Posts Tagged ‘writers’

How to Write like E. B. White

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

E.B. White wrote only three children’s books and two are America’s top books (Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little). What was his secret? Imagination, yes, but he also took his time and revised a lot to refine his style. Charlotte’s Web is a short book but it took two years to write the first draft, then another year to rewrite it. It has the best opening line of any children’s book  – “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”; and perhaps the finest ending (certainly the most heart-rending).

The ending is as beautiful, bold and full of integrity as Charlotte herself.– Guardian

In a Paris Review interview, White puts a witty spin on procrastination (which writers are good at):

Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer—he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along. I am apt to let something simmer for a while in my mind before trying to put it into words. I walk around, straightening pictures on the wall, rugs on the floor—as though not until everything in the world was lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonably expect me to set a word down on paper.

Books As Old Friends

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Books are sensory – they have a pleasing look, a comforting smell, a grainy feel, a satisfying weight. You can lend a book, read it everywhere, stow it anywhere, hide treasures in it.  The best-loved books are dog-eared, coffee-stained, and inscribed: carrying memories locked into untold brain networks by all the experiences you had when reading it.

And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words…― Cornelia Funke (Inkheart)

A book works at my speed, comfortable and slow, faster when I want it to be, then slow again. Many of my books are old friends.– Jack Lasenby (interview here).

When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life, you plunge deeper into it….And for this serious task of imaginative discovery and self-discovery, there is and remains one perfect symbol: the printed book.– Julian Barnes

The Phantom Tollbooth – Love Of Words

Monday, June 1st, 2015

More than any book I read as a child, The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) by Norton Juster,  gave me a love of words– it puns them, pushes them, and plunders their meaning. It’s overflowing with inventiveness: the man who is short, tall, thin and fat, at the same time; an orchestra that plays colours; a city that disappears because nobody cares. And I love the illustrations by Jules Feiffer, especially this faceless timewaster, The Trivium, who has a message for all writers:

What could be more important than doing unimportant things? … There’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.

The story is about a child’s quest to overcome boredom. It’s told with imagination, wit and wisdom — what more could you want in a children’s book?

 I had been an odd child: quiet, introverted and moody. Little was expected from me. Everyone left me alone to wander around inside my own head. When I grew up I still felt like that puzzled kid — my thoughts focused on him, and I began writing about his childhood. – Norton Juster

5 Perfect Endings

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

A great final sentence can offer hope, provoke a smile or trigger a shiver. At its best, it encapsulates the whole work. Where are these great last lines from?

“Hey, Boo.”  (novel)

“Nobody’s perfect!” (movie)

“Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.” (short story)

“There is a crack in everything, it’s where the light gets in.” (song)

“All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe.” (poem)

 

Picture: Tenniel’s borogroves (Victorian Web).

Flannery O’Connor On Writing

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Fiction should be both canny and uncanny. – Flannery O’Connor

The best short story I’ve ever read is Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find – it certainly has the most powerful ending. Her stories can be dark, her characters grotesque, but there’s always a redemptive thread and a tough spirituality that’s never preachy. O’Connor honed her writing to near perfection despite the pain of lupus which killed her at the age of 39. Here are some of her incisive thoughts about the writing process from her collection of essays and lectures, Mystery and Manners:

If you want to write well and live well at the same time, you’d better arrange to inherit money.

When I sit down to write, a monstrous reader looms up who sits down beside me and continually mutters, ‘I don’t get it, I don’t see it, I don’t want it.’

Fiction is about everything human and we are made of dust, and if you scorn getting dusty, then you shouldn’t write fiction.

There’s a certain grain of stupidity that the fiction writer can hardly do without and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting to the point at once.

As grace and nature have been separated, so imagination and reason have been separated, and this always means an end to art. The artist uses his reason to discover an answering reason in everything he sees.

The writer has to judge himself with a stranger’s eye and a stranger’s severity.

 

Millions of Cats Masterpiece

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Draw to live; live to draw –Wanda G’ag

This is Wanda G’ag (it rhymes with blog) one of the finest children’s book illustrators. Her masterpiece is Millions of Cats (1928) the story of a lonely old couple who attract ‘millions and billions and trillions of cats‘. The pictures roll like waves across the pages; clouds, trees, hills and cats all swept along in the flow of the story. The black and white gives it that slightly unsettling folktale vibe. As a child I loved the army of cats drinking a pond in seconds, and the final catastrophic catscrap. Try to find her bizarre Nothing At All too, about an invisible dog.

