Process: the writing lives of great authors

PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS

BY SARAH STODOLA

book cover

 

I love reading about the routines and working lives of artists and writers. It’s fascinating to discover what ignites their inspirations and equally what hinders their progress. As such this book promised to be the perfect read for me.

Combining author biography with entertaining details about their writing habits, Stodola introduces us to the working person behind the famous name. The person who has devoted thousands of hours or dozens of years to researching, creating, avoiding, thinking, procrastinating and eventually writing the works that readers like us hugely admire. Her portraits of these writers at work allow us to appreciate the huge effort and often bizarre practices that propel these great minds forward to write at all costs.

A writer’s setting

Stodola’s portraits of these great writers adapting to their circumstances and working with what they have are intriguing. Franz Kafka waited until all other members of the household were asleep before he attempted to write. As a single parent, Toni Morrison chose writing over a social life to enable her to get her work written, admitting; “I don’t do any of the so-called fun things in life.” Vladimir Nabokov had an unpredictable schedule whereby he had to fit his writing around his lecturing and tennis coaching jobs. Finances meant this was the case well into his late 60s. He wrote anywhere and everywhere (sometimes even in the bath!) and often wrote on index cards finding them perfect for reorganising his plot without extensive rewrites. George Orwell was not a writer prone to invention and instead used real life experiences and work in the field – even posing as a tramp so that he could write about poverty free from the expected clichés. Following the wealth and renown that came with Animal Farm, he retreated to a Scottish island so that there he could recreate the “stark, impoverished, melancholic” conditions that he needed to write 1984.

The process

On writing itself, George Orwell wrote unceasingly despite calling the process “a horrible exhausting struggle.” David Foster Wallace is described by Stodola with “perhaps no great writer has ever been so effusive about his writer’s block.” Something that Richard Price struggled with too; “the only thing worse than writing is not writing.” He started with no plot in mind and “just goes along with something he’s interested in” saying; “the actual story can be an after-thought.” Salman Rushdie famously wrote five books during his decade in hiding. “I’ve learned I need to give it the first energy of the day, so before I read the newspaper, before I open the mail, before I phone anyone, often before I shower, I sit in my pajamas at the desk.” He then writes for four hours after which time he finds that his output “becomes mush.” Continue reading

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Penguin Little Black Classic No.71: Il Duro

Il Duro

IL DURO BY D.H LAWRENCE

I really enjoyed these four personal accounts of Lawrence’s sun-drenched experiences in early 20th Century Italy. Once again, the Penguin Little Black Classics format offering the perfect “in” for an author I had never really got round to reading.

Three of the stories – The Spinner and The Monks, Il Duro and John – are taken from Twilight in Italy, which was first published in 1916. The last story,The Florence Museum, is taken from Etruscan Places, which was first published sixteen years later.

The Spinner and The Monks stood out most for me. I adored his description of the old woman as she sat at her wheel in the sun. “Her face was like a sun-worn stone,” and “pieces of hair, like dirty snow, quite short, stuck out over her ears.”

I’m fond of Italy and his writing appealed to me so I would definitely seek to read more of experiences of the country.

 SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 6/10

 Notes on the author – D.H Lawrence:

  • Born 1885 Eastwood, England. Died 1930 Vence, France
  • The D.H stands for David Herbert
  • Best known works : Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers and Women In Love

Tears and joy from classic comedy genius

THE SECOND LIFE OF SALLY MOTTRAM BY DAVID NOBBS

This is a lovely, funny, touching novel by the comic genius that brought us Reggie Perrin – David Nobbs. It’s the story of Sally Mottram, an ordinary resident of Potherthwaite, a small fictional Pennine town. A town, like so many now, in a dreadful rut of abandoned buildings and closing businesses. Sally feels strongly that something has to be done to turn around the town’s fortunes but what? and by whom?

A shocking tragedy breaks up this nice little tale of a one-woman crusade quite early on. Something happens that is so devastating that it threatens to shatter Sally’s whole existence. But indeed it is this incident that sparks her into action as she embarks on a mission to bring Potherthwaite back to life, rallying the whole community to save itself.

At times the plot appears to be straying into ITV Monday night drama territory but Nobbs didn’t get where he is today by succumbing to neat, twee, happy endings. Instead, we find amongst the tea rooms and allotments tales of suicide, obesity, guilt and jealousy all smothered in a heavy dollop of ‘keeping up appearances’ small town paranoia. Continue reading