Literary Birthday - 21 July - Sarah Waters

Happy Birthday, Sarah Waters, born 21 July 1966

Sarah Waters: On Writing

  1. Read like mad. But try to do it analytically – which can be hard, because the better and more compelling a novel is, the less conscious you will be of its devices. It’s worth trying to figure those devices out, however: they might come in useful in your own work. I find watching films also instructive. Nearly every modern Hollywood blockbuster is hopelessly long and baggy. Trying to visualise the much better films they would have been with a few radical cuts is a great exercise in the art of story-telling. Which leads me on to …
  2. Cut like crazy. Less is more. I’ve ­often read manuscripts – including my own – where I’ve got to the beginning of, say, chapter two and have thought: “This is where the novel should actually start.” A huge amount of information about character and back story can be conveyed through small detail. The emotional attachment you feel to a scene or a chapter will fade as you move on to other stories. Be business-like about it. In fact …
  3. Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.
  4. Writing fiction is not ‘self-­expression’ or ‘therapy’. Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.
  5. Respect your characters, even the ­minor ones. In art, as in life, everyone is the hero of their own particular story; it is worth thinking about what your minor characters’ stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with your protagonist’s. At the same time …
  6. Don’t overcrowd the narrative. Characters should be individualised, but functional – like figures in a painting. Think of Hieronymus Bosch’sChrist Mocked, in which a patiently suffering Jesus is closely surrounded by four threatening men. Each of the characters is unique, and yet each represents a type; and collectively they form a narrative that is all the more powerful for being so tightly and so economically constructed. On a similar theme …
  7. Don’t overwrite. Avoid the redundant phrases, the distracting adjectives, the unnecessary adverbs. Beginners, especially, seem to think that writing fiction needs a special kind of flowery prose, completely unlike any sort of language one might encounter in day-to-day life. This is a misapprehension about how the effects of fiction are produced, and can be dispelled by obeying Rule 1. To read some of the work of Colm Tóibín or Cormac McCarthy, for example, is to discover how a deliberately limited vocabulary can produce an astonishing emotional punch.
  8. Pace is crucial. Fine writing isn’t enough. Writing students can be great at producing a single page of well-crafted prose; what they sometimes lack is the ability to take the reader on a journey, with all the changes of terrain, speed and mood that a long journey involves. Again, I find that looking at films can help. Most novels will want to move close, linger, move back, move on, in pretty cinematic ways.
  9. Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce … Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.
  10. Talent trumps all. If you’re a ­really great writer, none of these rules need apply. If James Baldwin had felt the need to whip up the pace a bit, he could never have achieved the extended lyrical intensity of Giovanni’s Room. Without “overwritten” prose, we would have none of the linguistic exuberance of a Dickens or an Angela Carter. If everyone was economical with their characters, there would be no Wolf Hall … For the rest of us, however, rules remain important. And, ­crucially, only by understanding what they’re for and how they work can you begin to experiment with breaking them.

Waters is a Welsh novelist. She is best known for her novels set in Victorian society and featuring lesbian protagonists, such as Tipping the Velvet andFingersmith.

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Literary Birthday - 11 July - E.B. White


E. B. White was born 11 July 1899, and died 1 October 1985

10 Quotes

  1. I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
  2. I’ve never had a very lively literary curiosity, and it has sometimes seemed to me that I am not really a literary fellow at all. Except that I write for a living.
  3. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.
  4. I have occasionally had the exquisite thrill of putting my finger on a little capsule of truth, and heard it give the faint squeak of mortality under my pressure
  5. Necessity first mothered invention. Now invention has little ones of her own, and they look just like grandma.
  6. When I get sick of what men do, I have only to walk a few steps in another direction to see what spiders do. Or what the weather does. This sustains me very well indeed.
  7. Be obscure clearly.
  8. When you consider that there are a thousand ways to express even the simplest idea, it is no wonder writers are under a great strain. Writers care greatly how a thing is said — it makes all the difference. So they are constantly faced with too many choices and must make too many decisions.
  9. One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.
  10. Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.

White was an American writer. He was the co-author of the English language style guide, The Elements of Style, which is commonly known as "Strunk & White”. He wrote books for children, including Charlotte’s WebStuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan

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Literary Birthday - 9 July - Dean Koontz

