IAN RANKIN

Ian Rankin is a crime writer.

 I am mostly interested in what the crime tells us about ourselves and the society we live in. So it’s not a game I’m playing with the reader; I’m approaching things as a straight novelistFor me a good crime novel shows the world in a way which makes me think about it as I’ve not thought about it before.  in Mail Online.

 

 Rankin has created two series. The inspector Malcolm Fox series of which there are two novels: The Complaints and The Impossible Dead.

 

Of The Detective inspector Rubus series there are too many books to mention. To date almost twenty books. He’s also written a non-fiction on Rubus’s Scotland, short stories, other novels and three mystery books under the pen name Jack Harvey.

 

 Rankin has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and is also a past winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2005. In 2004, Ian won America’s celebrated Edgar Award for‘Resurrection Men’. He has also been shortlisted for the Edgar and Anthony Awards in the USA, and won Denmark’s Palle Rosenkrantz Prize, the French Grand Prix du Roman Noir and the Deutscher Krimipreis.

 

Not bad for a guy who never really set out to be a crime writer.

 

 I have an office of sorts in my house. There will be music on the hi-fi, and I’ll sit on the sofa (if mulling), or at one desk (if writing longhand notes) or the other (if typing on to my laptop). My writing computer isn’t exactly state of the art – it can’t even access the internet – but I’ve written my last seven or eight novels on it, and it seems to work fine.

Writers' rooms: Ian Rankin

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

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V.S. Naipaul

There is much to say about V.S. Naipaul.

Some grand. Some not so grand.

His reaction towards women writers strongly provoked me. It made me think long and hard on whether I wanted to give space to a man with such misogynist attitudes towards women writers.

In reading his essays Literary Occasions,  and the various interviews he gave I came to understand how great a literary giant he is and that,  if I was to write this post, I needed to separate V.S. Naipaul, the man from V.S. Naipaul, the writer.

Naipaul the man

Women writers “unequal to me” says V S Naipaul

Such is the headline in The Bookseller  where Naipaul goes on to say, “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think (it is) unequal to me.”

Lylia M. Alphone, the senior editor at Yahoo responded by asking readers whether they could tell whether certain paragraphs were written by men or women.

See if you too can tell whether a book is written by a man or a woman by taking this fun test.

Naipaul has not only been criticized for his misogynist comments but his biographer, Patrick French, portrayed him as  racist as well.

Naipaul the Writer

For the first four days it rained. I could hardly see where I was. Then it stopped raining and beyond the lawn and outbuildings in front of my cottage I saw fields with stripped trees on the boundaries of each field; and far away, depending on the light, glints of a little river, glints which sometimes appeared, oddly, to be above the level of the land.

The opening of his masterpiece The Enigma of Arrival.

V.S. Naipaul has been awarded a number of literary prizes, among them the Booker Prize in 1971 for his novel In a Free State  and The Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

In 1980 Newsweek put him on the cover with the headline “The Master of The Novel.”

V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad  (1932)  of Indian parents. In his career as a writer he traveled extensively to such places as: India, Pakistan, The Congo, Uganda, The Middle East, Indonesia, South America, The Caribbean and set his novels and non-fiction in these places.

VS Naipaul

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

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Beryl Bainbridge

“Beryl Bainbridge has writers’ block. (You’d think, wouldn’t you, that after 17 novels she’d have got the hang of it?) The problem, it seems, has been the title. It has taken her two years to get it right. For a while it was called The Might Have Been: a perfectly good title; nicely intriguing, with a hint of her trademark wry humour. But she wasn’t happy with it. So the rest of the book had to wait until she was.” Debbie Taylor

 

Here are some titles of her novels 

The Girl with the Polka Dot Dress

The Dressmaker

An Awfully Big Adventure

Every Man for Himself 

A Quiet Life

A Weekend with Claude 

” I don’t mind working in a bit of clutter. It’s your mind that has to be clear.” 

Writers' rooms: Beryl Bainbridge

Photographer: Eamonn Mccabe


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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

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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

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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

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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

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