PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS
BY SARAH STODOLA
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.
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
- Tagged authors, Book reviews, Books, Fiction, Good books, great authors, Great books, great writers, literature, Novels, Reading, reviews, the classics, The Southsea Bookworm, writers, writing
A SCREAM IN SOHO: A BRITISH LIBRARY CRIME CLASSIC
BY JOHN G. BRANDON
This is definitely one of the better books from the British Library’s recently republished Crime Classic series. As with the other novels in this series it is a thing of beauty. They all have magnificent cover illustrations and quality pages that have made them hugely popular and highly collectible among my friends and fellow bookworms. For some of these books, sadly, the cover remains the best thing about them but thankfully this is not the case here.
Brandon’s story is a gruesome and gripping caper around London’s Soho set during the blackouts of the Second World War. A piercing scream rings out in the night and a bloodied knife is found. Our hero, Detective Inspector McCarthy, is soon on the scene and following a hunch. This is a gloriously dark, seedy Soho underworld full of Italian gangsters, cross dressing German spies and glamorous Austrian aristocrats.
Wry McCarthy is likeable and engaging for the reader as he attempts to unravel the connection between some brutal killings and the theft of the secret defence plans. There are exciting fight scenes and chases and a pleasurable, gentle amount of suspense and drama. The supporting cast flesh out the story well and knowing the area well like I do I was able to picture the streets as McCarthy hightailed after his icy-eyed villain.
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 7/10
Notes on the author – John G. Brandon:
- Lived 1879-1941
- Austrian born crime writer who lived in England
- Author of 100+ detective novels
- Tagged Book reviews, Books, British Library, British Library Crime Classics, crime fiction, detective stories, Good books, good reads, Great books, great reads, love to read, readers, Reading, The Southsea Bookworm, writers
THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW BY MATTHEW QUICK
The Good Luck Of Right Now is another wonderful novel from the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick. Thirty nine year old Bartholomew Neil is in therapy following the death of his beloved mother. Bartholomew is a damaged guy who knows that after a lifetime of living with and then caring for his mother, he has to find his own way in the world. As he attempts to find his flock he falls in love with a strange “girl librarian”, his drunken Priest moves in and he gets to complete his first life goal thanks to a foul-mouthed and equally troubled cat-obsessed young man.
On the edge of madness he writes to Hollywood actor Richard Gere (whom his mother adored) for guidance and to offload his emotions. The whole of this quirky, unconventional page turner is told through those letters to Gere which at first I found a little irksome from but soon I realised it was the perfect vehicle for Bartholomew’s delusional outlook. Quick’s devastating prose is shot through with wit and a clever balance between an optimistic but unsentimental view of human nature.
Elizabeth, Max, Father McNamee and of course Bartholomew are all seriously flawed but deeply loveable characters that I determinedly rooted for them to overcome the prejudices and cruel blows dealt to them in life. Beautifully tender and gripping from the first page to the last, this offbeat and eccentric tale is another winner by this enormously talented American writer. A kind hearted story about humans rescuing themselves, and each other, from despair. Really great.
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 8/10
Notes on the author – Matthew Quick:
- Wrote the hugely popular The Silver Linings Playbook which was made into an Academy Award winning film
- He is also the author of young adult novels
- He is married to the novelist and pianist Alicia Bessette
- Tagged American writers, Books, Fiction, Good books, Great books, love to read, Matthew Quick, Reading, The Good Luck of Right Now, The Silver Linings Playbook, The Southsea Bookworm, writers
ONE SUMMER: AMERICA 1927 BY BILL BRYSON
If all teachers made history as enjoyable as bestselling author Bill Bryson does here, we’d all be A+ students in the subject. In his latest fascinating book, Bryson takes us back to the hugely eventful summer of 1927 in the US. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. So many characters and stories from just a few hot months of one year impacted on almost everything to come and ushered in the modern world we now live in.
MAY saw unprecedented nationwide interest in a sensational murder trial dubbed “the crime of the century” and the Mississippi River flooded during great storms leaving an area almost the size of Scotland underwater. Terribly, a closer count was made of livestock deaths than those of the poor (and often black) humans that perished. It was America’s most epic disaster yet, in a month when the stock market boomed and prohibition was failing badly.
Young, handsome aviator Charles Lindbergh captured the hearts of the nation and beyond when he took 33 hours to fly across the Atlantic to Paris. Safely landed, he received a heroes welcome as he would everywhere he went for years to come. Hospitals, parks and children were named after him as was a song called “Lucky Lindy” which went on to spawn the Lindy-Hop dance craze.
In JUNE arguably the first celebrity shot to fame – baseball player Babe Ruth. Rising from a difficult background to become the charismatic undisputed star of Major League baseball. 1927 was “a year that no one who knew baseball would ever forget'” writes Bryson.
In other news radio was the wonder of the age, New York overtook London as the world’s largest city and prohibition continued to be farcical and inept. “It made criminals of honest people and actually led to an increase in the amount of drinking in the country,” notes our author. The government even poisoned liquor – some reports claiming this act killed as many as 11,000 people in 1927 alone – all dying in agony just for having a drink!
- Tagged 1920s, 1927, Al Capone, America, American history, authors, Babe Ruth, baseball, bibliophile, Bill Bryson, Book review, Books, books to love, books to read, Charles Lindbergh, crime, floods, gangsters, Good books, Great books, Great writing, history, One Summer, President Coolidge, prohibition, Reading, reads, reviews, The Southsea Bookworm, travelogues, United States, US, writers