A.L. Kennedy on what makes a writer; also, Julian Barnes, Elizabeth Spiers, Hornby on New Yorker fact-checkers, deadlines post-Bridget Jones, Fielding overload, Salinger v. Wax, more

A.L. Kennedy, author of one of my favorite novels, believes that although writers (and their families, friends, and critics) tend to point to external factors to explain the pull of writing:

…. the truth is that you are a writer, because you are made that way. Which has been said before, I know – but what does it mean?

For example, you are not quite made a writer in the way that you are made blue-eyed, or diabetic. Writing is more of an inbuilt disposition – some children, suitably triggered, will grow up to perpetrate random murders: others, suitably triggered, will become heroin addicts, or clerics: still others will write. The trigger for writing appears to be very finely tuned – it may be sprung by chance qualities of light, coincidences, or any of the unpredictable odds and ends mixed up in the simple presence of everyday life….

I might also point out that being born a writer can often feel paralysingly similar to being nothing identifiable at all, given that writing is an unlikely and ephemeral occupation, rarely respected until it has produced considerable fruit…

Julian Barnes describes the many embarrassments of his first literary party in London. An excerpt:

So there we were; a publisher who didn’t recognise one of his writers’ names, and a writer who couldn’t remember the title of his own – his only – work.

On Friday, Claire Zulkey’s site featured an interview with Elizabeth Spiers, the first editor of Gawker. In the interview, Ms. Spiers talks among other things about the differences between her online voice and her manner in person:

I think writers generally find it easier to be more opinionated on paper than in face-to-face interactions. The pressure of having a few hundred thousand readers when you publish an article seems psychologically smaller than giving a speech in a packed stadium, even if you’re disseminating the same information to the same number of people. I don’t think there’s a difference between web and print in that respect. If I had a print column that was supposed to cover “Gawker” topics, I think it would have sounded the same.

The difference, if there is one, is how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. People say things they’d never say if they had to attach their name to it and be held accountable for it.

I’m not sure it’s a better medium for female writers, but I do find that if you use an aggressive tone and it’s not clear that you’re female, people will assume you’re not.

Nick Hornby occasionally wrote music criticism for The New Yorker but quit the job:

“because of the endless editing and fact-checking,” things he admits make the magazine a great read. Speaking from his home in London, which is five hours ahead of New York, he says the tireless fact-checkers rung him up repeatedly, at night, to verify such things as lyrics quoted in a piece. He’d end up holding the telephone up to a loudspeaker so they could listen for themselves.

Of British publishing deadlines in a post-Bridget Jones world, Robert McCrum says:

Writers for whom there are no great expectations must accede to their publisher’s iron scheduling. But writers whose output is considered crucial to their publisher’s balance sheets will find the usual laws of book production are suspended in favour of the stampede towards the bookshops.

Speaking of Bridget Jones, the feverish Helen Fielding coverage continues to build with the release of the latest novel. Nicholas Clee reports that, despite mixed reviews, 200,000 copies of the novel appeared on U.K. retailers’ shelves last week.

John Walsh interviews Fielding about her departure from “chick lit” with Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination. Fielding says of the book, a thriller:

I suppose it’s a fantasy book really, like James Bond. If Bridget is the side of me I didn’t like to admit to, then Olivia’s the person I would like to be in a fantasy world.

Elaine Showalter pronounces the latest novel “fast-moving and entertaining, if ‘deliciously shallow.'”

In another review, Amy Jenkins says that while it’s clear Fielding would “like to put some clear blue water between Olivia Joules and Bridget Jones,” Bridget’s personality “keeps bubbling back up to the surface.” Unfortunately, “[w]hat was lovable in Bridget is mildly irritating in Olivia,” according to Jenkins.

I wondered why Ruby Wax was going around blabbing to journalists (in that Telegraph article I mentioned) about the fact that she’d adapted part of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye without permission and intended to screen it at a BBC Big Read event. Now it turns out there’s speculation about a possible lawsuit. “If the scenes are clearly based on the book, then it’s an infringement of copyright. I think the BBC could face a fee, negotiated by the agent, with a bit added on for insult,” says an expert. As Dana would say, here’s my best look of surprise. (Via Moby Lives.)

Bookninja rounds up selected literary and publishing items. (Via Sarah.)


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