At the risk of sounding smug, I must say, it’s very good, sometimes, to live so near to the UK’s ‘Second City’. Last week I went to another great Birmingham Book Festival event: writer and actor (not ‘actress’ – she was very clear about that!) Stella Duffy ‘in conversation’ with local writer, Polly Wright.
Stella’s written 12 novels (and 40 short stories and 8 plays) so she knows what she’s talking about and she’s a lively and entertaining speaker.
She started by saying, “I’m not Carol and I’m not Maureen.” Now, I’m sure you know who Carol Ann Duffy is but do you know Maureen Duffy? I didn’t. Apparently she’s a great writer, so that’s someone else I need to read!
Stella was promoting her new historical novel, ‘Theodora’ (“actress, empress, whore”), which took her five years to write. Apparently in a recession, there’s always a boom in historical fiction, as we all like to ‘escape’ to a time when things weren’t quite so tough!
It sounded great: she read a passage from the book in which Theodora’s father is attacked and killed by the bear that he cares for – and it was in the present tense (Stella: “I usually write in the past tense but sometimes it’s necessary to write a scene in the present tense, to give it more immediacy.”).
However, ‘Theodora’ is only out in hardback at the moment, so I bought a copy of ‘The Room of Lost Things’ instead (great title) and I’ve added it to the leaning tower of Pisa of books-waiting-to-be-read, at the side of my bed!
Going to see a published writer talk about their work is always inspiring and I usually pick up some ‘tips’. Here are some from Stella:
1. Reward yourself when you write. Eg: Tell yourself, when you’ve written 1000 words, you can have that glass of wine!
2. Writing a first draft of anything is like building a table. It’s just a plank of wood and four legs. You add the elaborate bits (and do the real writing), in drafts two, three, four, five…..
3. Like a lot of writers, Stella Duffy doesn’t really like writing but she likes ‘having written’ (hear, hear to that!)
4. You’ve always got time to write – you just don’t think you have.
5. Remember, writers, we’re not Michelangelo! When he was sculpting, he had to order and buy a slab of expensive marble, just to start work. And God help him if he got it wrong. As writers, if we make a mistake, it’s only paper. Just throw it away – and start again.