What’s a piece of writing advice that’s held true for you?
There is no way around it: writing and reading are intimately related and you cannot write (well) if you are not reading. You cannot write if you haven’t read. All writing comes from a deep underground spring of words and images stored away, and then some experience. You also cannot write if you do not go into the world and have some encounters. Writing comes from turning living, and observations on living, into some form of experience worth recording. The diary form is a useful starting point for any writer.
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
Good diarists, unfettered by the obligations of any finished form. Writers who know how to improvise and busk; to arrive directly into a relationship with their own voice without any of the preliminaries of How Do You Do. Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Samuel Pepys, George Orwell.
And then writers with an overwhelming sense of rhythm and rhetoric, writers of conviction: DH Lawrence (letters and novels) James Baldwin (the essays), George Orwell (everything). James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (in snatches) for pure subterranean flow. Jane Austen for her perfectly balanced sentences: a sort of writing osteopathy.
What’s a writing strategy you’ve developed that’s worked for you?
Read for half an hour or so with my phone off; then take the plunge. Start by following a phrase about and let it turn into an image. Allow the image to turn into a conversation, an encounter, something from life but not quite: a scene or situation a little removed that you watch from the sidelines.
What do you do with all the writing ideas that pop into your head? Where do they go?
Keep a set of images, phrases, idioms, scraps of conversation, inside a journal. Allow one idiom or phrase to build into a scene or encounter. Allow the image or phrase to turn into a short dialogue which you direct from the side as though you were watching a play.
How would you describe your relationship with your readers?
Conversational. All writers are winning over their audience. A writer must imbue warmth and atmosphere, a way of attaching; her voice is a cordon we cling to and follow as she tugs at us, pulls us along.
What’s your one tip (that doesn’t get discussed enough) for a writer trying to improve in 2022?
You must practice every day or almost every day if you want to get good at it. Most of writing is editing and re-editing and editing again. In between there are moments when you fly or skate, run or swim, however it is you get about when you are most fit for purpose.