Tag Archives: novelist

George Eliot …

George Eliot …

Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880); alternatively “Mary Ann” or “Marian”), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss(1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

She was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. In 1850 she moved to London with the intent of becoming a writer. She took a job at a left-wing journal The Westminster Review, and became its assistant editor in 1851, a position she held until 1854. While continuing to contribute pieces to the Westminster Review, Evans resolved to become a novelist. She also adopted a nom-de-plume, the one for which she would become known: George Eliot. 

She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s life, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing only lighthearted romances. She also wished to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. 

George Eliot’s writing desk

In 1857, when she was 37, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton”, the first of the Scenes of Clerical Life, was published in Blackwood’s Magazine and, along with the other Scenes, it was well received (it was published in book form early in 1858). Her first complete novel, published in 1859, was Adam Bede; it was an instant success, but it prompted intense interest in who this new author might be. 

Few people knew of George Eliot’s true identity – although Charles Dickens, leading author of the day, detected that “no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman.”

Her portable writing desk

In the end, the real George Eliot stepped forward and admitted she was the author. After the success of Adam Bede, Eliot continued to write popular novels for the next fifteen years. 

George Eliot Fellowship

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Oliver Goldsmith …

Oliver Goldsmith …

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet, who is best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur’d Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773). He is also thought to have written the classic children’s tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765).

Portrait of Oliver Goldsmith by William Hogarth

Elizabeth Jane Howard …

Elizabeth Jane Howard 

Elizabeth Jane Howard in her Bungay home in 2008. Photo: Andy Darnell

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923 ~ 2014) was an English novelist.

She married ornithologist and conservationist Sir Peter Scott when she was aged just 19 and later married novelist Kingsley Amis. A former Vogue model and actress, she also had relationships with a long list of famous men including Cecil Day-Lewis, Laurie Lee and Kenneth Tynan.

With first husband Sir Peter Scott

In 1951, she won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for her first novel, The Beautiful Visit (1950). Six further novels followed, before she embarked on her best known work, The Cazalet Chronicle (published in 5 volumes), a family saga about the ways in which English life changed during the war years, particularly for women. This was adapted for both TV and radio.

Elizabeth Jane Howard in 1965 with husband Kingsley Amis.

In 2008, aged 85, she was interviewed by the Guardian for their Writers Rooms series.

I moved into this room 20 years ago and spent the first five years fighting desks that weren’t right in some way. Eventually I had this one made – right size, filing cabinets and drawers in the right place – and it’s made such a difference. I write on an Apple Mac, but still can’t help thinking of technology as something of an enemy. I’m much fonder of things like the meat skewer paper knife given to me by my old and beloved agent AD Peters. He sent them to all his clients, but I’m probably one of the last to still use it.

My chair is one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen. But it is comfortable and moves around. I’ve long looked for a graceful chair that was any use and did once try one of those Swedish designs where you half kneel. But all that happened was my knees got exhausted and I couldn’t stop thinking “I am in this extraordinary chair” when I should have been concentrating on writing.

I work from about 10 in the morning to 1.30. I used to have another stint in the late afternoon, but I’m now 85 and one session a day seems enough. I’m not a quick writer, but I don’t have to rewrite much. Anything writers ever say about writing can only apply to them, as you have to find your own way of doing things. And it’s a strange business. Years ago Kingsley [Amis] and I tried to write a section of each other’s novel. He’d usually write quite quickly with lots of laughing at his own jokes. I’d write slowly and would bite my nails a lot. But when we swapped over, I started laughing and he started biting his nails.

I still find writing hard and anxious work, and have had a tremendous battle with smoking that has reached the point where I don’t smoke except when I write. The next stage is to face up to whether I can write and not smoke. We’ll see. But you might have noticed that there’s still an ashtray on the bookshelf within reach of my chair.

She lived in Bungay, Suffolk, and was appointed CBE in 2000. Her autobiography, Slipstream, was published in 2002. She died, aged 90, at home on 2 January 2014.

Biography by Artemis Cooper

 

Deborah Levy … Shedworker

Deborah Levy … Shedworker

Deborah Levy (born 1959) is a British playwright, novelist, and poet. She wrote and published her first novel Beautiful Mutants, in 1986. Her second novel, Swallowing Geography, was published in 1993 by Jonathan Cape, while her third, Billy and Girl, was published in 1996 by Bloomsbury. Swimming Home was published in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 among other awards. Levy published a short story collection, Black Vodka in 2013. Her novel Hot Milk was published in 2016 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016.

She was interviewed by the Guardian in October 2016 for their My Writing Day series.