Happy Birthday, Dean Koontz, born 9 July 1945

Dean Koontz: 20 Quotes

  1. I found my own way by doing two things. First, I read 150 books a year, sometimes more, (very little TV, later no blogging, no e-mail, that’s how), fiction in all genres, contemporary novels but also the classics, poetry, and a variety of nonfiction. Second, I revise every page of a novel twenty or thirty times, whatever it takes, before moving on to the next page. This line-by-line immersion focuses me intently on language, character, and theme.
  2. I sold the first short story I wrote. Then I received over 75 rejections before making another sale. My first four novels were never published.
  3. If something in your writing gives support to people in their lives, that’s more than just entertainment-which is what we writers all struggle to do, to touch people. 
  4. I am enchanted by the English language, by its beauty and flexibility, also by the power of storytelling to expand the mind and lift the heart. Language and story offer possibilities –intriguing challenges–that I couldn’t exhaust in many lifetimes. The work is joy when it’s going well, even when it isn’t.
  5. I believe that talent is a gift and that it comes with the sacred obligation to polish and grow it.
  6. I work 10- and 11-hour days because in long sessions I fall away more completely into story and characters than I would in, say, a six-hour day. On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page.
  7. Literary fiction, as a strict genre, is all but dead. Meanwhile, most genres flourish. 
  8. A body of work, therefore, reveals the intellectual and emotional progress of the writer, and is a map of his soul. It’s both terrifying and liberating to consider this aspect of being a novelist.
  9. I never discuss a novel while I’m writing it, for fear that talking about it will diminish my desire to write it. 
  10. I receive about 10,000 letters a year from readers, and in the first year after a book is published, perhaps 5,000 letters will deal specifically with that piece of work.
  11. I think it’s the people who have no doubt that every word they put down is gold that probably don’t write very well.
  12. Human beings can always be relied upon to exert, with vigor, their God-given right to be stupid. 
  13. I really believe that everyone has a talent, ability, or skill that he can mine to support himself and to succeed in life. 
  14. Books were this wonderful escape for me because I could open a book and disappear into it, and that was the only way out of that house when I was a kid. 
  15. No one can genuinely love the world, which is too large to love entire. To love all the world at once is pretense or dangerous self-delusion. Loving the world is like loving the idea of love, which is perilous because, feeling virtuous about this grand affection, you are freed from the struggles and the duties that come with loving people as individuals.
  16. Please, don’t torture me with cliches. If you’re going to try to intimidate me, have the courtesy to go away for a while, acquire a better education, improve your vocabulary, and come back with some fresh metaphors.
  17. She was fascinated with words. To her, words were things of beauty, each like a magical powder or potion that could be combined with other words to create powerful spells.
  18. Six billion of us walking the planet, six billion smaller worlds on the bigger one. Shoe salesmen and short-order cooks who look boring from the outside - some have weirder lives than you. Six billion stories, every one an epic, full of tragedy and triumph, good and evil, despair and hope. You and me - we aren’t so special, bro.
  19. I have learned a great deal from novels. Some of it is even true.
  20. Loss is the hardest thing, I said. But it’s also the teacher that’s the most difficult to ignore.

Koontz is an American author of more than 80 best-sellers. His novels incorporate elements of horror, science fiction, mystery, and satire. He has an estimated 400 million books sold and his work has been published in more than 38 languages.

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Literary Birthday - 3 July - Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka was born 3 July 1883, and died 3 June 1924

10 Quotes

  1. A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.
  2. I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.
  3. All language is but a poor translation.
  4. We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.
  5. I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us.
  6. Books are a narcotic.
  7. I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ - that wouldn’t be enough - but like a dead man.
  8. Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.
  9. The person I am in the company of my sisters has been entirely different from the person I am in the company of other people. Fearless, powerful, surprising, moved as I otherwise am only when I write.
  10. Writing is prayer.

Kafka was a German writer of novels and short stories. Virtually unknown during his lifetime, the works of Kafka have since been recognized as symbolizing modern man’s anxiety-ridden and grotesque alienation in an unintelligible, hostile, or indifferent world. The MetamorphosisThe TrialThe Castle, are filled with the themes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent–child conflict, characters on a terrifying quest, and mystical transformations.

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Literary Birthday - 29 June - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born 29 June 1900, and died 31 July 1944

10 Quotes

  1. And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye. 
  2. Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.
  3. Tell me who admires and loves you, and I will tell you who you are. 
  4. It is such a secret place, the land of tears.
  5. ‘Men have forgotten this truth,’ said the fox. ‘But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.’ 
  6. Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away. 
  7. The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them. 
  8. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?’ Instead, they demand ‘How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.
  9. If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
  10. Language is the source of misunderstandings.

Saint-Exupéry was a French aristocrat, writer, poet, and pioneering aviator. He became a laureate of several of France’s highest literary awards and also won the U.S. National Book Award. He is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) and for his lyrical aviation writings, includingWind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight.

