Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why I Write

The Guardian has an interesting feature called "Why I Write", in which professional writers answer a standard set of questions. I am on reasonably safe ground in assuming The Guardian isn't planning to contact me on the subject; but, in much the same way as I have my Hugo (and indeed Nobel) acceptance speech done and dusted on the off-chance, here's how I would respond if I were asked. If I suggest that other bloggers might like to do the same, I can even appear up to the minute in today's web-savvy world by referring to it as a 'meme'.

What was your favourite book as a child?
Lyonesse, by Jack Vance. It's also my favourite book as an adult, which says a lot about me, most of it unflattering.

When you were growing up did you have books in your home?
Yes. Very little of it any good (my section of the bookshelves was largely devoted to books about dinosaurs) but there was always something to read...and I was always reading.

Was there someone who interested you in reading and writing?
My mother taught me to read before I started school, so by the time I developed a sense of self, it was of someone who read. Once I started school, my teachers all said that I had a gift for writing; initially at least, my interest in writing was entirely ego-driven; there was nothing else I was good at so I enjoyed the acclaim. I must have been a pretty disagreeable little brat.

What made you want to write when you were starting out?
I didn't make a serious attempt at writing a novel until I was nearly thirty. I had got to the stage where if I didn't do it then, I never would. I had run out of excuses. I'd always known that I'd been a writer from the day I discovered Jack Vance when I was about 13, but it took me a long time to do anything about it.

Do you find writing easy?
Yes. But I find writing well difficult. The more I write, the more ways to fail I discover.

What makes you write now?
However much of a struggle it is sometimes, there's nothing like the feeling of peopling your own world. And some people are kind enough to say they like what I write: I'm not sure I'd have the endurance to carry on with no audience at all. It's certainly not for the money!

What preparation do you do before writing?
Preparation? Preparation H. You're sitting down for a long time...

Do you have a daily routine?
An hour in the evening every weekday, interspersed with the occasional intensive week off work. And daydreams, without which none of the rest can happen.

How do you survive being alone in your work so much of the time?
'Survive'? It's one of the perks of the job... I think writers need to be people who enjoy solitude, and as an only child it's always been part of the landscape for me. For as long as I can remember I've been dreaming up my own fantasy worlds, often more real and more compelling than the one I inhabit. The downside of such a temperament is a propensity to morbid fancies.

What good advice was given to you when you were starting out?
In my ignorance and folly I didn't realise I needed advice, so I didn't get any. But writers are a very supportive bunch, and there's no shortage of it out there if you're receptive to it.

What advice would you give to new writers?
Read, write. Repeat as necessary. You need to read extensively to equip your toolbox, and you need to write to learn how to use the tools. I'm sceptical about many creative writing courses, but if you find a good one that fits the way you think, it's like gold-dust.

Is there a secret to writing?

What are you working on now?
As so often, a saga of political intrigue, treachery, coolly disdainful heroines and heroes who aren't quite as clever as they think they are. And plenty of swordfights.


lapidus48 said...

I marvel at the above line. Almost 45 years after I first saw that gleamingly phallic, slim rocket, someone esteems a Hugo above nearly all else. For me, the idea of winning a hugo would come to outshine everything else I've done: winning murder cases, attaining top secret clearances and making an impact in television just cannot compare to winning the award that, until the advent of the Nebulas and whatever else followed in their wake, stood as the lone standard of excellence for the SF reader and aspiring writer.

I'm happy I've stumbled across your blog, Tim.

Tim Stretton said...

Welcome back, lapidus48!

In an age when awards are ten a penny, the Hugo remains one of those which dwarfs all others in its field. I mean, I would't turn down the Nebula, but nothing has the cachet of the Hugo. And unlike some awards with similar mythical status, like the boxing heavyweight championship of the world, its power remains undiminished by time.

Alis said...

This is cool, think I'll join in!

Anonymous said...

Tim...for the record..ya pal Lapidus48 is not an attorney, and has never worked in TV. And the only award the liar ever received was a kick in the arse.

Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...


Lapidus 48 has never worked a courtroom, and has never worked in TV.

He is a liar.

Anonymous said...

Tim, I´m also a big fan of Jack Vance. At the age of 34, thanks to Jack (whom i only rediscovered a couple of years ago), i finally wrote my first novel. Maybe, someday, i would get it published. But I´m pretty happy with it right now.


Tim Stretton said...

Good luck, Fernando.

Aspiring writers can do a lot worse than study Vance's work!