Photography

"Everything About My Writing Is Awful And No, I'm Not OK."

I'm talking about those times when writing seems impossible but so does everything else: when your heart - your life itself - is stapled to the page and no one wants it. And that heart, the life itself, is a miserable, clichéd, shrivelled thing, and you a deluded, talentless fool for ever dreaming that you might have something worth saying which people would want to hear. Just as the Guardian's Work-Agony Uncle Jeremy Bullmore inspired me to track down Jerusha Cowless and recruit her to This Itch of Writing, this brilliant post about that feeling in your life as a... Read more →


Going away to write? Make the most of it

Whether you want to snatch a couple of nights somewhere like Retreats For You, or you're planning to buy your own personal desert island, or you're wondering whether to offer cat-sitting to friends, most of us dream of running away from the clutter of everyday life, to write. And it can be wonderful. But unless you have infinite income and zero emotional ties, you're likely to feel you need to "justify" the time and money, by coming home having done lots of writing. And that's a very real pressure which can hamstring you quite as much as the half-term bedlam... Read more →


Why Do I Write?

I normally try to talk about myself on this blog only when it might help to illuminate something for others, but I was asked to write a piece about why I write for the forum of the Royal Literary Fund Fellows. It occurred to me that it might amuse or, better still, get you thinking about your own reasons for writing. I write, I used to say, because it's the only respectable reason I've found for not doing the washing up. Then my first novel was published, and writing became another kind of washing up: not an escape from the... Read more →


Plain and perfect, rich and rare: what is "lyrical" writing?

A writer friend says that her MA tutor described her writing as "lyrical", and she asked what he meant. He said "something about lyrical writing remaking the world & making the world appear anew", but what does that mean in practice? At the basic level, "lyrical" means that it shares something with poetry: a certain intensity, perhaps, though it might be interior, emotional intensity, or an outward-looking evocation of time and place. It needn't necessarily be about beautiful things: as Sebastian Salgado's photographs of miners show, it's possible to make beautiful art out of ugly things, or out of frightening... Read more →


What I learnt, as a writer, about writing, from A S Byatt's Possession

A while ago I blogged about what's going on, intuitively, when you're reading a really good book, using Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall as an example. But, of course, many of us do read a really good book for a conscious, specific purpose. And if you have to write at length about it then you have to read even more clear-headedly. The first time I did that was for my MPhil dissertation, and the book was A S Byatt's Possession. I was writing a novel which wasn't, then, called The Mathematics of Love, and there were things I wanted to say... Read more →


Spring Roundup: Pinterest, the Postiversary, and other stories

It must be spring in the air: I'm fantastically busy on various fronts, but some of them might be relevant to all you lovely blog-readers, so here goes. Since October I've been absolutely loving my RLF Fellowship at Goldsmiths; it's been some of the most rewarding and enjoyable teaching I've ever done, so I'm delighted that playwright Annie Caulfield and I will again be there next year. Our job is to help with academic writing across the full spectrum of the College, from first years to PhDs and staff, from Fine Art to Social Work and Anthropology. I am planning... Read more →


Forgiveness, chocolate, and why enough is ... satisfactory

If you're a writer, then you're never really happy just to experience something in its moment: there's always a restlessness, a frustration-in-waiting, until you can get it out of your self and onto paper. And you know the phenomenon I was talking about in Opening the Doors, where you've been reading or listening to something and it seems to skin you - or tenderise you, as Alan Bennet's Queen has it? For a while you're extra-alive to the world round you: all six senses, words, images, things strangers say, ideas for stories, and bits of your own memory, and it's... Read more →


Writing...

...and - well - what shall we call the good kind of not-writing? (as opposed to the bad kind). Because that's what I've been doing the last few days. Not least thanks to - of all places - the National Trust Carriage Museum at Arlington Court, in North Devon, which is heaven for a historical novelist. And heavenly for just about anyone is the kind of evening we spent walking a tiny bit of the North Devon Coast. I'm staying for the third time at Deborah Dooley's Retreats for You, (I blogged about the first time here, and the second,... Read more →


London Road Calling

Last week I went to see London Road at the National Theatre. It's a verbatim play: its script contains nothing but things real people actually said over two years from the first of the Ipswich Murders, to the conviction of the murderer. And as we discussed it, I remembered the part of the Writing for Radio course I've just done, where we explored the use you could make of pre-existing spoken-word material - news broadcasts, for example, or other kinds of sound clip, right back to the days when you tuned your wireless from the Local or the National, and... Read more →


