I, Writer … #26

I, Writer … #26

Things are going fairly swimmingly over here in Fulltimeness  at present, although I did have a slight problem earlier this morning.  It came in the form of these jibbering idiots …

There is nothing quite so annoying as a group of skeletons dancing around your bed at 4 am.

They duly informed me that their names were Winterbones, SleepybonesLazybones and … Dave.  And collectively they were known as The Four Skeletons of Writerly Suffering. More like the Drab Four if you ask me.

And, as they danced, they absolutely insisted on speaking their truths. Their truths at 4 am. 

Winterbones said … Come on you chaps. Keep dancing and let’s try going a bit faster. Try and work up a bit of a sweat.

Sleepybones said ...  I could just lie down right here and fall into the arms of Morpheus. Dream the dreamless sleep and all that sort of thing.

Lazybones said ... I think we should stop right now. Let’s go somewhere quiet and practice our dance-steps. Ah, but first we should go down the library and read books about the history of armchairs and their place in the natural order of things. Then we could go for a nice leisurely game of billiards in … Istanbul.

Dave said … Look. I was just flat out on the pavement, minding my own business, when these three jokers came along, picked me up and made me dance.

And I said … nothing actually. I just rolled over, pulled the blankets up over my head and went back to sleep. In the morning they were gone. Well almost. I found Dave in the kitchen helping himself to yesterday’s leftovers …



H.G.WELLS … in and out of time

H.G.WELLS … in and out of time

Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), usually referred to as H. G. Wells, was an English writer. He is best remembered for his science fiction novels and is often called a “father of science fiction”, along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback. He has also been referred to as the “Shakespeare of science fiction”.

Wells was arguably the most prolific and successful writer of his age. Books and articles poured out of him: political theory, history, popular science, and a series of stories that collided mind-bending ideas with brilliantly matter-of-fact prose, starting with The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. Reputations have been made on fewer and lesser works, but for Wells the books just kept on coming. For him, writing was like scratching an endless itch.

He published his first novel, The Time Machine, in 1895. Wells was paid £100 (equal to about £11,000 today) on its publication by Heinemann in 1895, which first published the story in serial form in the January to May numbers of The New Review.

First edition cover

If you have a spare half-hour you may care to view this splendid BBC documentary called Future Tense about his life and works.

Henry Miller … a routine man

Henry Miller … a routine man

Henry Miller (1891-1980) was an American writer known for breaking with existing literary forms, developing a new type of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic o Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, which are based on his experiences in New York and Paris (all of which were banned in the United States until 1961). He also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism, and painted watercolours.

Miller was born in New York. After holding down various jobs he became employment manager of the messenger department, Western Union in New York. In 1922 he wrote his first book, Clipped Wings. Several years later he decided to devote his entire energy to writing. He travelled to London and then Paris, meeting other writers along the way such as T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. He spent time with Lawrence Durrell on the Greek island of Corfu. He returned to America in 1940 where he continued writing and painting watercolours into his old age.

As a young novelist, Miller frequently wrote from midnight until dawn. While living in Paris during the 1930s, he shifted his writing time, working from breakfast to lunch. Then he would have a nap and write again until late afternoon and maybe into the evening. As he got older, though, he found that anything after noon was unnecessary and even counterproductive. As he told one interviewer, “I don’t believe in draining the reservoir, do you see? I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.” Two or three hours in the morning were enough for him, although he stressed the importance of keeping regular hours in order to cultivate a daily creative rhythm.

In 1932-1933, while working on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer, Miller devised and adhered to a stringent daily routine to propel his writing. Among it was this list of eleven commandments …

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

In addition, he split his day into three parts …

If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.

If in fine fettle, write.


Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.


See friends. Read in cafés.

Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.

Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.

Paint if empty or tired.

Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.


Forget the books you want to write …

Forget the books you want to write …

Saul Bellow …

Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) was a Jewish Canadian-American writer and teacher. For his literary work, Bellow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts. He is the only writer to win the National Book Award for Fiction three times and he received the National Book Foundation’s lifetime Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1990. His best-known works include The Adventures of Augie MarchHenderson the Rain King, HerzogMr. Sammler’s PlanetSeize the DayHumboldt’s Gift and Ravelstein.  He is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest authors.

