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Comment from the book world in June 2018

June 2018

'A memoir that didn't fleece the people I love'

25 June 2018

‘You don't necessarily choose the books you write; they choose you, in a way. Sometimes one arrives when you are least expecting it, a bit like an unplanned pregnancy. This book was very much like that. But I had huge trepidations about publishing it. I only let my publisher give me a £1 advance in case I changed my mind.

I knew because it was so personal that I needed to get it completely right, not just so that I was happy with it but so that my husband and family and anyone else who was in it was happy with it. I love reading memoirs but sometimes I feel viscerally shocked at how exposing they are to people who don't have a right of reply. So, it was a very important to me to write a memoir that didn't fleece the people I love.'

Maggie O'Farrell writing about her latest book, I Am. I Am. I Am in the Observer. Her seven novels include The Hand That First Held Mine and This Must Be the Place.



The impact of success and writing historical novels

18 June 2018

‘I got insomnia because I was so freaked out. Everyone else was delighted for me but it was destabilising. My friends had to process the success for me. I didn't realise writing was not the final stage. You hope the book speaks for you - you write because you want to make sense of the world through your books, so to have to be the representative of it was challenging...

When I started writing it was like I didn't need to ask permission. Unconsciously perhaps, the roles I created in The Miniaturist were dream roles I wanted to play...

I don't aim to give a history lesson. I get flak for intimating that people in the past are just like us. I don't think it's that simple but, as a reader, when I was growing up I was thrilled to think I could have been a Tudor child. I'm fascinated by the social detail: what did they eat, what did they wear, how did they grieve? It's always an exquisite discovery when you realise there are some things that we have in common with people who are no longer there.'

Jessie Burton, author of the bestsellers The Miniaturist and The Muse, in the Evening Standard

'Cold concentrates the mind'

11 June 2018

‘"I'm writing a book." The very phrase seems self-indulgent and strange, more so at a time when we count the words and minutes, even the characters and the seconds. In popular myth, the writer is a mercurial figure, and when I started writing I assumed that the process would consist of long periods of staring at a flashing cursor interrupted by flashes of inspiration which would keep me at the keyboard for 50,000 words. Having heard about all those writers' retreats for novelists, I also assumed that it would help to have a beautiful view to look at. All wrong. In any case, historians don't get retreats, though we do get a muse, Clio. Writing needs routine. I carve out blocks of at least three to five days.

The best writing happens between nine and noon, after plenty of sleep. In the days before starting I often find myself writing in my head, and I am as sure as I can be that similar preparatory work occurs while I am unconscious. My daily target is 2,500 words. I always try to stop in mid flow, knowing what I should start with the following day. But I don't have the discipline. I run on well past my daily target, only to spend most of the next morning staring at the cursor flashing. Surroundings don't matter, although I often seem to write in a room (or, at the moment, a shed) which is so cold I wear a ski jacket and wrap a rug round my legs. Cold concentrates the mind.'

Jonathan Conlin, author of Tales of Two Cities, Evolution and the Victorians and four other books, in agent Andrew Lownie's excellent archive