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Top Nine Writer’s Rules: #2: Inspiration

This the second of my Top Nine Writer's Rules,  a series of blogs with which writers, would-be writers and readers will eventually be able to build their own rulebook for writing, based on the words of authors past and the present. Today's theme answers a question familiar to any writer who has answered questions from an interviewer or reader: where do you get your inspiration? The 10th tip is for you to provide...   1. JACK LONDON ‘You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’   2. MARTIN AMIS ‘I’ve learnt not to force inspiration when it’s not coming... I walk away and read something else. This allows the subconscious to catch up. When I return to my desk, the problem tends to be fixed. Writing is more physical than people think.’   3. ANNE TYLER 'It doesn’t take very long for most writers...

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The Top Nine Writer’s Rules (the tenth is yours) #1. STARTING

 For many years, I have collected the thoughts and observations of writers about the process and the profession of writing. The authors can be dead or alive, famous or obscure, literary titans or contemporary crowd-pleasers. If they have something interesting, funny or perceptive to say about the strange business of creating in words, then I have added it to my collection of rules for writers. The result has been that I now have a mighty archive of writerly tips and opinions. Some are wise, others eccentric; all, I think, are thought-provoking in their own way. Whether the topic is research or ideas, inspiration or the best time of day to write, there is rarely a consensus.  These are writers, after all. When I started using Twitter, I took to tweeting a couple of the shorter rules on most days under the hashtag #writersrules. Readers, authors and would-be authors seem to...

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Clean, lean, terrifically digital – welcome to the new me

The general consensus around here was that an image re-think was in order. The brand needed to be refreshed. And because a website can sometimes seem like a visible, external version of your professional  life, the best place to start was here, online. I have  a new website and with it (the master-plan) a new me. Not that there was anything wrong with the old online version. Cleverly designed, it had a scurrying rat leading to the children's room, and a maze of pathways connecting to my various activities. The problem was not with the website, but was closer to home. Frankly, my career as a freelance was beginning to look something of a mess. To me, it made perfect sense that I wrote books and columns, and also composed songs, and also appeared on stage to perform them, but others were becoming confused. Rather as WH Smith used to...

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Young girl with a ukulele

Her song lasted less than three minutes - by the epic standards of most folk songs, hardly worth tuning up for. We regulars understood the reason for its brevity. She only really knew two chords, and struggled with the third. It was a song called Life is Beautiful. But this girl, this Sally Thompson, had something. I sensed it, and so did everyone else who was there that night. We held our breath as she sang her absurd nothing of a song. When she finished, the audience roared its approval. Kevin returned to the stage, all beer-belly and smiles, and told us that Sally was 'what it was all about'. You have to be pretty bad for Kevin to say you're what it's all about - it means he can't think of anything else to say - but on this occasion, without quite knowing why, I had to agree. She...

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Operation Bird of paradise

I’m smoking an agreeably mild cigar. The sun is dipping over the dark blue ocean, but the air is still warm. The sound of a tropical stringed instrument, a man singing along to it, echoes down a narrow street nearby. Before me on the table is a long iced glass of Injaba Slammer, the local cocktail. Beyond that, sitting opposite me, is a blonde. There are times when being a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police is not such a terrible job. Those years of watching bad people doing bad things, of listening to lie after guilty lie in interview rooms, of the sheer bloody grinding boredom of solving crime: it turns out that they earn you a spot of credit at the end of the day. Something like Operation Bird of Paradise - sun, sea, surveillance - comes along and, stone me, you get the nod.... Available as a...

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And what we can do for you today?

Last year Martha Dillon was chosen as the subject for a profile in a local magazine. It was on a page called 'Retail Ramblings' and was an irritating piece, placing rather too much emphasis on the amount of time (22 years) the salon had been on the High Street, and describing Martha in the opening paragraph as 'a local institution'. In fact, the only reason why she keeps a copy of the magazine in the reception desk drawer is the photograph contained on the second page of her profile. It was taken on a clear winter's day during the close season, and the photographer, with a dash of artistic enterprise which was unusual in the magazine, had positioned himself on the pavement, looking inside. Now, alone in the salon during the lunchtime lull, Martha looks at the photograph. Through the glass, the room is in shadow, with the hood dryers...

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Jacko

Sometimes I can hear the bird late at night. At least I think I can. Out here, I don’t sleep as well I used to. There’s something about the warm nights, the silence. It’s odd but, back home, there was always a hum of life, day and night – traffic on the main road, I suppose. I found it comforting. When I first thought I was hearing birdsong, I woke Guy. - Can you hear it? - Hm, what? - The bird. In the café. My husband is a heavy sleeper. Even when he was involved in one of his cases, he would be out, a stunned walrus in the bed beside me, within moments of the light being switched off. I prodded him now, quite hard. - Jacko. From the café. I think he’s calling out to us. What Guy said then is not worth recording. He has a...

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The walk

He was taking his morning walk with the dog. It would be the river walk: through the orchard, into the wood, along the riverside path, then back up the lane, into the field and home. It was early June, a time when the fields and the hedgerows were bursting with renewal. Every year, he would grumble to Mary about it. ‘Bloody nature,’ he would say, wetting his scythe, then sharpening the blade. ‘It’s getting away from us this year.’ Yet he, like the nettles and the elder and hawthorn, was energised, too. He normally liked their annual tussle with the elements, pulling the weeds from the flower-bed at the front of the house, netting the vegetable garden, to the sound of fledgeling blackbirds or great tits in the bushes nearby, hacking back brambles, setting mole-traps, checking the hens with their latest brood of chicks. Yet this Spring, unseasonably wet and...

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An ill-fated journey into the world of TV writers (contains sex and violence)

The BBC bigwig was shouting at me. Every time I started to speak in the debate, he came barrelling in, objecting and refuting. The audience of writers gathered in the lecture hall seemed, rather to my surprise, to be on his side. After repeated interruptions, I said with mild exasperation that I was very glad I never had to pitch ideas to him. “So am I!” he bellowed. It had all seemed rather different when I had first been invited to a convention of TV writers. The two-day event was to discuss matters of common interest and concern, one of which was the depiction of violence against women on TV. I had written a column in the Independent about the way TV tends to glamorise the psychopath and the stalker. Now I was being invited was invited to be a guest participant in what was described as the keynote debate. It was...

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Sex, children, friendship, health – by the experts (Tolstoy, Amis, Dickens, Mantel, Larkin and a few others)

At a reading given by Ian McEwan and Richard Ford, the question-and-answer session with the audience took an unexpected turn. One of the two novelists was asked about marriage and writing. There followed a strangely intense discussion about love and work, commitment and children – about life, in other words.. A hush descended on the auditorium. It was the real thing which was being explored here, and it was rather more absorbing than what had inspired Atonement or The Sportswriter. It seemed that the audience saw the two men not only as successful novelists, but as seers, top-of-the-range agony uncles. On the face of it, that was an odd idea. The private lives of professional authors hardly suggest a profound level of emotional intelligence. Alain de Botton may have made his name with How Proust Can Change Your Life but there has been no sign of a vogue for authorial...

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