Thu 21 November 2019
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On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
How do you set about writing a novel? What inspires a poem? Pencil or computer? Pain or pleasure? Listen in to interviews with some of our most celebrated writers recorded for the British Library, and enter our competition to identify the mystery writer

What is it that makes a writer?

Beryl Bainbridge: When I write a novel I'm writing about my own life; I'm writing a biography almost, always. And to make it look like a novel I either have a murder or a death at the end.

Ian McEwan: Ancestors, distant relatives and the past really were not part of my sense of family as I grew up. Something of my father's exile from Scotland – self-exile really – and then exile from Great Britain, has rubbed off on me and probably affected the way I write. When I started writing, I didn't feel that I was quite part of the English literary world or its systems of class or whatever – I always felt something of an outsider in it. That's faded over the years, but I think it has made quite an impression on me, this sense of not being deeply connected to all the branches and roots of family. I could make a narrative of my writing which goes something like this: that I began as a kind of existential writer, much more interested in casting characters almost, as it were, outside of history and outside of identifiable places, and as the years have gone by I've become perhaps a more traditional writer, or at least a writer much more aware – consciously, expressively aware – of the traditions of the English novel, the treasures that are laid up for us by the great 19th-century expositors of character and psychology.

Listen to the full interviews here

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