Literary Birthday - 20 May -Douglas Preston

Happy Birthday, Douglas Preston, born 20 May 1956

Nine Quotes
  1. Hubris and science are incompatible. 
  2. When I'm writing fiction I'm thinking, God, this is so hard - I have to make all this stuff up! I wish I were writing a non-fiction book where all the facts are laid out and I don't have to be so much at sea.
  3. The wise and good are outnumbered a thousand to one by the brutal and stupid.
  4. A human being creates complexity by writing a novel on the surface of paper; a weather system creates complexity by writing waves on the surface of an ocean. What is the difference between the information carried in the words of a novel and the information carried on the waves of the sea? Listen, and the waves will speak, and someday, I tell you, you will write your thoughts on the surface of the sea.
  5. Once again, we shall have to operate not only outside the box, but outside the room containing the box.
  6. Make sure your family and loved ones don’t interrupt you during your writing time. If you’re a lawyer or doctor, friends don’t just stop by the office to chat or interrupt you from your work. But for some reason, people think writing is different. It isn’t, and you need to make clear that this is sacred time.
  7. Sometimes it takes courage—maybe all the courage you’ve got—to just live life.
  8. I need to write in a small room - the smaller the better. I can't write in a big room where someone might sneak up behind my back.
  9. One can reach the gates of hell just as easily by short steps as by large.

Preston is an American author of techno-thriller and horror novels. Most well known for his collaboration with Lincoln Child on the Agent Pendergast series and Gideon Crew series, he has also written six solo novels, and non-fiction books on history, science, exploration, and true crime.

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Literary Birthday - 18 May - W.G. Sebald

W.G. Sebald was born 18 May 1944, and died 14 December 2001

10 Quotes
  1. It is thanks to my evening reading alone that I am still more or less sane.
  2. But the fact is that writing is the only way in which I am able to cope with the memories which overwhelm me so frequently and so unexpectedly. If they remained locked away, they would become heavier and heavier as time went on, so that in the end I would succumb under their mounting weight. 
  3. We take almost all the decisive steps in our lives as a result of slight inner adjustments of which we are barely conscious.
  4. By all means be experimental, but let the reader be part of the experiment
  5. Comparing oneself with one's fellow writers is a bad idea. I would not review a fellow writer unless I had something terribly positive to say. 
  6. Only in the books written in earlier times did she sometimes think she found some faint idea of what it might be like to be alive.
  7. We learn from history as much as a rabbit learns from an experiment that's performed upon it.
  8. To set one's name to a work gives no one a title to be remembered, for who knows how many of the best of men have gone without a trace? 
  9. A tight structural form opens possibilities. Take a pattern, an established model or sub-genre, and write to it. In writing, limitation gives freedom
  10. How I wished during those sleepless hours that I belonged to a different nation, or better still, to none at all.

Sebald was a German writer and academic. His books include Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz.

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Literary Birthday - 17 May - Anna Jameson


Anna Jameson was born 17 May 1794, and died 17 March 1860

12 Quotes
  1. A man may be as much a fool from the want of sensibility as the want of sense.
  2. In morals, what begins in fear usually ends in wickedness; in religion, what begins in fear usually ends in fanaticism. Fear, either as a principle or a motive, is the beginning of all evil.
  3. Accuracy of language is one of the bulwarks of truth.
  4. Genius and sunshine have this in common that they are the two most precious gifts of heaven to earth, and are dispensed equally to the just and the unjust.
  5. There are no such self-deceivers as those who think they reason when they only feel.
  6. All my experience of the world teaches me that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the safe and just side of a question is the generous and merciful side.
  7. Childhood sometimes does pay a second visit to man, youth never.
  8. As what we call genius arises out of the disproportionate power and size of a certain faculty, so the great difficulty lies in harmonising with it the rest of the character.
  9. Conversation may be compared to a lyre with seven chords - philosophy, art, poetry, love, scandal, and the weather.
  10. The only competition worthy a wise man is with himself.
  11. We can sometimes love what we do not understand, but it is impossible completely to understand what we do not love.
  12. What we truly and earnestly aspire to be, that in some sense we are. The mere aspiration, by changing the frame of the mind, for the moment realises itself.

