his world and no other

April 2, 2019

Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications. It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.

Raymond Carver
On Writing

Poems arise. I can’t say I’m going to write a poem now. I always have four or five on the go, a phrase or a sentence with richness. Unlike with a novel, or a biography, where the story carries me along, in a poem you must be more passive. Anna Akhmatova talked about waiting for the Muse to come, but for me it’s not so grand. The poem just rises. I catch a few words and write them down in a little notebook when I travel, and on the computer, at home, but in the end I always write poems by hand. I can do it anywhere, in trains, or travelling.

How do I know a poem is alive and good? It’s like jazz – you always know.

Elaine Feinstein
Interview by Vivian Eden for Haaretz

People often ask how much of myself is in a book. Generally I say all of me and none of me. It’s dangerous to associate authors with their work. It’s fiction but the more you are engaged with your writing the more the readers are also involved. I think a reader needs the author to be invested wholly in the writing, otherwise it feels a bit like cheating, in a way.

I tend to get emotional towards the end of writing a book, because so much is coming together and the story feels as though it is going to work and do what I wanted it to do. I love endings – beginnings and endings are what I like most in fiction. The end of ‘A God In Ruins’ for me was the most meaningful and powerful of all the books I’ve written.

Kate Atkinson
Question & Answer session for 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

that interior voice

March 7, 2019

I never design a character. I write very, very slowly at the beginning of a novel and that helps to get into that interior voice. I’m inside their heads. But I don’t construct them – they simply exist. I don’t understand the neurological process, the imaginative process that helps that to occur.

Kate Atkinson
Interview with Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times

words on a face

If you’re just starting out, you need to get feedback on your work and the easiest (and cheapest) way of doing this is by attending a writers’ group where members read and comment on each other’s work. You’ll be astounded by how much you’ll develop as a writer. The feedback I’ve got from my writers’ group has improved my writing to such an extent that I can barely read my writing from before I joined

But what you also need to remember is that writing is one of the most subjective businesses there is. One person’s opinion on your work could be completely different to another’s, so getting feedback from a cross-section of fellow writers is much more useful than getting it from just one person. It’s important to remember this with rejections, too. It’s one opinion. Always try and get more before you change something fundamental about your work. You don’t want to end up deleting or changing something that might not be to that person’s tastes but is literary gold to everyone else

C R Berry
Interview 11th May 2018 for Theme of Absence

Reformed by Ed Freeman

How it works for me is best described in the opening of Devices and Desires. This book begins with the murder of a young girl, I think she was called Brenda. The murderer is a serial murderer of women who cuts off their hair, and whistles, so he is called the Whistler, and it had the opening that Brenda was the fifth victim of the Whistler and she died because she missed the bus. And the bus she missed was from the country town, which was obviously Ipswich, where she’d been to a dance, home to her village. She gets a lift with two women drivers, but they can only take her part of the way; they leave her at the end of this country road. She never reaches the bus because the murderer is there on that road. When I was writing that passage I was Brenda, feeling first of all the relief that she was going to be on the bus and then the realisation that there was this murderer, and then an increasing fear and unease. I was Brenda knowing everything that had happened at the dance, although I wasn’t going to write about it. I was Brenda knowing exactly who she would meet at home when she got there and what her relationship with her parents was, although none of that was going to be in the book; I was just Brenda.

But then with part of my mind, of course, which was detached from being Brenda, I was thinking how can I describe this journey. I think: I’ll have bushes on the left-hand side where she’s walking because that’s more frightening than the open fields, and then on the right I’m going to have some of those distorted trees you get in East Anglia, distorted by the winds – some of them look like witches, waving witches’ arms; very sinister. And then I’m going to have a car coming past, and then there’ll be this familiar, reassuring sound, and then just a blaze of light and sound as it rushes past, and that will make her feel even more lonely and isolated. So there’s this duality of actually experiencing what your character is experiencing, at the same time with part of your mind thinking of the technique of bringing this alive for the reader.

P D James
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011


You’ve got to have something to say, but you don’t always know what it is. It’s often just some words in your head that you think could be a line of a poem, so you write them down and see where it goes. One of the major misconceptions about poetry is that the poet has some kind of agenda and intentions, not just that some words come into their head and then they start playing with them and seeing where they go. Because sometimes I will try to write a poem and it just comes out dead because there isn’t really anything that’s deeply felt or worth saying. One thing that makes poems work is strong emotion, and I remember hearing James Berry, I think it was, saying that one characteristic of a good poet is that they feel things intensely, and he said: “Of course poets are not the only people who feel things intensely, but it is one of the qualities,” and I think that’s true.

Wendy Cope
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

Ideas for things come into one’s head, or bits of ideas; you feel there’s something – there’s some meat on the bone, there’s something there that lures you on. The more you think about it the more you’re led into this new world and the more of that world you see. And part of having an idea is having some notion of how you would tell the story. It’s not just thinking it would be nice to write something about the Crimean war, it’s having some particular way in mind of writing something about the Crimean war, and the idea for the way to tell the story helps you to see what the story is. The story suggests the means, the means suggests the story; it’s mutually dependent. And you don’t have very much choice in the matter. Ideas come, characters suggest themselves, and the nature of the story and the nature of the characters dictates how it’s going to be done.

I suppose if people are not writers or painters or whatever they see the life of the artist as being one of great freedom, but it’s not really; it’s as constrained as anyone else’s by the material that’s available. The thing seems to have some kind of reality in one’s head; it seems to be something that one is discovering, rather than inventing. I see that as a kind of psychological trick on oneself, because the whole point about fiction is that it’s invention. It doesn’t really seem like it at the time – it seems as if you are slowly discovering something that already exists and seeing how the different parts of it relate to each other.

Michael Frayn
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

read a lot

May 28, 2018


When I was about 11 or 12 I think I must have said something about how I wanted to be a writer; I don’t remember having any such aspiration until much, much later. But I must have said something, because Lucy [my governess] wrote to Somerset Maugham and said that she was governess to a little girl who wanted to be a writer and what would Mr Maugham suggest? Heaven knows how she managed to write to him – I suppose care of the publishers. He wrote a very nice letter back saying absolutely the right thing: “If your little girl is interested in writing then the best thing she can do is read a lot.” Perfect answer; exactly what I’d say myself.

Penelope Lively
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

in a strange way

May 21, 2018


Usually the idea for a novel comes to me, in a strange way, from reading rather than from living or observation. It’s often what I can only call an intellectual concern – some sort of large issue I’ve got very interested in. The operation of memory is an obvious one because several novels have been prompted by that. Or again the nature of evidence – that’s another important theme to me. Then the problem is to find the vehicle, to find the story and the characters and the backdrop, because they’re going to be the vehicle for this idea. Because then I don’t want the idea to show very much; I want the idea to be a sort of seven-eighths of the iceberg, a kind of ballast, but without which the whole novel would flounder.

Penelope Lively
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011