“Some years ago, when my marriage was on the rocks, we sold the family house and I ended up living in a small flat. I wrote wherever I could and became accustomed to what Elena Ferrantehas described as being happy and unhappy at the same time. Except, in my case, it was more like being happy and extremely miserable at the same time. This was a strange emotional climate to live in – like blazing sunshine with an icy wind. Perhaps it resembled living in Scandinavia, but without the delicious herrings and crispbreads.

So then my friend, Celia, who is in her early 80s – she’s an actor and book-seller – came to the rescue. “You need a study,” she said. I had to admit she was right. She pointed towards the shed at the back of her garden. It was where her husband, the late, great, beloved poet Adrian Mitchell sometimes wrote, and it was built under an apple tree. I have rented it from her ever since. It’s freezing in winter and sweltering in summer, but I have grown to love my writing shed in every season. I have a writing desk, a few bookshelves, lamps, heaters, my desktop Mac computer, a writing chair, which I have covered with a sheepskin fleece for extra warmth—and there are also a few cobwebs and spiders.

Most days I cycle to the shed at 8am after I have seen my daughter off to school. To avoid starting work, I sometimes stop for coffee at a nearby cafe. I am very fond of the morose Italian waiter, and always ask him: “How are you today?” He stops to think about this, and always replies: “I don’t know.” As far as I’m concerned, his answer is an example of magnificent writing. It sets me up for the day.

When I begin writing a novel, I usually know where I want to get to, I just don’t know how to get there. I plan a route and follow my directions. Sometimes this works well. Yet, it’s when I detour from the map and get lost that the writing starts to open its eyes. In case you think I like getting lost, I should tell you that I resist it with all my will. This is always a futile battle. Eventually I surrender to the unknown route, write for a few hours and take a look at the new view.

My current writing mantra is a quote by EM Forster: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” This applies to the life of a novel as well as any other kind of life. Come to think of it, the life that is waiting for us might be worse than the life we have planned.

This is such a terrifying thought that I’m going to nip across the garden and make tea in Celia’s kitchen. If I can find the sweet, shy house cat, I will try and persuade her to sit on my lap in the shed. This cat knows that I adore her, so she takes advantage of my love and begs for snacks. Yes, procrastination is part of the writing day and I do enjoy browsing Celia’s vast collection of books.

Now I’m back in the shed (one mug of tea, no cat) and I’m looking at some of my journals, written years ago. To my surprise, I find that I have scribbled down ideas and thoughts on some of the themes I am writing about now. As far as I’m concerned, the writing life is mostly about stamina and the desire to give my complete attention to language. And I don’t just mean literary language. I am never indifferent to the way someone might say “goodbye” or “oh my God” or “I don’t know”. To get to the finishing line requires the writing to become more interesting than everyday life. This is not as easy as it sounds, because I have never found everyday life boring.

At the end of the day, I read through whatever I have written and figure out the various problems I will need to solve in the morning. After I’ve locked up the shed, I cycle home to tell my children all about the way Celia’s cat grooms her paws.

Deborah Levy’s website

Len Deighton … the poet of the spy story.

Len Deighton … the poet of the spy story.

Len Deighton photographed for The Daily Telegraph in 2009. Credit: David Rose

Len Deighton, born 18 February 1929, is a British author. Deighton is considered one of the top three spy novelists of his time (along with Ian Fleming and John le Carré). In addition he is a highly acclaimed military historian, cookery writer, and graphic artist. The IPCRESS File (1962), his first novel, was an instant bestseller and broke the mould of thriller writing. The Sunday Times dubbed him “the poet of the spy story”. Deighton’s first protagonist – a nameless spy christened Harry Palmer in the films – was made famous worldwide in the iconic 1960s films starring Michael Caine.

The famously publicity-shy Deighton has this to say about his writing routine …

“Every book is different and every writer is different. My advice to anyone starting to write fiction books is to be ready to devote a great deal of time to it. Write every day, even if its notes and research. I write notes every day. It is a habit that comes of years of research and a poor memory. I was filling notebooks with material that interested me long before I ever thought of becoming a professional writer. I have never completed a book in less than a year and most took longer than that. If you are waking up at four o’clock in the morning wondering if it’s all going wrong, it’s probably all going well.”

“When I started writing I had rules. One was that violence must not solve the problem, and I cannot have the hero overcome violence with a counterweight of violence.”

 “Two things destroy writers: praise and alcohol.”

THE DEIGHTON DOSSIER

Esther Freud …

Esther Freud …

Esther Freud is a British novelist. Born in London in 1963, Freud is the daughter of painter Lucian Freud and Bernadine Coverley. She is also a great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud and niece of Clement Freud. 

