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Comment from the book world in November 2014

November 2014

'True work is done for the sake of doing it.'

24 November 2014

‘Beginners' failures are often the result of trying to work with strong feelings and ideas without having found the images to embody them, or without even knowing how to find the words and string them together. Ignorance of English vocabulary and grammar is a considerable liability to a writer of English. The best cure for it is, I believe, reading. People who learned to talk at two or so and have been practicing talking ever since feel with some justification that they know their language; but what they know is their spoken language, and if they read little, or read schlock, and haven't written much, their writing is going to be pretty much what their talking was when they were two...

While planning a work, the writer may and often must think about readers: particularly if it's something like a story for children, where you need to know whether your reader is likely to be a five-year-old or a ten-year old. Considerations of who will or might read the piece are appropriate and sometimes actively useful in planning it, thinking about it, thinking it out, inviting images. But once you start writing, it is fatal to think about anything but the writing. True work is done for the sake of doing it. What is to be done with it afterwards is another matter, another job. A story rises from the springs of creation, from the pure will to be; it tells itself; it takes its own course, finds its own way, its own words; and the writer's job is to be its medium.'

Ursula K Le Guin , author of the classic The Left Hand of Darkness and Dancing at the Edge of the World on Brain Pickings

'Wrenching to write but satisfying'

17 November 2014

‘I'm very conscious that as I get older, I think less nimbly and feel more keenly than I used to. Fingersmith, with its very complicated plot and its big twist, had an energy to it. I don't think I could write a book like that any more. Not that I'd especially want to. What I enjoyed about The Paying Guests was the depth of emotion in it. It was very heartfelt, wrenching to write but satisfying...

The Paying Guests is a sad book and that might be because, in your 40s, sadness enters your life. Before 40, you say hello to things; after 40 you say goodbye to them. But I'm hoping this will just be a phase because I don't want to write sad books forever.'

Sarah Waters, author of Fingersmith and The Paying Guests, in the Observer


‘This one better be good. Otherwise you're toast.'

8 November 2014

‘Midway through writing the fucker (his first novel, The Sportswriter)' his literary agent advised him: ‘This one better be good. Otherwise you're toast.' I guess I kinda knew that but (I thought) thanks for putting it so clearly for me.'

‘My audience is someone similar to who I was when I got started with serious reading: a young person - I was 19 - who can simply read... My students at Columbia I teach to read. If you can be a good reader and can think that reading and literature are great pursuits, you can perhaps teach yourself to write. For every ‘lesson' one would try to propound there's a wonderful story or novel that violated any rule. But that's about all.

Most books don't last in the public consciousness beyond the author's lifetime. If mine don't, I still take immense pleasure from the use they were put to in my lifetime - by readers.'

Richard Ford, author of Let Me Be Frank With You in the Observer


You have to be solitary

3 November 2014

‘That thing of treating the writer like a famous boxer or a rock star has harmed writers, because one of the ingredients most essential for writing is that you have to be solitary. You can't be gregarious. You can't do both. The brain won't take it. That is why poor Mrs Woolf went off her rocker. Too many people, too much outside life.

If I see too many people, I lose myself. I lose my truth. And my dedication to what I have done for 55 years and want to do for whatever time is left. I also become secretly impatient, because of all the gifts in the world that I value, after good health, imagination is the thing I value most. Well, you don't get a glass of imagination out there at parties.'

I am lucky that I have not yet been in a lunatic asylum. I would not call myself stable. Maybe some writers are. Maybe they are not the writers I want to be.'

Edna O'Brien, author of The Country Girls and Country Girl (an autobiography) in the Independent on Sunday


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