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Comment from the book world in November 2015

November 2015

'Short stories are nearer poetry than anything.'

23 November 2015

‘Short story is a terrible term, I much prefer the French term conte. I looked up the word "short" in the OED, and it is almost always used pejoratively. Short stories are nearer poetry than anything. They are like a conversation, a dialogue. And besides, some of them are quite long.'

Jane Gardam, whose 10th short story collection The Stories recently won the Charleston-Chichester Award for a Lifetime's Excellence in Short Fiction.


Are biographers ultimately responsible to their subject?

15 November 2015

‘It is a mark of the importance that still attaches itself to biography as an art form that practically every example of it that appears in a publisher's catalogue tends to cause offence to someone...

All this raises the associated questions: who is the biographer writing for, and to whom is he or she ultimately responsible? If the answer to the first question hangs tantalisingly out of reach, the second's answer is "the subject". The difficulty here is that life-writers who believe that their sole duty is to the person they happen to be writing about are almost guaranteed to upset the keeper of the flame. Sonia Orwell, for example, went to her grave in 1980 convinced that she had betrayed her husband's memory by allowing Bernard Crick to write his first, pioneering biography Orwell: A Life. Posterity, alternatively, would probably maintain that Crick's view was just as valid as Sonia's, even if Crick lacked the substantial advantage of being married to him.'

D J Taylor in the Independent on Sunday.


Becoming a writer, the hard way

8 November 2015

‘I just thought: Wow, there is so much to learn here (a forensic laboratory). And I said: "I will do anything you will let me to be useful if you just let me hang around."

I didn't set out to work there for six years. I honestly was so dumb, I thought when I got there I would do this for a few months and then write this great novel. Well, I wrote one and nobody wanted it. I wrote a second and nobody wanted it. I wrote the third and nobody wanted it. And then I went back to the newspaper to see if I could get a job. I thought, you've really failed. Like usual. Loser, loser, loser.

Nobody was writing about that sort of stuff back then. I kept being told, nobody wants to read about laboratories or morgues. And a woman who does it? No thank you! Wow. Well, I guess that turned out not to be true.'

Patricia Cornwell, whose latest book is Depraved Heart, in the Observer magazine.


'I had yet to live an interesting life'

2 November 2015

'I remember telling myself that I had yet to live an interesting life. What could this twenty-something woman who'd lived only in Massachusetts write about? Weren't there enough poems singing the praises of New England leaves? I decided to stop writing. I needed to go out and extend the margins of my world before I'd know anything worthy of a poem. And so I joined the Peace Corps, traveled the desert, took care of children during the famine, and stayed in West African brothels. And even then, I didn't believe I could write.

As a young writer, I had dreamed of changing the world, now I believed the only way I could return to writing was to have absolutely no expectations. And so it was that a Thursday night workshop held in an eccentric woman's living room allowed me to begin my journey back to writing. I went on to obtain an MFA in Creative Writing. The journey took ten years. Ten years of not writing in order to begin again.' Susan Rich on her website