…the cruellest blow comes when Plath discovers the poems that Hughes has been writing to his lover, and is unable to prevent herself from acknowledging their artistry. “Many are fine poems,” she writes to Beuscher on September 29, 1962. “Absolute impassioned love poems.” She quotes a line she cannot forget: Now I have hacked the octopus off my ring finger.

Which sounds more like one of the lines she was beginning to write, because Plath in her last weeks, in the cold London house, between sleeping pills and crying babies and an unrelenting flu, was being gripped and twisted by the wild poems that became the book Ariel. “It is like writing in a train tunnel, or God’s intestine,” she writes to the Anglo-Irish poet Richard Murphy. (“Lady Lazarus”: Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.) It all feels so unsteady, so precarious, so barely controlled. Was Ariel a breakdown, or an artistic consummation? Both, obviously. The great big chomping Ariel voice is intoxicated with its own power; it glitters and it damns.

The telling and retelling of this story will not end soon, because at the core of the Plath/Hughes nexus, the marriage of their talents, is a mythically compelling irony. He, full of agency, honouring his deep drives, etc., etc., does the boring thing: He has an affair. She, trapped and reduced and overwhelmed, does the remarkable thing: She writes a masterpiece. He, formerly the main character, exits shabbily sideways, while she explodes into an agony of authenticity. And then — hand in hand with winter, fever, and heartbreak — it kills her.

James Parker
The Haunting Last Letters of Sylvia Plath

I’m here to talk about sex and writing about sex, especially writing sex in science fiction that expands beyond real-world boundaries and assumptions about sex. To evoke a recent Hugo winner, I’ll call it a three-body problem, where the three elements are sex, science fiction, and writing itself, and the solution requires understanding of each. I see many essays about sexuality or sexual identity in genre fiction — I’ve written quite a few myself — that I feel don’t adequately include the act of writing itself in the equation. Because once I began to address writing directly in the relationship between sexuality and science fiction, I laid bare the entire fallacy of the literary establishment, which condemns laser beams and lasciviousness equally.

Cecilia Tan
Out of This World Sex Writing

I started writing when I was about ten years old. I liked e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay. In college I discovered Sylvia Plath, Rita Dove, Dorianne Laux, Louise Gluck, and Denise Duhamel. I found my true home when I found out speculative poetry was a thing – thanks to editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, who included my work in their early anthology, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (and I will always be grateful!)…

I’ve always liked shorter forms – I’ve tried plays and fiction, I worked as a tech writer, copy editor and journalist, but I’ve always come back to poetry as my one true form…

The challenge is finding an audience. I’ve never had trouble writing – I tend to write more under stress, not less – but finding an audience for that work, that’s a little harder.

Jeannine Hall Gailey
Interviewed by Colleen Anderson 1st February 2020

ten-book deal

March 19, 2020

I signed a ten-book deal in 2009. It’s not been as smooth a process as it could have been. By rights I should be near the end of those ten books now, on book eight or so. I should be well into it, and I’m still only on book five at the moment. There have been a few speedbumps on the way, and a few delays. But it’s okay. It does give me that security of not im­mediately worrying about the next contract. I felt going into it that I had more or less written ten books in ten years before I started that contract, so it was more of the same, really. But life throws stuff at you that you didn’t see coming.

Alastair Reynolds
Expanding Universe

 

The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul and that I am sure is why he does it.

Roald Dahl
Boy: Tales of Childhood

At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern & left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations & capabilities impossible to any less magical & quiet hour.

H.P. Lovecraft
letter to Lillian D. Clark, 1st September 1924

The poet’s role

March 4, 2020

In the internet age, where we are at liberty to download such a plethora of texts – to reproduce them, recycle them, change their appearance by altering font, typeface, spacing, size – context and framing become the key elements. The poet’s role has become, in the literal sense, that of a word processor, finding how best to absorb, recharge and redistribute the language that is already there…

What, in this new poetry, has happened to the authentic voice?…The fabled ‘sensitivity’ of the Creative Writer gives way to a sensitivity to language that is almost like a fever – a sensitivity that has been the distinguishing mark of the poet from the Troubadours to George Herbert…Emily Dickinson…Susan Howe…

Marjorie Perloff

On poetry as the language art – PN Review

Change

March 3, 2020

To write a poem is to work with change, to deal with a shape-shifter.

Kathleen Jamie
Strong Words

Writing book one & two

February 27, 2020

I wrote books 1 and 2 with a full-time job but it was a bit much. I work two days a week now. I’ve been self-employed for most of my life, had no retirement money. I have a house, a son. I try to be prudent. I actually like having something else to do besides writing. It helps clear my mind. If things keep going the way they’re going, that something could just be a hobby: more robotics, lion taming, part-time astronaut. We’ll see. I feel no pressure about the “full time” thing. I don’t think it means much. I live well. I do what I love. There’s no point in making it more stressful than it needs to be.

Sylvain Neuvel
Interview with Jason Golomb and Tadiana Jones, 4th April 2017

creating worlds

February 25, 2020

All fiction is about creating worlds, of course, and each of these worlds is distinctive, personal. Take Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens. Their versions of Victorian England are quite different, even when they’re talking about the same kinds of thing. Dotheboys Hall in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ and ‘Lowood Institution’ in Jane Eyre are both highly unpleasant schools – both even contain abused, tubercular pupils who befriend the main character and later die in their arms – but they inhabit totally different fictional universes. You can’t imagine taking a journey from Bleeding Heart Yard to Thornfield Hall. Mr Rochester’s mad wife is no Miss Havisham. And no matter how I try, I can’t imagine Jane Eyre meeting Mr Micawber.

So all fiction is about creating worlds – but fantasy writers come straight out and admit it. We don’t even try to deceive you. How could we? You know that unicorns and dragons, werewolves and vampires, orcs and trolls and elves, do not exist and never have existed. So what’s the point of it all? Why on earth do we write it? Why do some of you – quite a lot of you, actually – want to read it?

Surely because fantasy is no more and no less a pack of lies than any other type of fiction. Or to put it the other way around, the truths of good fantasy are exactly the same as the truths of all good fiction: emotional truths about characters, about situations, about life.

Katherine Langrish
creating worlds