Month: January 2010

Treacherous conditions at the keyboard

Writers must brave tretcherous conditionsTens of thousands of writers today braved sub zero temperatures as they sat at their desks to continue to work on their manuscripts.

‘Their commitment is startling’ said one agent who told me that she continued to receive the usual number of queries and submissions despite the treacherous conditions. In fact, it has been reported that several writers have been seen over the last few days, not only at their desks where ice on the keyboard has made writing slow, but also outside on dangerously slippery paths on their way to the post office to submit short story competition entries. As one commentator remarked, ‘in pursuit of their goals, writers share many of the characteristics of the first Antarctic explorers: courage, strength and resilience. Not to mention cold noses.’

But what are the conditions like? Many writers face frostbitten fingers and other extremities. ‘I was so cold that I could no longer feel my legs’ said A.B. Wells, the alter ego bestselling author version of this journalist. ‘My fingers welded to the keyboard’ said A.N. Other. Reports are flooding in that many writers have had to strap hot water bottles to themselves, while others are fashioning fingerless gloves out of old holey socks. ‘In desperate circumstances you will try anything’ said Utt. R. Commitment. Lap blankets and hot thermos’ are the order of the day and in extreme circumstances some writers have put on several layers of clothes, hats, scarves and, in some cases, balaclavas. ‘Writers refuse to believe that theirs is a Mission Impossible’ said a leading motivational expert who is twitter following 1 million writers.

Icicles attached to a writer’s keyboard

What are the likely consequences of this cold snap? One renowned literary agent has said that she is ‘excited’ by the emergence of a new genre of writing she calls ‘Freeze lit’, while many literary landscapes have now been sprinkled with a layer of crisp white virgin snow. The snowman has become a motif for recession and New Decade economic and cultural chill. The cold hard truth for writers in the current climate is that it may indeed be the writers with the iciest digits that go on to become most successful. This winter may turn out to be the era of the nine-fingered writer.

The Soul’s Re-education – who’s writing do you love?

Fuel for the soul

I will never be a literary critic. I say Wow. I say Yes. I feel a resonance inside, a plucked guitar string, light shifting, I find myself holding my breath. I feel a flicker of an idea, consciousness swirling, a pulse of feeling, a glimpse of memory that sets me ready to try to say…..something, something that might in turn touch and inspire others or provide them with a reflection of their emotions, or show them a new way of looking at the world.

Who are the writer’s that refill the well for you?

The last decade for me has been a decade of what I call ‘mud’. Not in a negative sense but in a hands-on, practical, prosaic, down in the thick of things kind of way. I have given birth to and raised four children with all the nappies and puree and wiping down and tidying up and cajoling and physical helping and emotional steering that that entailed. Something has to give, sometimes its ‘air’, what’s up there, the things that take us out of ourselves, music, words, exercise, theatre, new places, silence. The children are older now, the tiny baby stage has passed. I am about to start a new decade in age too. I want to begin to refuel in all the other things that I haven’t been able to get to. I still have the physical, the hugs, the squeaky noses, the lifting, the holding, the toddler insisting he can only be happy lying cheek to cheek with me but I want the breath as well, a little bit more than before.

This means catching up on old music videos I have never seen, bands that I hear fleetingly in the car between pickups but never hear the name of. It means, perhaps DVD box sets or catching re-runs of shows I missed like Madmen, The Mighty Boosh, The West Wing. It means getting to more music shows, more theatre, more galleries. (Even if its only 1 more!). And it means books and authors.

These are the books currently on my bedside table or in a tall pile beside it.

They are by writers who were recommended to me by others or are people that I have enjoyed in the past and want to continue to become more familiar with their work. In particular since I have begun to write so many short stories I have also become a voracious reader of short story collections.

  • Hanif Kureshami: The Body (Already in awe!)
  • J.G. Ballard: Kingdom Come
  • A.S Byatt: Possession
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Memories of My Melancholy Whores
  • Nabokov: Collected stories (His work is a wonderful revelation!)
  • Jeannette Winterson: The Stone Gods
  • Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories
  • Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze
  • Virginia Woolf: The Waves, To the Lighthouse
  • John Steinbeck: The Pearl, Sweet Thursday, The Wayward Bus
  • Ivy Bannister: The Magician (short stories)
  • Paul Durkan: Life is a Dream: 40 years reading poetry – 1967-2007
  • Sylvia Plath’s: Collected Poems

These are books I have enjoyed most in the past few years and highly recommend.

  • What was Lost: Catherine O’ Flynn
  • The Accidental and Hotel World: Ali Smith
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • To a God Unknown, Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck
  • The Gathering: Anne Enright
  • Postcards, The Shipping News: Annie Proulx
  • Map of Glass: Jane Urquart
  • The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (An event of a book, great illustrations, notes in the margins. Beautiful to hold.)

Short Stories

  • How to Breathe Underwater: Julie Orringer
  • Constitutional: Helen Simpson
  • Lorrie Moore: The Collected Stories
  • A.S. Byatt: Little Black Book of Stories

I also hope to become acquainted with the stories of Raymond Carver and to read the first two available stories from The Chaos Walking Trilogy (teen fiction) by Patrick Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer.

Help me with my re-education, my filling up of the soul and the well of inspiration.

Who are your favourite authors? What are your favourite books? Do you have any recommendations for us of authors we should become acquainted with? Are you an author we should become acquainted with? Let me know in the comments. Add in your favourite band and TV show too if you feel it deserves attention. Hopefully we can share some gems.