Skip to Content

Comment from the book world in January 2021

January 2021

'The imagination doesn't crop annually'

25 January 2021

‘The imagination doesn't crop annually like a reliable fruit tree. The writer has to gather whatever's there: sometimes too much, sometimes too little, sometimes nothing at all. And in the years of glut there is always a slatted wooden tray in some cool, dark attic, which the writer nervously visits from time to time; and yes, oh dear, while he's been hard at work downstairs, up in the attic there are puckering skins, warning spots, a sudden brown collapse and the sprouting of snowflakes. What can he do about it?'

Julian Barnes, author of 25 books, including Metroland, Flaubert's Parrot, Arthur & George, England, England, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters and The Sense of an Ending, which won the Booker Prize in 2011.

'Not all writing careers end in disappointment'

19 January 2021

‘My father was a playwright so I grew up with reverence for writing. The sound of his typewriter clacking was one I grew to love. What I didn't know was how disappointed he was by the failure of his work to reach the West End. Later, I realised not all writing careers end in disappointment, and it was worth trying to make mine a success...

I started my first novel, Sadler's Birthday (about an elderly butler, published in 1976), when my daughter, Eleanor, was two. Combining this with being a mum made me use the hours of the day efficiently, a habit I've kept...

When I was teaching creative writing at the University of East Anglia, I'd tell my students that short stories never become successful novels - the forms are far too different. But my latest novel, The Gustav Sonata, began as a short story, published in 2007.'

Rose Tremain, author of The Colour, Restoration, The Road Home, Music and Silence, Merivel and 14 other novels, in the Telegraph's Stella.


'I have to know where I'm going'

4 January 2021

‘When I'm putting together a novel, I leave all the doors and windows open so the characters can come in and just as easily leave. I don't take notes. Once I start writing things down, I feel like I'm nailing the story in place. When I rely on my faulty memory, the pieces are free to move. The main character I was certain of starts to drift, and someone I'd barely noticed moves in to fill the space. The road forks and forks again. It becomes a path into the woods. It becomes the woods. I find a stream and follow it, the stream dries up, and I'm left to look for moss on the sides of trees.

Before I can start writing a novel, I have to know how it ends. I have to know where I'm going, otherwise I spend my days walking in circles. Not everyone is like this. I've heard writers say that they write in order to discover how the story ends, and if they knew the ending in advance there wouldn't be any point in writing. For them the mystery is solved by the act, and I understand that; it's just not the way I work...'

Ann Patchett, author of The Commonwealth, Bel Canto, Truth and Beauty, The Dutch House and eight other novels in Harper's Magazine