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Comment from the book world in December 2014

December 2014

'Genre fiction was looked at as a ghetto'

13 December 2014

‘I didn't follow the sf rules and conventions unless I felt like it; essentially I went on writing what I wanted to write, and they could call it what they liked. To publish genre fiction of course branded me as a sub-literary writer in the eyes of the literary establishment, critics, award-givers, etc., but the great potentialities of the field itself, the open-mindedness of its editors and critics, the intelligence of its readers, compensated for that. Genre fiction was looked at as a ghetto, but I wonder now if realist fiction, sealing itself off in the glum suburbs of a dysfunctional society, denying the uses of imagination, was the ghetto...

I've always been interested, the way anthropologists are, in the different things people do and the different ways they do them, which led me, as a fiction writer, into thinking about different ways they could do them, and inventing different societies and cultures. I was inventing - not in a didactic, prescriptive way, but descriptively, in the thought-experiment mode. What would it be like if we did it differently? What would an ungendered society, or an anarchist society, actually be like to live in? How would it work? What kind of problems would it run into?

There's still a whole range of options for professional writers - between the poet who has no "market" at all, yet writes and publishes for love of the art, through the ordinary novelist who tries to balance artistic standards and conscience with demands for easy saleability, to writers eager to sell themselves and their product to the highest bidder. E-publication has changed the rules, and made self-publication temptingly easy. It's not easy to know how to be an author these days! I'm way too old to give any advice on the matter to anyone. All I can do is keep on going as I always did, in the direction that seems to promise the most freedom.'

Ursula Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness and Lavinia in Salon



'Writing can take me out of myself'

8 December 2014

'I grew up in London for the first 10 years, then my parents divorced, which was agonising. But it was while I was at boarding-school that I made the connection between putting my mind into some imaginative world and finding solace for homesickness and sadness. If I did that, I felt better. It would be like crying. I discovered this miraculous thing that has held true all my life, which is that writing can take me out of myself to such an extent that it's a great palliative for bad times. I'm not one of those writers who goes around writing things down. I've an insane belief that the things that are going to be necessary for my writing, that are going to inspire stories, are the thing I'm going to remember.

In a sense writers live their lives twice over. We live in a day-to-day life, but our minds are always turning over the possibility of the transmutation of that life into something else. If, for some reason, I couldn't be a writer any more, my life would seem rather thin to me, sort of without substance.'

Rose Tremain, author of Restoration and The American Lover, in the Sunday Times magazine

'It's perfectly possible that the great 21st-century American novel is in a shoebox in somebody's closet'

1 December 2014

'I hope I never condescend to the audience. I think you should write as if people who are smarter than you are will read it, because they are out there.

I don't know where these great governing clichés (about writing) come from - that you have to follow a convention, or that the first sentence has to hook the reader in. That's just poison. So much of the time I spend teaching, I actually spend unteaching...

I think my childhood made me very aware of language. I was interested in writing before I really had any conception that there were professional writers. I just did it for the pleasure of it - these bad little poems that I produced quite prolifically...

I have been very well treated by the literary world but, at the same time, I know enough literary history to know that doesn't necessarily mean that you're the person in the world doing the important work... You have to keep in mind that it's perfectly possible that the great 21st-century American novel is in a shoebox in somebody's closet, and won't be found for 50 years.'

Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping and Lila, in the Sunday Telegraph's Stella

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