Here’s G’ag’s biography and one of her lithographs :

Wodehouse – a world where things come right

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

‘There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, “Do trousers matter?”’

‘The mood will pass, sir.’

P.G. Wodehouse (WOOD-house) created a world without earthquakes, wars or dictators (except Roderick Spode whose ‘eye that could open an oyster at sixty paces’); where nothing mattered, except tidy trousers, and nothing broke, except engagements. He was a brilliant writer who cooked up similes like a master chef:

His legs wobbled like asparagus stalks.

She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression.

Her face was shining like the seat of a bus-driver’s trousers.

Wodehouse published 90 books, writing until his death at 93 years. When asked about his technique he said ‘I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit’. All his books make me happy, but my favourite is Right Ho, Jeeves, about Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves, who is ‘so dashed competent in every respect’. The chapter where  Gussie Fink-Nottle presents the prizes at a private school is a great example of slow-building comedy.

The sheer joy of stories which offer a world where things come right.– Sophie Ratcliffe (Wodehouse, Letters)

Read Stephen Fry’s tribute to P.G. Wodehouse.

 

The Adventures of Hergé

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

You must marry the wind of inspiration with the bone of graphic clarity.– Chang Chong-Jen.

The Adventures of Herge is a must for Tintin geeks although it’s not for children. It’s a Hergé (George Remi) biography done in the ‘clear line’ style of a Tintin comic book. Hergé fell in love with drawing in 1914 when his mother gave him some pencils to ‘calm him down’. The book is a fascinating insight into the influences on Hergé and the political and emotional difficulties he faced, especially during wartime working under the Nazis. Most moving of all is the story of his friendship with Chang Chong-Jen (which inspired Tintin in Tibet). Chang helped him refine his beliefs and drawing style. Before reading this book it might help to know a bit about Hergé, or to read the appendix first. Download a 5 page sample of the comic book here.

Tove Jansson Sculptor’s Daughter

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

A book whose small, huge work is the healing of the divisions between the child state and the adult state; of a child-sized truth about how things connect. – Ali Smith

Sculptor's-daughterThe Christmas present I couldn’t resist opening early: Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson is a beautifully written childhood memoir that reads more like short stories. Jansson was the creator of the charming Moomin books had a Moomin-like family: affectionate, creative, and liberal. Her parents were well known Finnish artists: her father a sculptor, her mother an illustrator. She spent much of her childhood on the Pellinki islands in the Gulf of Finland. This new edition of the 1968 book is an exquisite little hardback.

 

Pigling Brains

Monday, July 25th, 2011

‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant. Emily Dickinson

There’s talk of compulsory laptops and iPads for primary schools, but evidence suggests that books should be the priority for children. A good novel is more likely to engage the brain than a screen. Reading is a ‘neuronally and intellectually circuitous act’ (Maryanne Wolf) – or to put it another way, a novel encourages the reader’s brain to be active in the construction of the story. Wolf also argues that more indirect the writing the more enriching it is for the brain.

Clive James comments on this (in Cultural Amnesia) in his essay celebrating the eloquence of Beatrix Potter. He recalls how his own children were fascinated by slant and mysterious phrases such as ‘eight conversation peppermints with appropriate moral sentiments’ and ‘Alexander was volatile’ in The Tale of Pigling Bland (one of the great character names). James concludes that

Children like to hear good things said a thousand times.

Their Faces Were Shining

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Tim Wilson takes risks with his first novel, Their Faces Were Shining, and that’s the way it should be. The story: a sizable chunk of the human race floats up to Heaven on page 60 but a believer named Hope is left behind. The wider implications of the Rapture are barely explored; it’s really a device to expose the main character; this is a Rupture novel. It’s gripping, but be warned that it’s also grim in places (though not as apocalyptic as The Road). I appreciated Wilson’s precise observation of human relationships even if he avoids the afterlife.

Few writers go to Heaven (in their novels). M. Scott Peck’s In Heaven As On Earth has a rather clinical psychotherapist’s afterlife, and The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis has a nice take on the physicality of Heaven. My favourite Heavenly stories are the wonderful  A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes which describes the consequences of being perfected; and Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, a thoughtful teenage novel about a Heaven where people age in reverse. The best movie about Heaven is A Matter of Life and Death, a gorgeous 1946 romance that ends with words by Walter Scott,

for love is heaven and heaven is love.’