Anne Enright

One of the wonderful things about doing research for this  Writers’ Desks  series is that I always stumble about something new and interesting.

I found this delightful interview in Believer Magazine with Anne Enright, the author of the 2007 Booker Prize winner for her novel The Gathering. 

Do take the time to have a look at this magazine for more information on Anne Enright.

Here’s part of the interview:

BLVR: Your novels have a lot of ghosts. The characters are always bumping into the ghosts and the ghosts are bumping into the characters with no real explanation. American writers don’t do that so much.

AE: My ghosts are more like metaphors. They’re like, just words. They vary hugely in their metabolic content—how physical they are or how real they are or how visible they are in the sentence or the room. All of these things are up for grabs, really. Some of my ghosts are corpses in the room. The thing that won’t go away. Whatever it is, in whatever form. That’s the ghost.

BLVR: That headrest in Veronica’s car, in The Gathering. That was a great ghost.

AE: Yeah. He’s a ghost. I looked out the window one day and there was the car. Martin, my husband, had put the seat forward to get something out of the backseat. But when I saw it I thought something catastrophic had happened in the car. It looked like a body with its head on the dash. Suddenly I thought someone had died in the car. It was just peripheral. Just a little flicker. But then I had to check. And, of course, it wasn’t a dead body, it was just the seat.

Here’s her office with a Philippe Starck “Louis Ghost” chair.

Anne Enright's writing room

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

Continue reading

Michael Holroyd

In his book Works on Paper: The Craft of Biography and Autobiography Michael Holroyd refers to three categories of biographers:

  1. the biographer who writes about the very famous – film stars, murderers and royal family
  2. the ambitious professor who writes historical and political  biographies
  3. the literary or artistic biographer.

Holroyd belongs to the third category. And he does it very well. So well that he is referred to as “one of the most influential biographers and was invited to write the authorized biography of Bernard Shaw. At the time (1988) the deal caused a great stir as he got an advance of more than a million dollars – more than anyone had ever received.”  In Writers and Company

His other works include biographies of Lytton Strachey, the painter Augustus John, and Ellen Terry and Henry Irving,

He has also published three autobiographical works—Basil Street BluesMosaic, and A Book of Secrets—and which are also meditations on biographical research and writing.  In The Paris Review.

Although he never attended university (his father wanted him to be a scientist) he expressed gratitude for this as he didn’t have to forget all this academic nonsense, as he told Eleanor Wachtel in an interview. Later, he received an honorary doctorate of letters at the London School of Economics and also holds honorary degrees from the universities of Ulster, Sheffield, Warwick, East Anglia and the London School of Economics. 

He is married to Dame Margaret Drabble. Although they’ve been married for over thirty years it took them thirteen years after their marriage to move in together, partly because, according to Drabble,  two writers living in the same house need a lot of space.

Here’s a delightful insight on their writing habits from an interview at The Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival in Montreal:

M.D.: His study is just chaos.

M.H.: Your own filing system is not obvious

M.D.: It’s not as bad as yours.

(laughter).

Proof that opposites do attract. Click here for a look at Margaret Drabble’s desk.

Writers' rooms: Michael Holroyd

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

Continue reading

J.G. Ballard

Look up the word Ballardian in The Collins English Dictionary and you’ll find this:

adjective

  1. of James Graham Ballard (1930–2009), the British novelist, or his works
  2. resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes, and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments

His novel Crash  (1973) -which in 1996 David Cronenberg made into a movie – was turned down by a publisher’s reader with the infamous words: ‘This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish.’

Oh, My… What a rejection!

Ballard’s work is hard to classify into one genre. His early career (in the 1960’s) marked by such novels as The Drowned World, The Burning World and The Crystal World is apocalyptic –or post-apocaliptic fiction.

His epic novel Empire of The Sun (1984), an autobiographical/ war novel was later filmed by Steven Speilberg and followed in 1991 by the sequence The Kindness of Women.

It was in his later novels that he turned to psychological thrillers: Cocaine Nights (1996), Super Cannes (2000) and asserted his mastery, in Millennium (2003) and Kingdom Come in (2006)

The settings of his novels are as varied as his genres. He takes us to Gibraltar, Cannes, Japanese-occupied Shanghai, Singapore, Heathrow Airport.   Yet, he managed to write all his novels at this desk in his home in Shepperton, England.

Writers' rooms: JG Ballard

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

Continue reading

Margaret Drabble

When I’m browsing through a bookstore, like many readers,  it won’t take me long to decide whether I want to read a book. If I’m not drawn in by the opening I’ll put it down and move on to another book. After all, there is so much to read and time is precious.

In writing this post on Margaret Drabble I was intrigued by the openings of her novels and wondered what it was about them that captivated me so. Was it the clean and simple language? Her often short sentences? Her promises of a journey into  love, fate, mystery, grief, romance and depth as seen in these openings:

The Waterfall: If I were drowning I couldn’t reach out a hand to save myself, so unwilling am I to set myself up against fate.

The Millstone: My career has always been marked by a strange mixture of confidence and cowardice: almost one might say made by it.  Take for instance, the first time I tried spending a night with a man in a hotel.

