Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Catching Ideas Like Cobwebs: Diana Athill

‘Where do you get all the ideas for your stories?’

 I’m frequently asked this question as I go about my writer’s business.

My usual answer is that they pile the door of my imagination, emerging from my memory, my reading, my acquaintances and all my daily life. They hang around like cobwebs in the air ,catching at me almost without my knowing.

I have just been reading the Persephone 2011 edition of Diana Athill's short story

Diana Athill

collection entitled Midsummer Night in the Workhouse. .

In her Preface, Diana Athill describes very precisely how she came upon her very first short story. In it she says: I can remember in detail being hit by my first story one January morning in 1958. Until that moment I had been handmaiden, as editor, to other people’s writing. Then, at nine o’clock one sunny morning, I was taking my Pekinese across the Outer Circle of Regent’s Park when a car pulled up and its driver beckoned. I thought he was going to ask the way somewhere but what he said was: ‘I am Mustafa Ali from Istanbul – will you come and have coffee with me?’ At nine in the morning - What an optimist! I thought as I went away laughing; and how odd that someone who looked so very like a man I had once knows, a diamond merchant from Cape Town called Marcel, should behave in such a Marcellish way. And I began to remember Marcel.
All through that day Marcel kept popping up in my head and with him came an oddly gleeful sensation of energy. When I got home from the office I thought: ‘I know what – I’m going to write a story about him,’ and down I sat at my typewriter…
There is much more to this wonderful Preface. Any aspiring writer would enjoy this book for the Preface alone. And then the great Preface is followed by Athill's  artful, beautifully written short stories - each one of them a fine example of the Short Story form: much to learn here too.

It is refreshing in the frantic modern forward-rush of writing and publishing to pause to catch our own accidental cobwebs and to recognise the cobwebs of other fine writers whom we can admire, and form whom we can learn.

Persephone describes the collection: A selection of short stories mostly written in the late 1950s: some are set in England and describe incidents from Diana Athill's girlhood; one or two describe holidays abroad, almost all are seen fron the woman's point of view. 'In this terrific collection female characters are sexually adventurous, introspective and enjoy a drink or three,' wrote the Daily Mail. 'A cheating wife, back with her boring husband, is wracked with agonising love for the unavailable partner of her brief fling; a writer seeks inspiration at a writers' retreat whilst avoiding the group seducer.' 

A great holiday read for anyone and  everyone.

Happy reading. Happy wrting.

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