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Literary Birthday - 28 June - Aimee Bender

Happy Birthday, Aimee Bender, born 28 June 1969 

Eight Quotes On Writing

  1. I started to write not long after everyone was trying to be Carver. I am still influenced by Carver; I admire his writing a lot. And I love Hemingway.
  2. I have a very rigid schedule where I write for two hours in the morning, five or six days a week, which I’ve been doing since 1995 and it really changed my writing once I set that in place.
  3. I’m not subtle. The violent impulses in my fiction are pretty much laid out on the table. I crave the opportunity to let out in the fiction some of the darker thoughts that are not as accessible in a regular conversation. 
  4. [Writing] comes from a love of language — I really enjoy words and the beauty of words. It comes from an interest in telling stories, and something invisible I can’t define.
  5. Writing can be a frightening, distressing business, and whatever kind of structure or buffer is available can help a lot.
  6. Inspired by the highly regular routines of writers like Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, Trollope, and many more, I tried to tailor mine to my own idiosyncrasies. In my rule book, I don’t have to do anything except sit at the computer, but I’m not allowed to do anything else, and I usually get so bored I start to work.
  7. As a writer you ask yourself to dream while awake.
  8. Writing is so weird. I like doing interviews because we talk about this thing that’s impossible to talk about. We can’t address it directly, but it’s fun to talk around it.

Bender is an American novelist and short story writer, known for her surreal plots and characters. Her most recent novel is The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

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Literary Birthday - 25 June - George Orwell

George Orwell was born 25 June 1903, and died 21 January 1950

12 Owellian Quotes

  1. For a creative writer possession of the ‘truth’ is less important than emotional sincerity.
  2. In our time political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.
  3. Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.
  4. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
  5. Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers.
  6. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.
  7. The atmosphere of orthodoxy is always damaging to prose, and above all it is completely ruinous to the novel, the most anarchical of all forms of literature.
  8. Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket.
  9. As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.
  10. Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.
  11. During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
  12. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

George Orwell - His Six Rules For Writing

Orwell was an English novelist and journalist. He is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and the allegorical novella Animal Farm,  which together have sold more copies than any two books by any other 20th-century author. Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture. The term Orwellian is used in English, together with other phrases coined by the author, including Cold War, Big Brother, thought police, doublethink, and thoughtcrime.

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Literary Birthday - 23 June - Markus Zusak

Happy Birthday, Markus Zusak, born  23 June 1975

Markus Zusak: Top 10 Quotes from The Book Thief

  1. I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.
  2. It kills me sometimes, how people die.
  3. Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness.
  4. I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
  5. A small but noteworthy note. I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.
  6. His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do - the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.
  7. I want words at my funeral. But I guess that means you need life in your life.
  8. Five hundred souls. I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I’d throw them over my shoulder. It was only the the children I carried in my arms.
  9. The words were on their way, and when they arrived, she would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.
  10. Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.

'I like that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably what I love most about writing—that words can be used in a way that’s like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around. They’re the best moments in a day of writing — when an image appears that you didn’t know would be there when you started work in the morning.'

Zusak is the author of five books, including the international best-seller, The Book Thief, which has been translated into 30 languages. As well as receiving awards in Australia and overseas, The Book Thief held the number one position at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and the New York Times best-seller list. Markus lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and daughter.

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Literary Birthday - 21 June - Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre was born 21 June 1905, and died 15 April 1980

15 Quotes

  1. Words are loaded pistols.
  2. Like all dreamers I confuse disenchantment with truth.
  3. Everything has been figured out, except how to live.
  4. Hell is other people.
  5. The aim of language…is to communicate…to impart to others the results one has obtained…As I talk, I reveal the situation…I reveal it to myself and to others in order to change it.
  6. I found the human heart empty and insipid everywhere except in books.
  7. She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist.
  8. All that I know about my life, it seems, I have learned in books.
  9. The best work is not what is most difficult for you; it is what you do best.
  10. For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it.
  11. Existence is an imperfection.
  12. If literature isn’t everything, it’s not worth a single hour of someone’s trouble.
  13. But the operation of writing implies that of reading as its dialectical correlative and these two connected acts necessitate two distinct agents. It is the joint effort of author and reader, which brings upon the scene that concrete and imaginary object which is the work of the mind. There is no art except for and by others.
  14. There may be more beautiful times, but this one is ours.
  15. We are our choices.

Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of  the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy. He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature and refused it, saying that he always declined official honors and that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution”.

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Literary Birthday - 13 June - William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats was born 13 June 1865, and died 28 January 1939

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

10 Quotes

  1. Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
  2. Literature is always personal, always one man’s vision of the world, one man’s experience, and it can only be popular when men are ready to welcome the visions of others.
  3. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
  4. People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.
  5. Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.
  6. When you are old and grey and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book and slowly read, and dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.
  7. Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.
  8. The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.
  9. The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.
  10. In dreams begin responsibilities.

William Butler Yeats was an Irish Poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He was one of the most significant modern poets. He wrote his greatest works after he was 50.  

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