Picture taken in his office at the University of Chicago in 1992.

He was never one to talk about his writing routine. Nor did he wish to discuss what he considered his personal writing habits, whether he used a pen or typewriter, how hard he pressed on the page. For the artist to give such loving attention to his own shoelaces was dangerous, even immoral. 

Bellow wrote every day, beginning early in the morning and breaking off around lunchtime. In a letter written in 1968 he said … “I simply get up in the morning and go to work.”

He was interviewed by the Paris Review over a period of a few weeks during 1965 in his office at the University of Chicago where he was a professor. This is a lovely description of his working environment …

The office, though large, is fairly typical of those on the main quadrangles: much of it rather dark with one brightly lighted area, occupied by his desk, immediately before a set of three dormer windows; dark-green metal bookcases line the walls, casually used as storage for a miscellany of books, magazines, and correspondence. A set of The Complete Works of Rudyard Kipling (“it was given to me”) shares space with examination copies of new novels and with a few of Bellow’s own books, including recent French and Italian translations of Herzog. A table, a couple of typing stands, and various decrepit and mismatched chairs are scattered in apparently haphazard fashion throughout the room. A wall rack just inside the door holds his jaunty black felt hat and his walking cane. There is a general sense of disarray, with stacks of papers, books, and letters lying everywhere. When one comes to the door, Bellow is frequently at his typing stand, rapidly pounding out on a portable machine responses to some of the many letters he gets daily. 

Saul Bellow working at home during his later years.

A.A. Milne … creator of Winnie-the-Pooh

A.A. Milne … creator of Winnie-the-Pooh

A.A. Milne (1882-1956) was an English author, best known for his books about the teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh and for various poems.

He was born in Kilburn, London and grew up at Henley House School, a small public school run by his father. One of his teachers was the author H. G. Wells, who taught there in 1889–90. Milne later attended Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied on a mathematics scholarship, graduating with a B.A. in Mathematics in 1903. Milne joined the British Army in World War I and served as an officer. On 7 July 1916, he was injured while serving in the Battle of the Somme and invalided back to England. 

Milne married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt in 1913 and their son Christopher Robin Milne was born in 1920. In 1925, Milne bought a country home, Cotchford Farm, in Hartfield, East Sussex.

Cotchford Farm

After graduating from Cambridge in 1903, A. A. Milne contributed humorous verse and whimsical essays to Punch, joining the staff in 1906 and becoming an assistant editor. During this period he published 18 plays and three novels, including the murder mystery The Red House Mystery (1922). His son was born in August 1920 and in 1924 Milne produced a collection of children’s poems When We Were Very Young, which were illustrated by Punch staff cartoonist E. H. Shepard. A collection of short stories for children Gallery of Children, and other stories that became part of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, were first published in 1925.

Milne with his son Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear, at Cotchford Farm, their home in Sussex. (1926.)

Milne is, of course, most famous for his two Pooh books about a boy named Christopher Robin after his son, Christopher Robin Milne, and various characters inspired by his son’s stuffed animals, most notably the bear named Winnie-the-Pooh. Christopher Robin Milne’s stuffed bear, originally named “Edward,” was renamed “Winnie-the-Pooh” after a Canadian black bear named Winnie which was used as a military mascot in World War I. “The pooh” comes from a swan called “Pooh.” E. H. Shepard illustrated the original Pooh books, using his own son’s teddy, Growler (“a magnificent bear”), as the model. The rest of Christopher Robin Milne’s toys, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger, were incorporated into A. A. Milne’s stories, and two more characters – Rabbit and Owl – were created by Milne’s imagination. Christopher Robin Milne’s own toys are now under glass in New York where 750,000 people visit them every year.

Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926, followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. A second collection of nursery rhymes, Now We Are Six, was published in 1927.

The fictional Hundred Acre Wood of the Pooh stories derives from Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, South East England, where the Pooh stories were set. Milne lived on the northern edge of the forest at Cotchford Farm.

Sadly, Milne and his wife became estranged from their son, who came to resent what he saw as his father’s exploitation of his childhood and came to hate the books that had thrust him into the public eye. This is well documented in the recent film Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017).

In a writer …

In a writer …