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November 2007

Can you fetch some glasses?

For my talk at Goldsmiths this evening I've been digging out extracts from the new novel which illustrate what I'm saying. I'd been slightly regretting saying I'd do the talk, though it's being very interesting to work on, simply because I'm so busy. But a nice side-effect is that, because of it, I've fallen in love with the novel again. That must sound a) very soppy and b) dangerously starry-eyed. Certainly it doesn't sound like the cool, rigorous self-editor, murdering darlings with relish, that all writers have to learn to be. Equally, it doesn't sound like that other clich√©: the... Read more →


It's been a bloggy kind of week

You turn your back for a moment, and half a week slips by without a post. There's nothing like the relief of having v-e-r-y n-e-a-r-l-y f-i-n-i-s-h-e-d the new novel (not quite, but we're getting there, fiddle by fiddle, tweak by tweak) for making me sit back and relax, disastrously. Here it is, Tuesday already, and all I've got to show for it is... well, quite a lot, really, and most of it to do with writing. First there was Essay Clinic on Friday. I sit in a room high up in the tower at Goldsmiths, from which I can see... Read more →


More than just letters

My friend and stablemate at Headline Review, Rosy Thornton, has started a discussion on WriteWords about epistolary novels. Her own first novel More than Love Letters is entirely made up of letters, emails and diaries, as well all the other documents we generate without even realising it - newspaper reports, minutes of meetings and extracts from Hansard. (Well, I don't personally generate extracts from Hansard, but you get the idea.). TMoL isn't epistolary in that sense, but the letters - written in one century, read in another - were the origin of the novel, and are one of its building... Read more →


How many novelists want to change a lightbulb?

Last night I listened to Lavinia Greenlaw's Sunday Feature on Elizabeth Bishop, a great poet about whom I knew almost nothing, though after hearing some read a Collected Poems has now gone straight to the top of my Christmas list. It was on Radio 3 but, shame on them, there's no Listen Again facility, or I'd put the link here. Anyway, in passing Lavinia made the point that after an extremely damaged and damaging childhood, for Bishop writing was therapy. And yet, said the programme (I hope I'm quoting right), she knew that it isn't enough for writing to be... Read more →


This reading-writing-wordsmithing thing

As everyone reading this blog probably knows, it's next-to-impossible to earn a living solely by sitting down and writing the books you want to write, let alone the stories or the poems. There are probably only a handful or two of authors in the UK who can, and failing a higher-earning partner the rest of us have to keep the roof over the family's head with other work. Much of the time that's teaching of one sort or another: running workshops freelance, landing a part-time staff job in a college or university, doing editorial reports, one-to-one mentoring, and so on.... Read more →


The contemplative wolf

I've been having an interesting interchange with David Morley on his blog (and thanks to Nik at WriteWords for pointing me there in the first place). If you scroll down past the dead Chatterton and a very alive and gorgeous wolf, you'll see that David's post 'The Creative Writing Industry' or The Company of Wolves is about creative writing teaching. In it, he makes the distinction between learning to write creatively, which can be fun, and becoming a writer, which is a much scarier and wilder thing. You can't teach that wildness, but you can teach the craft which shapes... Read more →


Starting from the hilltop

I've been reading Edgar Allan Poe. Having met him for years in anthologies of detective fiction, but only known by reputation his more gothic and grotesque tales of terror, madness, and strange other worlds, it's been fascinating to see how he takes the same elements, the same concerns (obsessions?), and reconceives and rearranges them to completely different effect. Poe was a disappointed poet, writing short stories for money and to newspaper deadlines. But despite that (or maybe because of it) he set out to claim high literary status for the new form which he was more or less inventing, which... Read more →


My true love hath my heart...

It's been my week for metaphors. We think of them as sophisticated, a step further than a simile in literary cleverness, something we have to explain before children see them in their English set texts. Anna in The Mathematics of Love is intelligent and articulate, but young and not highly educated or well read. I decided in finding her voice that she doesn't use metaphors but similes, where the disjuncture between the actual object and the image is made clear: 'the light was like gold and blue velvet,' she says, not 'the velvet light.' But in Music and the Mind... Read more →


Message for Allison

I don't usually post two days running, but this is something I've been meaning to do ever since I started this blog. One of the strange things about being a novelist is that your whole drive is to tell a story that will be heard and yet, in the nature of things, for most of the time it's like singing in a soundproof room. One small proof that you're heard is your Amazon ranking, and the contact form on your website is another. I've had some lovely mails by that route, which brightened the day and made its quota of... Read more →


The Mathematics of Love

I'm writing this to Laurie Anderson's album Big Science (those of you who were around in the early eighties may remember a weird and amazing piece called 'Superman' reaching the charts...). I know I'm not alone among writers in preferring to write to music, but one of the pleasures of blogging, surfing or getting hooked on some ridiculous online puzzle is that I can do it to music with words: Madeleine Peyroux is a current favourite, and Steely Dan an old one, while I clean the house and drive to Queen and Eric Clapton very, very loud. Real musicians can't... Read more →


Not just the Poor Bloody Infantry

I was looking for something else (which I was later told was actually in The Guardian) but came across an interview in today's Telegraph with Judith Kerr, creator of Mog the Forgetful Cat and author of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit: two of the most beloved inhabitants of my children's bookshelves. Making great picture books is extraordinarily difficult, so it's an interesting piece for any writer to read. But today a couple of things rang particular bells. "I've always drawn from my imagination," she says, "rather than from life. I think that's why the pictures come out the way they... Read more →