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.13: The Eve of St Agnes

keats

THE EVE OF ST AGNES BY JOHN KEATS

I read this in a couple of hours on the train coming back from seeing Morrissey in Cardiff. Moz would be proud! I have only ever read the odd line and letter by Keats and have vowed this year to fully discover the Romantic poet’s best work. This seemed an easy place to start. Sort of. Due to the age of the language in these selected poems published in 1820, I had some difficulty following the plot and had to do a bit of online research to aid my comprehension.

The Eve of St Agnes is a 42 stanza poem based on the superstition that a girl could see her future husband in a dream if she performed certain rituals on the Eve of St. Agnes. This meant going to bed without any supper, laying on her bed completely naked with her hands under the pillow and looking up to the heavens. The proposed husband would then appear in her dream, kiss her, and feast with her. In Keats’ poem the girl is Madeline who pines for the love of Porphyro.

Although I stumbled on the plot, I just loved reading the beautiful words, so lyrical and sensual.

But no – already had his deathbell rung, the joys of all his life were said and sung Continue reading

Mac the Mouth in his own words

Ian McCulloch

Ian McCulloch is one of indie pop’s finest singers. In the late seventies and throughout the eighties and late nineties, his band Echo and The Bunnymen were critically acclaimed and hugely popular with audiences. Albums like Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here still regularly appear in classic album lists and on my own turntable!

Here in this gorgeously presented book, McCulloch’s lyrics from his Bunnymen and solo material are laid out for us to savour every word.

Ian Mcculloch young

Themes of losing hope and love, fear of the future, being broken hearted, seeing the world in a different way from others and questioning our purpose here are common in popular music and feature heavily throughout his work. Not many write as especially well as McCulloch and when those words are then expressed through his creamy rich Liverpudlian croon, it can only make for fantastic songs.

Here are some of my favourite lyrics from the book: Continue reading