Jameson was a British author known for her travel memoirs which give an account of her amazing journeys and vivid experiences. Her books include Characteristics of Women, Sacred and Legendary Art, and her travel memoir Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada.

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Literary Birthday - 15 May - David Almond

Happy Birthday, David Almond, born 15 May 1951

13 Quotes
  1. The best tip for writing is just to write; to sit down and write, to begin doing it and not to be scared by the blank page.
  2. Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.
  3. Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep.
  4. We have each other, and our stories twist and mingle like the twisting currents of a river. We hold each other tight as we spin and lurch across our lives. There are moments of great joy and magic. The most astounding things can lie waiting as each day dawns, as each page turns.
  5. Writing will be like a journey, every word a footstep that takes me further into undiscovered land.
  6. Sometimes we think we should be able to know everything. But we can’t. We have to allow ourselves to see what there is to see, and we have to imagine.
  7. Drawing makes you look at the world more closely. It helps you see what you’re looking at more clearly.
  8. A good bookshop is not just about selling books from shelves, but reaching out into the world and making a difference.
  9. Books. They are lined up on shelves or stacked on a table. There they are wrapped up in their jackets, lines of neat print on nicely bound pages. They look like such orderly, static things. Then you, the reader come along. You open the book jacket, and it can be like opening the gates to an unknown city, or opening the lid of a treasure chest. You read the first word and you're off on a journey of exploration and discovery.
  10. My work explores the frontier between rationalism and superstition and the wavering boundary between the two.
  11. Its always been the case that politicians want different things from children than good educators do. Good educators want imaginative, exploratory beings, but politicians just want economic units.
  12. And what is wrong with playing with words? Words love to be played with, just like children or kittens do!
  13. Maybe we're all in somebody's dream. Maybe everything's a dream, and nothing else.
Almond is a critically-acclaimed British author who writes for children and young adults. His books include Skellig and The Fire-Eaters. His major awards include the Carnegie Medal (Skellig), two Whitbread Awards, the U.S. Michael L. Printz Award for young-adult books (Kit's Wilderness), and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize (A Song for Ella Grey).

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Literary Birthday - 12 May - George Carlin

George Carlin was born 12 May 1937, and died 22 June 2008

12 Quotes
  1. The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.
  2. The IQ and the life expectancy of the average American recently passed each other in opposite directions.
  3. If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.
  4. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.
  5. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money!
  6. Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?
  7. Tell people there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.
  8. Think of how stupid the average person is, and realise half of them are stupider than that.
  9. Here's all you have to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.
  10. The planet is fine. The people are fucked.
  11. I do this real moron thing, and it's called thinking. And apparently I'm not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions.
  12. How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?

Carlin was an American stand-up comedian, social critic, actor, and author. 

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Literary Birthday - 7 May - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born 7 May 1927, and died 3 April 2013 

Nine Quotes
  1. I live so much more in and for the books.
  2. Film is not like a book; it's not a writer's baby at all. So many people have put in their talent, by that time that you feel grateful for what they've done, you don't feel possessive about it in any way.
  3. I'm more interested in other people than myself.
  4. They are no longer the same because I myself am no longer the same. India always changes people, and I have been no exception.
  5. The older books were quite light-hearted. But I think most of my novels do end on a deep note of pessimism. Shadows seem to be closing in. The final conclusion isn't that life is wonderful and everything is bright and cheery and in the garden.
  6. I am dissatisfied with everything I have ever written and regard it all only as a preparation for that one work which probably I don't have it in me to write but which I hope I can go on trying for.
  7. All my early books are written as if I were Indian. In England, I had started writing as if I were English; now I write as if I were American. You take other peoples backgrounds and characters; Keats called it negative capability.
  8. England gave me a language and literature, the basis of what I am as a writer.
  9. I like characters who are larger-than-life, whether life-loving women or the artist or guru who grabs everything. But I don't live among people like that.

