Sunday, 21 July 2013

Books to Inspire – No. 1

There will be a whole variety of these, as my blogs progress, but I want to kick everything off here with one of my favourite 'dipping into' tomes. If my creative juices get dammed up or my brain just needs some time out, I love picking a page at random in here:

'How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors' edited by Dan Crowe with Philip Oltermann  publ. Rizzoli (New York)

This book is filled with all sorts of fabulous stuff that works, as it says itself: '…. like an old curiosity shop, full of letters, photographs, drawings, illustrations, and other scattered mementoes.' With over sixty essays, of varying lengths, from some of the worlds' most established authors we find out how A.L. Kennedy's only writing prop is her notebook, (one for each book), why Ian Rankin treasures a photograph of Edinburgh's Oxford Bar in his office, what Lionel Shriver's antidote to character names is and see Will Self's wall of post-it notes (it's huge!). There are a whole variety of props and talismans that writers find useful to aid the process: Siri Hustvedt keeps her late father's collection of 'unknown keys' by her when she writes, they help her to unlock rooms to unfamiliar spaces that lead to new stories.

As writers are we not fascinated by human nature, by what people do? That delving into the psyche is part and parcel of creating characters, themes, narrative … the whole shebang.  In their introduction Dan Crowe and Philip Oltermann cite how they wanted to '..tear down the invisible wall between us readers and them writers and see what's really going on behind the page. What keeps writers gong? If not money, what is their fix? What gets them high? What gets them low?…' This fascinates me as a reader, it's interesting I want to know more, but as a writer it connects on a whole other level. It's the human story that grabs me. Yes it's appealing to discover what well known writers use to break through blocks, or energise a flagging mind etc. and sometimes helpful, but that germ of intrigue is like finding a sherbet lemon in a bag of toffees, it's the human story that grabs me and fires up my imagination. It's like Siri Hustvedt's keys.  

Every time I go to this book I discover something new which delights and intrigues me, as well as coming across favourite entries that chime with my mood at the time. Like Siri Hustvedt I might get ideas for a story, discover a new character or just put isolation to one side as I realise someone I admire goes about things the same way I do – that's a comfort and an inspiration. Breaking out of solitary to share for a moment or two is heartening, a gift and it reminds me that I'm not alone, that there's a whole nation of writers /artists out there. It reminds me of writing friends, colleagues and all those amazing people I meet on the net.

The entries are so diverse, so rich, it's a wonderful collection of writerly lucky dips and beautifully presented to boot. Just flicking through its pages is as much a visual feast as anything else and there really is so much pleasure in a visit. Lovers of Letterpress will swoon. But the very best thing about it for me is that it was a gift, my first Christmas present from my lovely son-in-law, he searched it out – oh how well he knows me! Thank you Martin!!

I will leave you with just one entry, from Melissa Bank who says of her talisman – a photo from The New York Times:

'It captures the emotion for me – the ungainly struggle, the possibility of rescue, the blind faith writing requires. It also reminds me that the alternative is drowning in a flooded cage in the zoo.'

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