You’ve probably heard the sad news that novelist P D James died today. She was still writing detective novels – at 94 – which is no mean achievement but what I like most about her, is that she didn’t publish her first novel until she was 42. (Ahem, there’s still time for me, then..).
Here are her top ten tips for writing a novel.
It’s interesting what she says about writers being born and not made. (“I don’t think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.”). What d’you think about that? I have to agree. Although I do think it’s possible to improve someone’s writing, through tips and practice (otherwise, what would be the point of the classes I teach?), to a certain extent, you’ve either got it or you haven’t.
Years ago, when I lived in Birmingham and went to loads of writer-ly events (ah, bliss), I went to see P D James interviewed one evening.
At the end of the night, questions were invited from the audience and a girl sitting near my friend and me, at the back of the hall, put her hand up and asked Phyllis about her latest novel.
The questions started going down a rather strange track. The girl wanted to know about Phyllis’ experience with a sub-editor. How had she found her? After a bit of prompting, Phyllis agreed that it hadn’t, perhaps, been the best relationship and that the sub-editor had taken liberties with her latest novel, wanting to change things that she, as the author, hadn’t agreed with.
And then, in a dramatic moment that was worthy of a crime novel itself, the girl announced (she might even have stood up at this point), “I WAS THAT SUB-EDITOR!”
Ooh, handbags at dawn. I can’t really remember what happened after that (apart from horrified gasps, a lot of nervous giggling and general embarrassment) but I suppose, if it had really been a crime novel, the affronted sub-editor would probably have started waving a gun around.
Anyway, for that memorable experience and for her novels – in particular, The Children of Men, which I loved, I’m raising my glass of Pinot Grigio to P D James tonight.