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Comment from the book world in October 2012

October 2012

'A reasonable living'?

29 October 2012

'These days, almost everybody I meet who's not already a writer wants to become one. Recent Society of Authors statistics show that only seven percent of all writers in this country make a reasonable living (which means that 93 percent do not, as compared with 85 per cent of actors who do not) and yet there's a general clamour to scramble into this strange and lonely arena. Why? Is it that everybody feels they could do it, just as everybody feels they could be ballroom dancers, given a patient tutor and half a chance?  Or do they suspect - rightly, it seems to me - that the act of writing can very often awake in the human spirit that elusive and indefinable thing we call happiness?'

Rose Tremain in the Sunday Telegraph

'You realise you do it because you want to'

22 October 2012

 'You sort of rebel when you sit down (to write). You feel anger and boredom and the stupidity of what you are doing. It's like my dad's making me go to work, or my kids asking "Who invented homework?" Then you quieten down and become interested. You realise you do it because you want to. It is the waste of time that makes it possible...

As you get older, you want economy. I don't want to start writing now and maybe publish in five years. Salman (Rushdie) does that. I can't bear it. I want to say it, throw it away and write something else.'

Hanif Kureishi in The Independent on Sunday 

We're all spies in a way

15 October 2012

'We're all spies in a way'

'Spies allow a novelist to heighten what all novels do anyway, which is control the flow of information. They allow limitless possibilities of tangled plot; they carry with them a hint of danger, which I think we rather love, from the perspective of our rather safe lives. Historically, we are safer than we've ever been. It's my theory that the reason we're getting such amazing thrillers from the social democracies of Scandinavia is because they've got such low crime rates. They dream of danger, and they dream it very well. Or you could say that I guess we're all spies in a way. We can't wear the entirety of our hearts on our sleeves, and novels have always been good at exploiting the difference between the inner and outer self.'

Ian McEwan, whose latest novel is Sweet Tooth, in The Times

Learning how to write

8 October 2012

'I went to classes at the college one evening a week. For the rest of the week I did my homework. I wrote stories, plays, poems, and read voraciously. We emailed our homework to our tutors and classmates, who gave invaluable feedback. I became obsessed. My flat is falling to pieces, the windows filthy, my clothes shabby, my friends have forgotten who I am, and my relationship with my partner, the writer Andrew Lycett, has disintegrated to the occasional grunt. And there is nothing in our fridge.

Although I had done some copywriting in a previous life, written newspaper articles, and won a pen in one of the weekly Spectator Competitions, at Birkbeck I found my writing "voice". I am never going to be another Virginia Woolf or Henry James, but I could be a rival for Pam Ayres, or perhaps become today's P G Wodehouse or Anthony Powell - without the balls.

Joanna Trollope said in the Guardian recently that no one should write until after 35, because she feels that writers need life experience. My years as a photographer have certainly influenced my writing. I've been to places, and met people, that I would never have had access to without my camera. Photography taught me to see. And hanging around at book events gave me plenty of opportunity to stand and stare, watch how people behave and move, notice what they are wearing and carrying. And eavesdropping has proved enormously beneficial with writing realistic dialogue!

I have met an enormously diverse and interesting collection of people of all ages on the course. Sometimes our only point in common is our love of books and desire to write well. Some people are born writers, but most of us who want to write benefit from being taught the technical skills. As well as weekly classes, and one-to-one tutorials, we had a wide range of lectures, including ones on writing style, digital developments, and the commercial realities, as well as talks given by experienced editors, agents and authors. And twice a term at a pub in King's Cross, "celebrity writers", students, staff and alumni read their work at an event, known as Hubbub.'

Susan Greenhill, photographer extraordinaire and now writer and contributor to MIR9, in Bookbrunch.

Birkbeck's website showcasing students' and ex-students' work:

'A little floor-mat problem at the end'

1 October 2012

'I'm probably not a natural novelist, but I want to become one. I loved working on A Gate at the Stairs.I know it's not perfect, but that's what novels are allowed to be - imperfect. I know it speeds up at the end like a Toyota - it has a little floor-mat problem at the end. A short story has to have energy and focus, but novels can wander around quite a bit... Novels borrow from the world like that. They are different from reportage or photographs. They take things, and scramble them and create a parallel universe that asks questions, without providing any answers.'

Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate in the Stairs, in the Observer