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It’s fun to write a book, isn’t it? What - it’s a mind-bending form of slow torture?
Then why does everybody want to do it? Okay not everybody, but many people, because when you conceive of an idea and become obsessed by it, there’s no escaping, and it becomes easier to write about than to avoid. That’s what happened after recent deaths of my family and friends, my parents ageing, and I’m heading towards fifty myself. Death seems inescapable.
Thinking about death is unusual for a cheery person like me, however I found that my thoughts were rarely gloomy. I thought along the lines of those having lived well being able to die well; I realised that my life has been a blessing in many ways, and why should my death not be also?
But what about people with terminal illnesses; those suffering from Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s diseases; from depression and dementia? Surely they would think very differently from my innocent simplification. What...
When I was living in New York in the late 1990's, in my early twenties, I wanted to be a writer. I was writing short stories and poems and thinking about writing a novel. I decided to learn as much as I could about the craft from writers themselves so when a great writer was in town, I was there. In those days everything was possible. I used to sit on the sidewalk downtown with my notebook and sketch in words what I saw passing me by which in New York was varied and bizarre enough to fill notebooks. A man riding a bike with an elephant trunk strapped to his face. A large black woman who has roughly whitewashed her body. These things moved me terribly.
Seamus Heaney came to read from his work and after the talk he gave I jogged up to him and asked him in my naive way - I was twenty five then - what it was all about, writing? He had kind eyes and a wry, bemused avuncular manner and he said to me 'It's all about starting and stopping and starting again.' I went to hear Annie...
'You can't learn to write.'
'There's no point in taking a course, you either can or you can't.'
'No one can teach writing.'
Who are these miserable cowards pissing on your parade? Are they published writers? Are they people who have given up? Are they tired of life or something?
You can and you will. I did and I do every day.
As with everything, you have to want to learn it, you have to love the craft of it, and you have to be prepared to put in time and practice, but yes we all learn to write. Even Hemingway.
Is a carpenter born a carpenter? Do we say about accountants that they were born with a gift for tax codes and cashflow? Do we say to our child when he or she says they want to be a plumber - sorry, you can't learn it mate you either can or you can't. No, we suggest an apprenticeship and they might want to take an interest in pipes and water pressure one day. Like a doctor might like to read a bit about how the human body works you know maybe...
Why are people so...
Of all of life's disappointments, one may be that writing novels is nothing like riding a bicycle. You don't learn how to do it, then jump on the old bike next time for another madcap downhill over the cobbles ride.
You have to learn again every time.
But it's very hard to admit that you've woken up and lost the magic touch. Sure, you're still good words. Sure, you still have a wry way of looking at things. Sure you still find people interesting. Sure you still have ideas and lots of them. But writing a novel is much than curiosity, talent or appetite, it has a rhythm of its own and serves up its own lessons as it will and novels are weird in the way they unfold so that it's only at the end of the first draft you know what it's about and can go ahead and safely write the first line.
A novel is the kid that won't tell the secret no matter how much you bribe it or theaten it. It's surly.
Every novel I've written I've had to learn to write one again, no less this time, but...
“You write in order to change the world ... if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” James Baldwin
James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright and novelist regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time, Giovanni's Room, Another Country and Just Above My Head as well as essays like Notes of a Native Son.
Born on August 2, 1924, in New York City, to a young single mother, Baldwin never knew the name of his biological father. In 1946, Baldwin moved to France. The shift in location freed Baldwin to write more about his personal and racial background. "Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly...I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both," Baldwin once told The New York Times.
As a gay black man, fatherless, who chose to leave his country, he looked beyond the binary racial politics of 1950s and 60s America,...
Almost every one of my writers upon joining the Kritikme.com Ninety Day novel course tells me that plotting is their concern. They don't have that concern for very long.
The Novelry has a no nonsense approach to plotting. Stop it, and write.
My writers will find a great deal in the course that allays their concerns more gently than this, but in a nutshell that is what you need to do. You need to stop plotting and start writing. Let me explain.
Some writers do prepare an outline and some don’t. I think more writers across all genres don't prepare a detailed plot than do. It's a received idea that thriller writers must work to a plot. Yet even someone like Stephen King avoids plotting.
"I start a book ... knowing just two things: the basic situation and that the story will create its own patterns naturally and organically if I follow it fairly...and by fairly I mean never forcing characters to do things they wouldn't do in real life...For me, the first draft is all about ...
I read 'Disgrace' by JM Coetzee in the year 2001 when I was living in New York. I had written two books; flops. 'Disgrace' focused my intentions. It became apparent to me that there were heights that were attainable and that those could be reached by careful, quiet, slow work.
During the nine months of my last pregnancy I sat at my desk in Brooklyn overlooking the garden every morning and wrote. At night I read either the Bible, Chekhov, Carver or Coetzee; most likely the latter. I broke my routine on September the 11th when my husband called me downstairs and we watched the news on the television then went outside and from out brownstone stoop saw the second plane hit the Twin Towers.
My daughter was born at the end of November. I'd finished the book a couple of days before. In the spring I sent the book to agents, then it went to publishers and I sent it to John Coetzee in Australia when the book was published in 2004. He replied and it was a breathless moment to stand and...
I'd like you to have a think about your characters' names.
We name them for verisimilitude; to buy the confidence of the reader. But we sometimes sacrifice that very same thing. Once upon a time I began to read a novel with the main characters 'Alison' and 'Phil'. I just couldn't get it up for them in a manner of speaking.
I think it's worth considering them with as much care as a mother and father might. Our names are the repository or our parent's aspirations in some ways. Naming my children was like shopping for the life I thought they might have. I named my daughter with a play on words, using French, to suggest that she would be able to give herself all she needed in life. I was thinking in the manner of the painter Duchamp's pseudonym Rose Sélavy, perhaps. (Eros c'est la vie.) Not that that's what I called her.
One of my favourite tales from childhood is the Grimms' tale 'Rumplestiltskin.' The miller's daughter must sacrifice her first born child if she cannot...
On Good Friday, we motored north on the A1 from the appropriately named town of 'Wooler' in Northumberland where we hailed the little white lambs. We crossed the bridge at Coldstream and entered the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland. With mother singing The Proclaimers. We had the joys of Spring upon us.
We headed across Scotland from east to west the following day via Stirling and Glasgow to Ardrossan to take the ferry to Arran - with mother singing The Proclaimers from Greenock down the coastal road. My daughter travels with two sets of headphones, one of which is back up.
I advised her of the checkpoint at Brodick, the port of arrival at Arran, where those without good Scottish accents might be turned back. I, myself, had perfected a single phrase. We had had dinner the night before with a friend called 'June' who gave us the low down on all there was to do in Arran and my phrase therefore consisted of 'Helloooooo d'ye ken Joon'. It saw us through many winding...