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September 2008

August 2008

Roll up your sleeves again, and stir

Writers spend a lot of time trying to get away from their work: trying to stand away from the individual words and see it whole - the woods-for-the-trees problem - and then to stand outside it all over again to see it as others would see it - the Rabbie Burns problem. Whether you write the whole first draft without reconsidering a single word, or you don't move on from a single sentence till you're as sure as you can be that it's right, you're still having produce the novel sentence by sentence, or even word by word. You can't... Read more →


Come on now, drop the knife...

My mention of steak knives in my last post obviously touched a nerve (I realise that's a slightly nervous-making metaphor, but never mind) so, in conversation with a few of my fellows, I've been rounding up the most annoying things we get asked. Alternative answers and questions gratefully received. Top Five questions that drive aspiring writers mad: Q: Hoping to be the next JKR, eh? A: Well, she tells a fantastic story, but what I write is different. Q: Isn't it only celebrities who get published these days? A: No. Look at the debut novel prizelists: not a celebrity in... Read more →


Lonely, obsessive, and slightly nuts. And that's a bad thing?

Autumn does seem to have arrived, doesn't it? And it's not just the weather and the plum jam-and-crumpets; across the aspiring writer world, the first thing that's asked once the sand's been shaken out of the beach towels, and the piles of post and pizza menus combed for those dishearteningly fat SAEs, is, 'Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? NaNoWriMo, for the unintiated, is National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that those who sign up spend November writing, furiously, towards the standard goal of a 50,000 word novel. The website makes no bones about the focus of the whole... Read more →


Are you listening?

We're all familiar with the red-jersey-in-the-crowd phenomenon, that once you start noticing something, the same thing seems to be everywhere. But this week I've had different things coalesce to the point where I'm thinking something entirely new. The fact that it links up with all sorts of things I've thought about for a while makes me think it might even be true (and explains all the links back to earlier posts!). First, Dorothy L. Sayers The Mind of the Maker: the fact of universal experience [is that] the work of art has real existence apart from its translation into material... Read more →


Writing wrongs somewhere else

Well, now that I've finally pinned down some of the difficulties of using real historical people in A Secret Alchemy, for a Vulpes Libris piece, it's got very late. I've rather run out of time and brainpower to post what I was planning here, so, sorry, that'll have to wait a day or two. Meanwhile, Vulpes Libris are having a Richard III week. My post is called Writing Wrongs to make A Secret Alchemy and the other posts look as if they'll make a classic VL mixture of thoughtful booky talk coming from all sorts of angles. Read more →


Wanting to dance

You could be forgiven for thinking that Autumn's arrived. It's not just the chill and breezy grey that's settled on South East London today. A friend has just posted an SOS about her plum jam which refuses to set, and I've just washed the crumpet butter off my fingers in order to write this. My daughter's announced that she'll need new school shoes when term starts, and my son's booking places at University Open Days in October, now he has his AS level results. I've always felt that September rivals April as the real New Year. Perhaps we should be... Read more →


You wait for hours -

- and then three come along at once. Well, more than three, actually. One of the things they don't tell you about the author's life (as opposed to the writing life) is that it's ninety-nine percent boredom and only one percent... anything at all. Sometimes when people ask me to talk to their reading group, or whatever, they say 'I know how busy you must be', and I suspect they have a vision of me in one long merry-go-round of readings and signings and festivals and power-lunches and so on. Well, maybe five books down the line I shall be,... Read more →


Not really writing -

- or so I thought, since I've been in France, researching the nameless new novel. But on the same day I read this, in John Gardner's The Art of Fiction - All three kinds of writing, it should be obvious at a glance, depend heavily on precision of detail... such detail ... that we cannot help believing that the story he tells us must be true. - I took these: and a day or two later, this: Read more →


Birds and Gardners

Despite having fulminated more than once, for example here, on why I think rules are not what a beginner writer (or any writer) needs, I do think it can be useful, sometimes, to have a quick label for a concept you've understood in more detail already. The difference between showing and telling is subtle and complex, and 'don't' doesn't begin to describe the relationship between them, but among writers it's very useful to be able to say 'It's quite telly-y, this passage,' and know that the others understand the full implications and possibilities of what you mean. And it applies... Read more →