Hazel McHaffie

Terence Blacker

Assorted tips from writers’ lives

Time for a  Blue Peter moment methinks. Another round-up of literary titbits (mostly from Mslexia, The Author and the Telegraph) that have resonated with me, and will hopefully give you glimpses into the lives and thoughts of writers and what they’re up against in today’s climate. Saving you the slog of trawling through several publications yourself – always supposing you had any appetite for doing so! And OK, I’ll come clean … these quotes are a tad past their sell-by date and have been sitting waiting to be posted for several weeks. Indeed two more editions of the journals are at this moment glaring at me from my toppling tbr pile, but that’s another story. Here goes then.

The Author journalsOn being a writer …

New pet hate is people saying ‘I might go freelance.You seem to manage …’ I NEVER GO TO SLEEP, THAT’S WHY.  (A writer-subscriber to Twitter)

On the writing process …

You never, if you write fiction, talk about your work in progress. You learn quite early that, once the steam is let out of a story through talk, it can never be recovered. When a would-be writer tells you every turn of the novel they are planning, you know they will never write it. (Terence Blacker)

The real danger is when a character is not a character but a mouthpiece for a particular ‘ism’. (Amanda Craig)

Pages peppered with punctuation mistakes and obvious typos are the literary equivalent of leaving the loo with one’s skirt caught in one’s knickers. (Alice Slater)

By dramatising points of view or social evils, by making us care about purely invented beings, a novelist can change how we see real people in a real world. But the trick is to take the reader with them – not bash them over the head with its arguments. (Amanda Craig)

On the consequences of being a writer …

Depression is thought to affect writers at a rate of eight to ten times higher than people in the general population. (Faridah Newman)

… one is always likely to be more conscious of where one has failed than of any successes one may apparently have had. The awareness of failure is more enduring, and for a writer more constant. One’s books are never as good as they were going to be. (Alan Massie)

But in the end this is [Dan Brown‘s] worst book, and for a sad, even noble, reason – his ambition here wildly exceeds his ability. (Jake Kerridge)

Mslexia journalsOn the competition …

With over 150,000 new books published each year and only a handful of reputable journals, papers and websites which review them, it’s another huge challenge to get noticed amongst all the boxes of books delivered to reviewers weekly.’ (Rosalind Kerven)

On earning a living …

In the absence of a global crackdown, the number of ebooks being read that have not been paid for will increase alarmingly. (Andrew Rosenheim)

On reaching the public …

If a novel doesn’t arouse your curiosity at some level, it’s dead in your hands. (Ian McEwan)

 Plenty to think about as I peg away all alone in my garret.

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Retirement? What retirement?

Not much time for literary reflections this week, I’ve been fully occupied helping my daughter turn almost 90 metres of fabric into curtains for a city centre flat with massive windows. Gorgeous rich material, thick thermal linings, and the finished articles so heavy it takes two of us to lift each one.curtain fabric

The thinking, planning and cutting require full concentration, but once the lengths are cut and the patterns matched, pinning, tacking, sewing 3 meter long seams gets a bit repetitive, and the old mind is free to wander. At one stage it wandered into the issue of retirement.

Plenty of folk (most I suspect) think I’ve retired. They don’t see writing as any kind of work. I’ve got used to that, and nowadays I rarely challenge them. Given the general sense that an awful lot of folk think they could write a book if they only had the time and weren’t busy doing more important things, it’s an pretty abortive mission.

Besides which, retirement’s a rather slippery concept, isn’t it? This week Olympic swimming medallist, Rebecca Adlington, announced her retirement – aged 23! She has recognised the demands of competitive swimming – a young person’s sport, as she says. She knows firsthand what it takes to reach the very top, and she acknowledges that her body cannot do that any more. She will move into something else. But she and the press call it retirement.

So, what does retirement from being an author look like? At the moment I love what I do; I’m bereft when I can’t sit scribbling. Ideas still flood in. Plots still emerge. Characters still come alive. I’ve started to get feedback on my latest novel, Over My Dead Body, and two of the critics say this book is my best yet. Others may not think so, but such endorsement is enough to make me feel I’m not ready to write that final ‘The End‘ just yet.

But … will I know when it is the right time? As Terence Blacker writing the Endpaper in Autumn 2012 of The Author says to writers:

‘There is no silver clock to be handed to you by the managing director, no pats on the back, no speeches.There are not even colleagues around to tell you that your time is up. Thousands of authors, all over the world, are working away right now without having noticed that they retired several years ago.’

Succinctly put. I shall hold that thought.

 

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