The best people from whom to learn anything important and significant are those who are already very good at doing that ‘thing’ that you want to learn. For writers wanting to hone their craft and skills there is no better source of information than writers talking about writing.
On Sunday’s ‘Open Book,’ Mariella Frostrop was talking to A.L. Kennedy, the Scottish author, who has just published ON WRITING – a book about writing. She brilliantly points out that it is not enough to write, ‘The man walked into the room.’ You have to know who he is, where the room is, what else is in the room, and why is he walking in. Some of the answers to these questions will be back story and will inform the writing in terms of atmosphere and mood and some of it will be told.
The author must be entirely in charge of all the facts. And there is no escape, even in fantasy. J.K. Rowling so brilliantly illustrates the confidence of knowledge whenever she talks about her Harry Potter novels. She knows all about her characters. Where they came from, their extended family and relations and lots more. She knows how the magic works and why sometimes it doesn’t. She has the world of the books completely clear in her head, and while it is not all on the page in ink, it is all on the page in terms of the meaning and logic of everything she writes.
Stephen King’s classic book ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT is also packed full of advice amassed over decades of writing. Part memoir and part straight masterclass-type advice, this is a book that investigates the meaning of writing for Stephen King as well as the practical way he approaches his work.
Then there is the more academic and philosophical rather than entirely practical, and E.M. Forster’s ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL or Margaret Atwood’s NEGOTIATING WITH THE DEAD: A WRITER ON WRITING do so much to place the practice of writing, and the results of the toil, in a wonderful wider context.
Sydney J. Harris, an American journalist, said, ‘Never take the advice of someone who has not had your kind of trouble.’ Writers on writing talking to writers – what could be better?