Monday, May 28, 2007

Needles, Hay-on-Wye-stacks

Despite the ice-cold stair rods bouncing off my hands and face, I listened with interest to John Banville on Bookworm talking about his Benjamin Black thriller Christine Falls. He said that, writing as John Banville, he would consider himself lucky if he had written 20 words by lunchtime. On the first morning writing as Benjamin Black, he wrote 2,000. For him it was “a whole new way of writing”; “when I write as Benjamin Black” he said, “I write as a craftsman”.

Later, as I descended towards the village where a niece of Kafka's ended her days, I listened to Beryl Bainbridge talking on the Guardian's Hay festival podcast about a new film following a year in her life. Sarfraz Manzoor asked about the writer's block mentioned in the film. Was it, he asked, a case of running out of stories? "No, it's not the stories you're searching for, it's the words and how to construct it in sentences; that's the problem."

There are stories cascading onto our heads, I thought as the rain abated, yet the words run on down the drain. Is this ever discussed in reviews? How might it be discussed? What does an excessive concern for words and sentences mean for novels? Questions, questions, but the literary pages demand only stories, ever more stories about stories. This morning, I read that Gordon Brown chose to read Sebastian Faulks' production-line novel Engleby because it was recommended to his wife by Mariella Frostrup, the smiling presenter of Sky's book programme. It was then I could see why I feel both uncomfortably close to "the world of books" and infinitely distant. While Mariella and Mrs War Criminal frolic in the hay, I'm impatient for the needle.


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