Writing

The Fear

When Thomas Keneally guested on Desert Island Discs in 2007, he described the act of writing as ‘an exercise in controlling fear – the fear is that you are not a writer.’ I recognized the emotion immediately but struggled to match it to the person expressing it. Thomas Keneally has written over...

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Bringing History to Life

"History leaves so much out. It leaves out the most important thing: the detail of what being alive is like." So said the novelist J.G. Farrell, when asked why he wrote historical fiction. I want to reach for these words whenever I try to explain to others and myself the messy pursuit I have...

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Fuel for the Fires of Inspiration

The struggles of writers who have produced art out of suffering and persecution are well documented and celebrated, and rightly so. Less high profile is the struggle of writers who try desperately to produce art out of their normal, workaday lives. These writers (and I count myself among this...

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Letting Go of the Hermit-Writer Fantasy

This is my house. How jealous are you on a scale of one to ten? If you're on eight or above, I reckon you might have hermit tendencies. I remember a holiday in Norfolk, when I was about twelve, when we took a boat out to an island bird sanctuary. There was a guy there who was living in a hut on the...

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Delete, Baby, Delete - The Digital Publishing Dilemma

He is making a list and checking it twice. Well these days he checks a spreadsheet, and many of those in the "nice" column are getting an iPad or a Kindle. This Christmas is set to be the tipping point for digital books. Sales of e-books on Amazon overtook hardbacks in 2010. It is quite possible...

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Inspiration, Perspiration, Education

I love the very notion of genius: the ultimate being; one who levitates from bed in the morning with poetry bristling in every follicle; one who, en route to their early morning cup of nectar, has only to pass by a word-processor for the perfect words, the cadenced sentences, the achingly beautiful...

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Seducing an Agent

Last week an agent called me. I've been told that getting an agent to pay attention to you is more difficult than eating an entire whale with a teaspoon, but apparently these things do sometimes happen. I caught the agent's eye when she was a judge for the West Dean/Myriad Editions Writers' Retreat...

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In Defence of Short Story Collections

Last week one of my closest friends, Ryan Van Winkle, had his first poetry book published by Salt after winning the Crashaw prize, and we found out Morrissey was wrong about hating your friends when they become successful. Actually, we were all stupidly excited to stand around in Blackwells,...

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The Problem with Writing in the First Person

Back in February the Guardian published a guide for aspiring writers entitled ‘Ten Rules for Writing Fiction’, which assembled the tips and hints of dozens of well-known authors. The article was entertaining, intermittently useful and full of contradictions. ‘Write only when you have something to...

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My Top Tips for Lists of Tips

I’ve been teaching creative writing classes for Edinburgh University’s Office of Lifelong Learning. Everything in writing is up for debate, but people are comforted by a few hard and fast pieces of advice. So I set about compiling a list of my favourite writing maxims. I have a love-hate...

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