Jhabvala was a German-born British and American Booker prize-winning novelist, short story writer and two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter. She won the Oscars for her adapted screenplays of Room with a View and Howard's End.  She was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Heat and Dust in 1975. 

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Literary Birthday - 6 May - Ellen Banda-Aaku

Happy Birthday, Ellen Banda-Aaku, born 6 May 1965

Five Quotes
  1. Write your heart out and persevere, persevere, persevere!
  2. I grew up in Zambia surrounded by books but I was not much of a reader. I did however talk a lot and tell a lot of stories as a child. I think it was this passion for telling stories that eventually translated into writing much later in my life. 
  3. Writing is very subjective. It is also solitary. My advice to all writers is focus and invest time in your writing. Do your homework in terms of submitting manuscripts to the right publishers etc. At the end of the day, it is your writing. It is your story and you have to take responsibility for it and not rely or expect help from anyone. 
  4. In stories I look for originality. I am also big on characters. A story that has me thinking about a character or characters long after I have turned the last page works for me. 
  5. I don’t dwell on regrets. There are many things in my life I could, with hindsight, have done differently but I don’t regret them. The mistakes have contributed to who and where I am today.

Read our Interview with Ellen here.

Banda-Aaku is a Zambian writer. In 2004 she won the Macmillan Writers’ Prize for Africa for Wandi’s Little Voice. Her short story, Sozi’s Box, was the overall winner of the 2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Her novel Patchwork  won the Penguin Prize for African Writing. 

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Literary Birthday - 2 May - Esther Freud

Happy Birthday, Esther Freud, born 2 May 1963.
  1. Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn’t use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.
  2. A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s missing something.
  3. Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.
  4. Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.
  5. Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.
  6. Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.
  7. Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.

Esther Freud was named as one of the 20 ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ by Granta magazine. She is also the co-founder of the women’s theatre company Norfolk Broads.

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Literary Birthday - 27 April - Rachel Caine

Happy Birthday, Rachel Caine, born 27 April 1962 

Six Quotes
  1. I do my best work in the mornings, the earlier the better, so I try hard to get up at 5 a.m. or so, and work about eight hours, then knock off for lunch. I usually run errands in the afternoons and work on business items at night.
  2. I never let myself take more than one day off, unless I’m sick. If I get stuck on a story, I try reading it from the beginning, which often does the trick, or if it doesn’t, I jump forward to the next thing I want to write in the timeline.
  3. Some people work better to go 'seat of the pants' … and some won’t start a road trip without a map. I’m a bit of both … I like a road map, but I’m not averse to taking interesting side roads too. I usually have a loose outline.
  4. I recommend strongly that aspiring authors read extensively - not just fiction, not just non-fiction, in every field.  
  5. Talk to other writers. Surround yourself with energetic people who are enthusiastic about the craft and the process. Go to conferences and conventions. Take workshops.
  6. Most of all, love what you do, because it's much better to do this for love than money.  If you're very lucky, money will come... but love rewards you every day. 

Caine is an American writer of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, suspense, and horror novels. She writes under the pseudonyms Roxanne Longstreet, Roxanne Conrad, Ian Hammel, and Julie Fortune.

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Literary Birthday - 25 April - James Fenton

Happy Birthday, James Fenton, born 25 April 1949

Seven Quotes
  1. Imitation, if it is not forgery, is a fine thing. It stems from a generous impulse, and a realistic sense of what can and cannot be done.
  2. One does not become a guru by accident.
  3. Generally speaking, rhyme is the marker for the end of a line. The first rhyme-word is like a challenge thrown down, which the poem itself has to respond to.
  4. I prefer writing in the mornings, so to that extent I have a routine. I do reading and other things in the afternoon.
  5. Lyric poetry is, of course, musical in origin. I do know that what happened to poetry in the twentieth century was that it began to be written for the page. 
  6. The lullaby is the spell whereby the mother attempts to transform herself back from an ogre to a saint.
  7. The writing of a poem is like a child throwing stones into a mineshaft. You compose first, then you listen for the reverberation.

Fenton is an English poet, journalist and literary critic. He is a former Oxford Professor of Poetry. He won the 2015 PEN Pinter prize.

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.