Her first novel, Hideous Kinky (1992), was made into a film starring Kate Winslet. After publishing her second, Peerless Flats (1993), she was named one of Granta’s best young British novelists. She has since written six novels, including Love Falls, Lucky Break, Mr Mac and Me, and teaches creative writing at the Faber Academy. Her novels have been translated into 13 languages.

In 2007 she was interviewed by the Guardian for their Writers Rooms series …

When I moved into this room, not very long ago, I imagined I’d put a long desk against the wall, as the previous owner had. But as I don’t have a long desk and there was nowhere to put this round table, I decided to try writing at it. On my desk is a calendar I use as a diary and lots of sheets of paper I scribble on when I’m writing – notes about the book I’m working on, or a reminder to call the dentist. There’s an in-tray which I bought recently. Once something goes in, it never seems to come out, so mostly I spread things around the table if they really need to get done. I don’t need any of these things, just my green chair and my laptop. which is raised up on an old copy of Spotlight.


In a further interview with the Guardian in 2012, she spoke further about her writing routine …

When I first began writing I was so terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it, I made myself start as soon as I got up. Three hours was what I promised I’d do. No more or less. To my amazement, this worked. The pages accumulated. The story grew. Within a year, I had my first novel. But as time has passed, I’ve become less strict. Partly through necessity and partly due to a willingness on my behalf to be distracted.

Another writer once told me about a sign they’d been given: Writer at work, please disturb. And I’ve noticed that as my anxiety has subsided, my discipline has slipped. But by 10am I’m desperate to get to work. If I don’t start soon, I won’t be able to start at all. My morale is higher in the morning, my eye sharper, my doubts ring less loudly in my ears. In the morning anything seems possible. In the afternoon I can’t imagine why I bother at all.

I start every day with rewriting. I go back a few pages or, sometimes, to the very beginning, fiddling and fixing, reacquainting myself with my characters, my landscape, my plot, and then, like a motor revving up, incredibly slowly, I’m moving forward, writing into the unknown. People often ask about the dreaded blank page, but I almost never see it. I’m working from the inside out, fattening things up. This is the happiest time. Nothing can distract me now.

I work till 2pm, but it’s the last 20 minutes that are often the most productive. It’s when, faced with my self-imposed deadline, I stop scrutinising each sentence and write into the story, almost with my eyes shut, forging ahead, laying words down to be examined the next day. Now I am no longer available for distraction. If I hear a door open, or a phone ring, my stomach lurches and my body goes still. Please do not disturb.

Sitting down at your desk every day is an appointment with doubt; that is the nature of writing. I don’t show much of my work in progress to others. I know whether it’s working or not; somebody else’s opinion is not going to change that.

Esther Freud’s website

Deborah Moggach

Deborah Moggach

deborah-moggach_2314273a

Deborah Moggach is an English novelist and screenplay writer. She has written eighteen novels including The Ex-Wives, Tulip Fever, These Foolish Things (made into the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Heartbreak Hotel. Her latest book is called Something to Hide. She currently lives in the Welsh border town of Presteigne and also has a maisonette in Kentish Town, North London.

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In 2016 she was interviewed by the Guardian for their My Writing Day series.

Everyone has their rituals and I have to start the day with a roll-up and a cup of coffee. It gets my brain fizzing – it loosens the connections – and if I’m interrupted, I’m lost. If someone even says “I’ll phone you some time in the morning” it threatens my concentration, which is a feeble organ at the best of times. With screenplays it’s not so bad because it’s a more public process anyway – so many other people are involved – but if I’m writing a novel, I need to shut myself off into my private world. I don’t mind people in the house, as long as they’re not quarrelling and they don’t come in, but I can’t bear music.

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The weird thing is that unexpected interruptions can jolt me when I’m stuck and can actually help, like a computer being switched off and on. But I mustn’t expect them. And if there are too many, the morning is flushed away; I can almost hear it hissing into oblivion, like an airline toilet.

When that happens, it is a day’s work gone, because I can only write in the mornings. A lot of writers I know are the same. In the afternoons I become a normal person doing normal things – shopping, cooking, talking to people. If a novel is going well, however, I perform these tasks in a dream. It’s a wonderful feeling, this, but it doesn’t happen very often. When it does, I find that everything feeds into what I’m writing. The swing of somebody’s hair, the odd remark on the bus – they absorb themselves into the bloodstream of the story in a mysterious way, so my day is pulled into the subterranean flow of the novel.

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At 6.30pm I’ll go back to my desk, have a glass of wine and another roll-up, and work for an hour. That’s the best time of all, and utterly essential. After that I watch TV.

Author website