Getting through the door in the wall

I've blogged before about procrastination, whether it's happening because your Inner Critic has found a dozen reasons for you Not Getting On With It, or he's declaring that it's all been done already, or he's dressed up as someone else to persuade you. Or sometimes you've dealt with all of those and still can't write, because you've simply run out of fuel. But, assuming your Inner Critic has been gagged and bound, you're brimming over with ideas and energy for the next piece of writing work, you've cleared the house and the diary of humans... so many of us still... Read more →


Five minutes' fun

When I'm talking to aspiring writers, one of the things I often find myself saying is, "Don't underestimate what being published does to your relationship to your writing." Even if you haven't been so foolish as to give up the day job - even if the next book is, or isn't, under contract - even if the way your book launches is bangier, or whimperier, than you could possibly have imagined - going public changes things. It sets up all sorts of complicated stresses about being judged, and the expectations of others, and your expectations of yourself in our Western... Read more →


Post(card) from Devon

So I'm not really blogging, because I'm buried in Devon at the entirely wonderful Retreats for You. So here, instead, is a little taste of my walk this afternoon (after 2000 words, in front of log fire, before delicious supper NOT cooked by me). Read more →


Ice crystals forming

I went away to not-write. One of the things they don't tell you at Hogwriter's College is that once a large part of your mental and financial self is involved with writing, no writing you do can quite escape a price tag of its likely cost or profit in terms of time, career, craft-training or hard cash. And so the pressure to keeping going with your writerly work can be as relentless as the pressure once was to put it away, and go to office parties or wipe toddlers' noses. But for the first time in a very long time,... Read more →


Are you a course junkie?

Over on Help! I Need a Publisher, Nicola Morgan has a characteristically sensible post about if and when it's sense to invest money in your writing. One thing, especially, that she says isn't said often enough: "I would spend far more time practising what I'd been taught than I'd spent on receiving the teaching". I've had my say about the pros and cons of writing courses in general here, but I'd suggest that what Nicola's getting at is something I touched on in that post: the possibility that you are, or could become, a writing course junkie. I'm not talking... Read more →


Keeping up with the Jameses

Someone reading my post In Praise of the Long Sentence recently took issue with one of my examples, taken from un(der)educated, 15-year-old Anna's narrative in The Mathematics of Love: They were tiny of course like all the other negs I'd looked at, but different because I was looking at them in one curling strip and all still wet: clear lavender-coloured shadows and dark skies, trees and pillars and windows and faces caught click after click, coiling and springing down the film one after the other so that all the distance and time between them was pressed into plain, pale bands... Read more →


Opening the doors

One of the odder corners of my beloved Radio 3 is the slot for really avant garde contemporary music, Hear and Now. But I love a contrast - I'm a hot chocolate sauce on cold ice cream kind of a gal - so I was lying in the bath last night, reading Georgette Heyer and listening to a programme from Cut and Splice, a festival of electronic music. The piece was as much sound art as music, really, an extraordinary plaiting and weaving of white noise and sound, the fading-in-and-out of the old Medium and Short Wave radio and so... Read more →


Only a proof of the splendour

The signs to have your formal graduation portrait taken were at least as large as those for the graduands' check-in and for collecting robes, and more colourful. I had an hour to go till the ceremony and you don't have to pay unless you order one. The people in front of me were being slotted one after another into six units of the franchised formula, first alone, then with family, then "next please". Standard lighting setup, friendly and efficient ladies, camera with leads to lights and laptop, a slap-it-down rubber circle where you stand, complete with extra white line at... Read more →


Writing for radio part 1: the call

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a radio producer who I'd sent some work to - the same producer who commissioned Kellie Jackson's story last year, which Kellie guest-blogged about here. This producer is commissioning a series of three stories from writers new to radio, and would I be interested in writing one of them? As so often, the timing was quite tight, with the recording due at the end of June, for transmission in early August. And as it's part of a set of three the location and theme were set. We talked on the... Read more →


The diaries you don't keep

Since no one can help me track back to the original source of the quotation, "Fiction is the memories we don't have", I'm going to claim it for my own, because it crops up so often that I'm getting bored with the virtual footnote I feel obliged to add. The original thought started with philosopher and novelist Richard Kearney's book On Stories. He talks about how narrative evolved as an integral part of evolving human consciousness: once you have an understanding of your self and then other selves, as individuals in time, you start trying to understand your relationship to... Read more →


Come back Mr Casaubon, all is forgiven

In putting together the list of Books for Writers, over there in Resources on the right-hand sidebar (which I keep adding to, and welcome more of your favourites in the comments), I realised that there's one kind of book I really, really wish someone would compile. There's nothing I enjoy more than a happy ten minutes (half hour... hour... Remind me what I was looking up?) pootling about in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, for example. But if I'm really in full, writerly cry, what I want is reverse dictionaries and encyclopaedias. For example, as a word-nerd I might... Read more →