A Summer Bird-Cage: I had to come home from my sister’s wedding. Home is a house in Warwickshire, and where I was coming from was Paris.

The Red Queen: When I was a little girl, I pined for a red silk shirt. I do not remember all the emotions of my childhood, but I remember this childish longing well.

The Pure Gold Baby: What she felt for those children, as she was to realize later, was a proleptic tenderness. When she saw their little bare bodies, their proud brown belly buttons, the flies clustering around their runny noses, their big eyes, their strangely fused and forked toes, she felt a simple sympathy. Where others might have felt pity or sorrow, she felt a kind of joy, an inexplicable joy. Was this a premonition, and inoculation against grief and love to come?

Proleptic? had to look it up: The noun form is prolepsis and means describing an event as taking place before it could have done so, the treating of a future event as if it had already happened. (New World Dictionary).

The Needle’s Eye: He stood there and waited. He was good at that. There was no hurry. There was plenty of time. He always had time. He was a punctual and polite person, and that was why he was standing there, buying a gift for his hostess. Politeness was an emotion – could one call it an emotion he wondered?  That was how he regarded it, certainly –an emotion that he both feared and understood.

Margaret Drabble was named the Dame of the British Empire in 2008 for her contribution to contemporary English literature. Here’s where I guess she  wrote these delightful openings. 

Writers' rooms: Margaret Drabble

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

Continue reading

Edna O’Brien

Oops! I accidentally clicked on my own like and apparently there’s no way to undo it…Sniff…sniff

Anyway…here’s the post.

“You have to be lonely to be  a writer,” says Edna O’Brien in an interview with  Jane Martinson of The Guardian regarding her recent memoir Country Girl“You wouldn’t go through the purgatory of writing unless you were a lonely person.”

Edna O’Brien published Country Girls (notice the difference from her memoir Country Girl) in 1930, which was banned in Ireland for its candid treatment of sex.

Author of The Sea, John Banville (2013)  writes in the introduction to her short stories The Love Object  “Here, as so often elsewhere, Edna O’Brien mourns for the plight of her wounded women and at the same celebrates their exuberance, their generosity, and ultimately, their indomitable spirit. She is, simply, one of the finest writers of our time.”

When I first laid eyes on her office a line from The Eagles’ Hotel California came to mind:

Such a lovely place

Edna O'Brien

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe 

Look, she even has a bouquet of fresh flowers.

Or maybe it was this quote of hers:

Writers really live in the mind and in hotels of the soul.

Continue reading

Will Self

Will Self’s writing is diverse. Dystopian (The Book of Dave), Stream of Consciousness – think James Joyce’s Ulysses (Umbrella), and satire (Great Apes).

He has won many awards, has been short listed for the Man Booker prize for Umbrella (2012)  and the New York Times Notable Book of the Year for his collection of short stories Grey Area ( 1997).

Consider yourself in good company if, like Will Self, you like to use post it slips to keep track of your writing. If, like Will Self, your creativity thrives in a cluttered environment. 

Will Self

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

Continue reading

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel, for those of you who are not familiar with her work, is one of the finest writers of historical fiction in contemporary literature. She is best known for her novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, both winners of the Man Booker prize.

She is currently working on a collection of short stories on Margaret Thatcher.

In an Amazon exclusive this is how she described her office:

My office is in my apartment on the East Devon coast. Before my desk there is a big window, and beyond that a shingle beach and the sea. On my large pine desk there’s just my laptop, my working papers, and my diary, plus a silver dial that tells the time in the world’s major cities. I have a mouse mat with the Holbein image of Thomas Cromwell on it; my husband magicked this up from somewhere. I keep my pens and markers in a china pot with a picture of Henry VIII, which came from the National Portrait Gallery in London. On my left there is a whiteboard which I use to plan each chapter as I write, and also to scribble down any fleeting thoughts; if I’m elsewhere in the apartment it’s the whiteboard I run to, to catch a phrase I’m afraid might slip away. I can write anywhere, though; I long ago learned to write and polish a paragraph in my head. And I do a lot of work in my notebooks when I’m travelling, shuttling up to London on the train. I write in the car too; in the passenger seat, I should add.

I can imagine Anne Boleyn sitting in that wonderful arm-chair while Hilary Mantel – as she wrote Bring Up The Bodies – dialogued with her about her feelings regarding her husband’s mistress and her upcoming executing.  

Hilary Mantel

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

Continue reading

David Lodge

Last week I posted about my desk which brought me to thinking of other writers’ desks which then led me to the idea of posting a series of famous writers’ desks.

I used to be addicted to David Lodge‘s writing. I loved his sense of humor and I suppose, because I was in academia, I ‘got’ how he satirized academic life in such novels as Changing Places and Small World.

Small World and Nice Work were both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Lodge‘s novels  cover a range of other topics: for example, the world of business in Nice Work, the world of television in Therapy, and deafness and Alzheimer’s disease in Deaf Sentence.

Author, Author is based on the life of Henry James and A Man of Parts on that of H.G. Wells.

Here’s his office. Don’t you just envy the spaciousness of it?

David Lodge

Photographer:   Eamonn McCabe 

Continue reading