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June 2008

It doesn't say anything on the tin

I had lunch the other day with a couple of writer-friends. They both did the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, of which I feel an honorary member since I get to sit in on some of the visiting authors' seminars and workshops, and one way and another you might say we're at the academic end of the writing trade: by definition we're writers who like talking and thinking about writing. But did we talk about the death of the novel, or the joys and sorrows of the writing process, or great writers we admire? Not very much:... Read more →

Dancing with Bach

It's always interesting when artists talk about arts other than their own. Last Sunday I was listening to the poet Rowan Williams (yes, the one whose day job is running the Church of England) talking about favourite music on Private Passions. If you're reading this before next Sunday, it's well worth a Listen Again. At one moment, talking about the rhythm in music and poetry, he points out that, 'We are creatures built on stress and slack: systole and diastole.' Many would realise that rhythm - a pattern of stresses - is innate in us because without a heartbeat we'd... Read more →

What's the fitting room mirror telling you?

In Wanting, needing, yearning, dreaming I found myself saying that post-hoc understanding of what you've written can be immensely useful, much more so than reading a textbook about how you 'should' do things before you write. The latter is like seeing a new fashion in a magazine and buying the dress to wear without trying it on: who would do that? The former is like trying it on in the shop to see how it looks on your body: as we all know, there are always some current fashions which are just wrong for our particular build. By the time... Read more →

Sorry, Raymond Chandler, I'll be back in a bit

I've got into trouble before now for saying that I don't read fiction when I'm writing. It's true that all good writers were voracious readers first, and it's true that a surprising number of people say they want to write, without seeming to know that reading is a pre-requisite. I've had manuscripts to report on which made me wonder quite seriously if the writer had ever read a book (and no, most recent clients, if you're reading this, it wasn't you...). And it's not just for trainee writers: as I was saying in Alive, kicking and joining in the game,... Read more →

Sharing despair with Neil Gaiman

Answering a cris de cœur - in a forum of mainly published writers - of 'I hate Book Two!', someone posted this, which came originally from Neil Gaiman. I hope he won't mind me borrowing it: as you can imagine from this piece, (which I gather was originally written for NaNoWriMo) he has one of the best writing blogs on the net, which is well worth dropping by. -------------------------------------- The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid... Read more →

All this, and the black marks on the page

So I'm drinking prosecco and admiring the cover of Karen Macleod's Betty Trask-winning novel In Search of the Missing Eyelash at one of my local independent bookshops, the small but perfectly formed and this evening packed-out Review, and thinking that I'd never been to a book launch until shortly before The Mathematics of Love came out. Karen gives good reading - she's a performance artist in another life, when she's not being long-haul cabin crew for British Airways - and I'm now I'm looking forward to getting into the book. I've even (almost) forgiven her for being young enough to... Read more →

Sunday round-up: age-banding, and putting the cart before the horse

In 'Wanting, needing, yearning, dreaming' I said that thinking about a piece of writing after you've written it can teach you much more about how writing works than reading a textbook before you start. The more formalised insitutions of academic creative writing seem to divide into two kinds: the departments and degrees which discuss ideas and theories of writing, and then write to explore them, and the places where the writing comes first and the analysis afterwards. A piece in Times Higher Education argues that creative writing is reviving the sort of liberal humanism in English departments that Theory banished,... Read more →

Wanting, needing, yearning, dreaming

There used to be a terrific series on Radio 3 - Monday afternoons, as I remember - called Stage and Screen. It was always a stand-alone programme about theatre or movie music, from the acutely avant-garde to the blockbustingly popular, and apart from the fact that it was always full of all that gorgeous repertoire, the discussion of the interaction between drama (and so at least by implication, storytelling) and music was consistently illuminating. The Broadway musical seems an impossibly tight form to us novelists, lying back comfortably in the arms of our own baggy monster of a tradition. And... Read more →

Subjective, objective, and Soviet toothbrushes

Over at Vulpes Libris I've been talking about something I've talked about here more than once: what I think it is that defines literary fiction. It's been an interesting exercise, not least because I wanted to set up a general discussion about how literary fiction works: some terms, some ways of thinking about it, and why it's worth bothering with. What I didn't want to do is say 'X is literary and Y isn't literary,' because people will always argue about that: what's 'difficult', what's 'worth it', is always going to be a very muddly mixture of objective and subjective... Read more →

How many viola parts does it take to make a novel?

I was interested to discover that, like Mozart and Bach no less, Vaughan Williams' instrument was the viola. The viola? The instrument that has as many jokes made about it as Skoda cars do? Even though Amadeus may have been an exercise in fascinating historical fiction, no one could accuse Mozart of being uninterested in high-visibility showmanship. Vaughan Williams was not like that, and yet anyone who's heard the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis would be forgiven for knowing that RVW was a string player.But though the viola does make a beautiful sound, it's possibly the most invisible... Read more →