Literature is an uttering, or outering, of the human imagination. It lets the shadowy forms of thought and feeling – heaven, hell, monsters, angels and all – out into the light, where we can take a good look at them and perhaps come to a better understanding of who we are and what we want, and what the limits to those wants may be. Understanding the imagination is no longer a pastime, but a necessity; because increasingly, if we can imagine it, we’ll be able to do it.

Margaret Atwood
Aliens have taken the place of angels
The Guardian, Friday June 17, 2005

writing is inevitable

January 16, 2020

I write for nothing and for no one. Anyone who reads me does so at his own risk. I don’t make literature: I simply live in the passing of time. The act of writing is the inevitable result of my being alive.

Clarice Lispector
A Breath of Life

That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky,  people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing.  That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used. I remember particularly the story about the character who is surrounded by yellow butterflies. When I was very small there was an electrician who came to the house. I became very curious because he carried a belt with which he used to suspend himself from the electrical posts. My grandmother used to say that every time this man came around, he would leave the house full of butterflies. But when I was writing this, I discovered that if I didn’t say the butterflies were yellow, people would not believe it. When I was writing the episode of Remedios the Beauty going to heaven,  it took me a long time to make it credible. One day I went out to the garden and saw a woman who used to come to the house to do the wash and she was putting out the sheets to dry and there was a lot of wind. She was arguing with the wind not to blow the sheets away. I discovered that if I used the sheets for Remedios the Beauty, she would ascend. That’s how I did it, to make it credible. The problem for every writer is credibility. Anybody can write anything so long as it’s believed.

Gabriel García Márquez
Interviewed by Peter H. Stone
Paris Review Winter 1981

 

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When I say I have written from the beginning, I mean that all real writers write from the beginning, that the vocation, the obsession, is already there, and that the obsession derives from an intensity of feeling which normal life cannot accommodate. I started writing snippets when I was eight or nine, but I wrote my first novel when I left Ireland and came to live in London. I had never been outside Ireland and it was November when I arrived in England. I found everything so different, so alien. Waterloo Station was full of people who were nameless, faceless. There were wreaths on the Cenotaph for Remembrance Sunday, and I felt bewildered and lost — an outsider. So in a sense The Country Girls, which I wrote in those first few weeks after my arrival, was my experience of Ireland and my farewell to it. But something happened to my style which I will tell you about. I had been trying to write short bits, and these were always flowery and overlyrical. Shortly after I arrived in London I saw an advertisement for a lecture given by Arthur Mizener – author of a book on F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Far Side of Paradise  – on Hemingway and Fitzgerald. You must remember that I had no literary education, but a fervid religious one. So I went to the lecture and it was like a thunderbolt — Saul of Tarsus on his horse! Mizener read out the first paragraph of A Farewell to Arms and I couldn’t believe it—this totally uncluttered, precise, true prose, which was also very moving and lyrical. I can say that the two things came together then: my being ready for the revelation and my urgency to write. The novel wrote itself, so to speak, in a few weeks. All the time I was writing it I couldn’t stop crying, although it is a fairly buoyant, funny book. But it was the separation from Ireland which brought me to the point where I had to write, though I had always been in love with literature.

Edna O’Brien

Interview with Shusha Guppy for Paris Review summer 1984

Good literature

July 18, 2018

Good literature very simply is that which uplifts an enriches in some way, that which gives you an insight into the human condition so that you understand that we all live in the same skin and we are all heir to the same fears and joys and that makes you want to be a part of the human race. That’s good literature to me.

Harlan Ellison
Ellison on Crafting Short Stories
NBC Today Show, 24 April 1981

alien landscape1

I don’t think science fiction is a very good name for it (what I write), but it’s the name that we’ve got. It is different from other kinds of writing, I suppose, so it deserves a name of its own. But where I can get prickly and combative is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions…

…I draw on the social sciences a great deal. I get a lot of ideas from them, particularly from anthropology. When I create another planet, another world, with a society on it, I try to hint at the complexity of the society I’m creating, instead of just referring to an empire or something like that…

…For most of my career, getting that label — sci-fi — slapped on you was, critically, a kiss of death. It meant you got reviewed in a little box with some cute title about Martians – or tentacles…

…I just knew from extremely early on – it sounds ridiculous, but five or six – that writing was something I was going to do, always. But just writing, not any mode in particular. It started as poetry. I think I was nine or ten before I really wrote a story. And it was a fantasy story, because that’s mostly what I was reading. By then, my brother and I were putting our quarters together to buy, now and then, a ten-cent magazine called something like “Fantastic Tales” – pulp magazines, you know…

…the fiction I read, because I was an early beginner, tended toward the fantastic. Realism is a very sophisticated form of literature, a very grown-up one. And that may be its weakness. But fantasy seems to be eternal and omnipresent and always attractive to kids.
But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer. I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well…

…My first publications were all poetry, and that’s partly because of my father. He realized that sending out poetry is quite a big job. It takes method and a certain amount of diligence and a good deal of time. And he said, I could help you do that, that would be fun! He got interested in the subculture of the little magazines and realized that it is a little world, with rules all its own…

Ursula K Le Guin
Interview with John Wray for Paris Review fall 2013

something coldly intellectual

November 18, 2017

sun sinks in to the sea

It strikes me that being passionate about literature is something not often discussed. I read an article the other day which essentially offered only two ways of enjoying books: entertainment or something coldly intellectual.

But I’ve experienced another: a deeply emotional, transformative response. It cuts across any notions of genre, and is what made me love books. The first time I experienced this, I had no idea how to conceptualise it. The framework I’d learned at school didn’t really help here.

But when I read Andy Miller talk about “the dizzying force of books”, I think: that’s what I’ve felt. When I read Gabriel Josipovici talk about a work of art as a toy, I feel a step closer to understanding what it is that I’ve felt and feel.

To capture that in writing, though…It feels as though it needs something that doesn’t look like a book review.

David Hebblethwaite
Des Lewis Blog – 18th September 2017

the killing of things

February 15, 2017

war-close-your-eyes-by-devin-francisco

War is just the killing of things and the smashing of things. And when it is all over, then literature and civilisation will have to begin all over again. They will have to begin lower down and against a heavier load….The Wild Asses of the Devil are loose, and there is no restraining them. What is the good, Wilkins, of pretending that the Wild Asses are the instruments of Providence, kicking better than we know? It is all evil.

REGINALD BLISS

(H G Wells)
Boon

Only the weak-minded

November 26, 2016

sunlight-and-water

Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature and poetry.

Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Angel