I get to the emotional core.‘
Me: That’s been one of the unexpected benefits for me of writing a blog. Helps me analyse issues and marshall my thoughts more carefully and succinctly than I otherwise would.
On the process of writing fiction
Susan Hill, journalist, broadcaster, publisher, author: ‘Fiction is about putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and walking around to see how they feel.’
Me: Indeedy. Reminds me of the Indian proverb: Judge no man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.
On the reason for writing fiction
Gillian Slovo, author, journalist, playwright: ‘… fiction can go places that nonfiction cannot go, because it can inhabit the field in a full-hearted way.’
Me: My sentiments exactly. I’m currently totally inhabiting the world of a family torn in two by a terrible car crash. Steer well clear!
On fictional characters
William Nicholson, screenwriter,playwright, novelist: ‘I want to read about and write about people the author loves. For me, the greatness of the novel form is about going into the hearts and minds of people.‘
Me: Mmhm. Me too. If the author doesn’t engage with them, why should I?
On excellent literary blogs
Amanda Craig, novelist, journalist and broadcaster: ‘I’d recommend … Cornflower for intelligent, non-metropolitan fiction reviews (cornflower.typepad.com) – and best of all, Lynne Hatwell for thoughtful, knowledgeable, kindly reviews and musings on Devon life (dovegreyreader.typepad.com): a model to which I think all blogs should aspire.’
Me: Hear, hear. Two of my favourites, too.
On promoting one’s books
Joan Smith, novelist, essayist, columnist and campaigner for human rights: ‘The entry of showbiz values into the business of authorship means that some publishers are looking for “personalities”, larger-than-life characters they know how to promote, as much as writers with original talent … Increasingly, novelists need to be able to sell themselves as well as their books, a demand that works against anyone who is reticent by nature.’
Me: Tough on those who’ve been breastfed on modesty and humility too.
On connecting with the reader
Andrew Taylor, novelist: ‘… despite all the evidence we provide to the contrary, the myth persists that authors rather than their books are somehow strangely fascinating and even touched with a sort of moral authority … through our books, authors have an indefinable but undeniable connection with the minds of their readers that gives us a curious status in our culture.‘
Me: I once gave a lift to a woman who, in the course of our journey, asked what I did. When I told her, she stared at me in open-mouthed wonder and murmured, ‘I’ve never sat next to someone who wrote books before.’ Nothing I could say would diminish her awe.
On meeting a favourite author
Margaret Atwood, poet, novelist, essayist, literary critic: ‘If you like paté, don’t bother meeting the duck.’
Me: I used that quote at my book launch a couple of weeks ago. And I hope it leaves you smiling today.
Amanda Craig, Andrew Taylor, Cornflower, Dovegreyreader, Gillian Slovo, Hilary Spurling, Joan Smith, Katherine McMahon, Linda Kelsey, Margaret Atwood, Mslexia, Robert Hull, Society of Authors, Susan Hill, The Author, William Nicholson