Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Putting Life Into Perspective

I'm often asked: "What do you read at night?"

It depends on where I am in my writing process. Right now, I'm so immersed in this last stage of my manuscript that I can't focus on any other plot except my own. This is the only time I read biographies.

Perhaps, because I'm suffering from the usual self-doubt and fear that what I have written is utter rubbish – I find solace from reading about people who have passed on. I find it tends to put life in perspective – a case of "for heaven's sakes, get over yourself, Hannah! In fifty years time none of this will matter!"

For my birthday, my mother sent me Wild Mary – A Life of Mary Wesley  by Patrick Marnham. Mary Wesley published her very first novel when she was 70 years old. She went on to write a further nine bestsellers, including the legendary The Camomile Lawn until she died at age 84. Mary caused a huge stink in her family because it was widely accepted that her scandalous novels were based on her life – and believe me, it was a fascinating one.

As writers, of course we all draw from our own experiences, too. Included in the Introductory pages of the book was a quote from Evelyn Waugh writing after the success of his second novel, Vile Bodies. Here is a snippet:

"There must be a connection of some kind between a writer's work and his life. His knowledge of the world is limited by his experience ... a writer who has never been seriously in love cannot make his characters seem so ... But here the connection ends. Novel writing is a highly skilled and laborious trade ... One has for one's raw material every single thing one has ever seen or heard or felt, and one has to go over that vast, smoldering rubbish-heap of experience ... until one finds a few discarded valuables. Then one has to assemble these tarnished and dented fragments and try to make a coherent and significant arrangement of them."

And for those of us who write about murder we must weave that in as well!

A few months ago a friend of mine suggested I create a "project grid." I always have tons of ideas in my head about stories I'm going to tell one day, but in the act of writing it down, I realized that I would be dead before I even got halfway through. Mary Wesley was said to write in a "tearing hurry, acutely aware that there was little time left" for her.

Perhaps that's another reason why I enjoy reading biographies. It makes me take stock of my own mortality and roll up my sleeves and get cracking.


essays said...
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Hannah Dennison said...

Thanks for stopping by!

Sylvia MccConnell said...

Always enjoy your insights, Rick...

Charlotte Hinger said...

My nighttime reading varies and I tend to keep a lot of books going at once. Don't know why. However, whenever I feel overwhelmed, there's nothing like a mystery!

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