Monday, 14 September 2009

Plums For Writers From A Good Man on Sunday

Darl6In order to build up energy for the busy week ahead, leading up the big party launch on Thursday for The Woman Who Drew Buildings I decided to take Sunday off: no writing, no reading, no thinking, no brooding, just a blank mind and a relaxed body. 

But my good intentions and Sunday lounging were dive-bombed by  Mariella Frostrup interviewing William Boyd on BBC Four’s A Good Read – a genial, articulate interchange full of little plums for all good novelists to gobble up.

Here we go again!

William Boyd  is an interesting mixture -  laid back, articulate, self possessed -  a witness to the Biafran war as a growing child and a product of Gordonstaun, the austere Scottish boarding school . He writes clever, accessible, literary-comic, occasionally darkly-comic novels (First one I read was A Good man in Africa. Brilliant.)

He and Mariella discussed his new novel Ordinary Thunderstorms,  his film writing, his other novels, and - best of all -  the state of the novel from the inside. His comparison of the importance of the novel vis-a-vis the film was masterly.

 There were lots of Plums From The Boyd Basket:

  • Fiction is no more a hoax than is historical writing …’
  • The novel – although it’s ‘made up’, invented, to achieve authenticity – is the more powerful because history is shaped by  forces that the author cannot replicate.                (I suppose the proposal here is that  a novel  is more whole, more capable of delivering a fully worked, authentically imagined truth.)
  • To find out about a time or a life, read the fiction of that time. (This pleased me, as it has always been part of the pleasure of the research when I write my stories. For instance as well as all the usual research for my WW2 novel A Thirsting Land, - which has early scenes in Alexandria, - I studied the whole Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell.(Beautiful, well located, complicated, contemporaneous novels.)  
  • I would also add to that the fact that magazines and newspapers of any modern time can add great, if coded, insight. I have this treasure trove of  magazines (see above) from 1939 t0 1945, bought from a junk shop who had acquired them from a farmer’s wife who had stored them for fifty years in a barn …)  I studied them, for the same novel.
  • Any life is an aggregate of good luck and bad luck.  - A perfect firework to light up the structure of a novel.
  • He talked of authentic randomness. Another firework! I’ll have to think a little – a lot - more about that.

I have always listened to the radio. Today I was reminded that it is a basket of juicy plums: a whole mountain of plums standing there in the literary market place. Perhaps very good for a writer on a quiet Sunday afternoon. And proof that there’s no rest for the wicked.*


* For the record, I have written a novel called this:  No Rest For the Wicked. It starts on the day of the funeral of Sarah Bernhardt in Paris in 1923 and is about this rather picaresque travelling theatrical troop…


  1. The joys of modern technology! I've just downloaded a podcast of the very program you have summarised. I'm looking forward to listening tomorrow.
    As to your trove of magazines, I am green with envy! Exactly the period I am writing about at the moment.
    The microfilm I can get of papers from the period just doesn't cut it in comparison!

  2. Hello Al

    I love to handle material that actually existed at the time into which I am entering in my imagination - newspapers, diaries, letters, maos and now magazines. Something of the spirit of the times lingers and you catch the scent of that reality.

    Maybe this is about authentic randomness. (see above...)

    Keep well


    A bit like that german document you used for the mock up of your novel.

  3. It is lovely to have that connection with materials from the period you are writing about. Especially when it can be a tactile one rather than simply an intellectual experience.

    To see and hold something, rather than just knowing it exists can be very profound. Perhaps the most amazing experience I have had of this type was holding some 800,000 year old stone tools one of my honours supervisors had brought from a dig in Indonesia. To hold something that was conceived by a person so long ago was truly humbling and at the same time exhilarating.

  4. Hi wendy did you recieve my stories.
    If you have let me know.
    I am starting to feel like myself a bit more now god bless to you all and Avarill david easington



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