Monday, 12 August 2013

A cell of ones own

The second of Robert McCrum's Sins of Literature on Radio 4 is about isolation. Although several of the writers featured, like Martin Amis and Deborah Moggach, insist that one has to continue to live in the real world, the actual process of writing is a solitary one. Most physically separate themselves, though one recalls the now well-known story of JK Rowling starting the Harry Potter series in an Edinburgh cafe, where she was clearly able to cut herself off from her surroundings. I also recall James Thurber telling a story against himself in a Home Service programme in the 1950s, when he must have been on a British promotional tour. His second wife was far more sociable than he and insisted on dragging him to cocktail parties (there's a very 1950s term!). His ability to isolate himself was aided by his near-blindness, but Mrs T did try to get him to mix. In a moment of exasperation, finding him once more alone and staring into distant space she accused him: "Thurber, you're writing!".

Sarah Waters finds walking useful in forming ideas or solving plot problems. I can't claim to be a great writer like her, but that chimes with my experience in solving a programming problem. Both she and Howard Jacobson find literary festivals problematic.

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