Hazel McHaffie

When is a writer not a writer?

I’ve just finished reading Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories – in the hardback version, 658 pages. (Only fit to be a doorstop! as a certain gentleman of my acquaintance would say.) But there’s something about Bennett’s understated approach to life and writing that I find strangely appealing. Without knowing what he sounds like in person I don’t think I’d appreciate his dry self-deprecating humour, but his writing seems to be so much an extension of his personality that you can hear his lugubrious voice speaking the words on the page. Rather like one of his own Talking Heads monologues, in fact.

Anyway, towards the end of the book he ruminates about something that exercises my mind sometimes: what makes a writer a writer? And when is a writer not a writer?

‘A writer only feels he or she is a writer at the point of performance, the moment of writing. Do anything else, even related activities like research or background reading, and the claim seems fraudulent. A writer is only a writer when writing. The rest is marking time. And your published books and plays don’t count; they only prove that you were a writer yesterday but not today, not now … Put down the pen or abandon the keys and a writer is always on the brink of fraud.’ (p543)

I’ve been hovering on the brink this week; researching airports in Thailand, Interpol and surgical procedures. Most of what I’ve read won’t ever be used in the novel but I need to absorb a feel for these subjects if I’m to capture the essence of them in a sentence or two. Hard to justify as work to anyone else who will merely see me idling over books or the Internet.

Could this be why I started writing a weekly blog? Hhhmmmm.

Well, I’m off to the Royal Highland Show to think about that … And if you see me, yes, I’m working!

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One Response to “When is a writer not a writer?”

  • Livvy Arnold says:

    I think Bennett’s great too. It is strange, that he has at first hearing a rather languorous voice, but the nature of his writing compels you to listen.
    I loved his true account of The Lady in the Van.
    A great quote you’ve chosen- I shall copy that into my journal.

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