What other Writers Say

'...you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature.' Marilynne Robinson, Gilead.

It takes so little, so infinitely little for a person to cross the border beyond which everything loses meaning: love, convictions, faith,history. Human life—and herein lies its secret—takes place in the immediate proximity of that border, even in direct contact with it; it is not miles away, but a fraction of an inch. Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. 

... that sense of felt life which the truly great novelists communicate. John Banville re. how Milan Kundera misses this with his philosophising...


Author Jim Crace in his book, ‘Secrets of My Success’, talks to PJ who’s writing about Birmingham but hasn’t been there: 

'So what’s all this nonsense about research? Let me recommend you look up the word fiction in your dictionary. Mine defines it as 1) ‘literature that describes imaginary events and people’, and 2) ‘something that is invented and untrue’, and 3) ‘a belief or statement which is false, but is often held to be true because it is expedient to do so’. Doesn’t that fill your heart with joy? Isn’t that going to save you time? And money? There is no need  to set aside your bucks for an air fare or even to Google Birmingham on your home  computer.

To be a good writer, a confident writer, especially a Fantasist, you do not necessarily  need to assemble the mere facts and then allow them to dictate the shape and colour
of your work, you must instead do what the dictionary indicates and master the art of lying. And to do that, it is not information you require, but vocabulary.'

Crace goes on to say that to write Quarantine, he only spent a couple of nights in the Judaean desert and that was enough to give him the confidence to make it up. He said he had a Bedouin tour guide who taught him the phrase ‘to sleep like a dead donkey’. As Crace said, to get the authenticity, you need to learn the trick of words.


With each new story and book, I have to rediscover, to some degree, how to write. That’s part of what’s wonderful about writing. There are no rules you can consistently rely upon. I teach creative writing (at the University of San Francisco), so I do have to provide some sense of guidance to my students, and I recommend the advice Grace Paley gave me, that every good story is at least two stories. I also talk about fiction as a paranoid world in which everything relates to the protagonist, a kind of “referential mania” that Nabokov describes in his short story “Signs and Symbols.” I also talk about the idea of a divided protagonist, that protagonists come to life because they are conflicted, such as Julian in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” who can never speak of the old family mansion (or the Old South) without contempt nor think of it without longing. But writers constantly break rules and find new ways to tell stories. David Vann author of Legends of a Suicide