Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Type slowly

Writing a book, full time, takes between two and ten years, The long poem, John Berryman said, takes between five and ten years. Thomas Mann was a prodigy of production. Working full time, he wrote a page a day. That is 365 pages a year, for he did write every day - a good sized book a year. At a page a day, he was one of the most prolific writers who ever lived. Flaubert wrote steadily, with only the usual, appalling, strains. For twenty-five years he finished a big book ever five to seven years. My guess is that full time writers average a book every five years: seventy-three usable pages a year, or a usable fifth of a page a day. The years that biographers and other nonfiction writers spend amassing and mastering materials are well matched by the years novelists and short-story writers spend fabricating solid worlds that answer to immaterial truths. On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of other days he concludes he must throw them away.
Octavio Paz cites the example of "Saint-Pol-Roux, who used to hang the inscription 'The poet is working' from his door while he slept."

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life 

Ah, Annie, you entertain and inspire me.  I suppose the biggest thing with writing is that you have to keep at it.

Haruki Murakami has recently published a big novel (called IQ84) of 1000 pages in three volumes, in two books. It took him three years - or about a page a day. He writes every morning and in the afternoon trains for marathons.

Writing a novel is another kind of marathon. Murakami says you need mental and physical strength to write (and the effect of exercise on the mind has been documented).

I'm writing every day now, but I need to exercise more.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I have not had one word from her

Frankly I wish I were dead
When she left, she wept
a great deal; she said to me, This parting must be
endured, Sappho. I go unwillingly.
I said, Go, and be happy
but remember (you know
well) whom you leave shackled by love
If you forget me, think
of our gifts to Aphrodite
and all the loveliness that we shared
all the violet tiaras,
braided rosebuds, dill and
crocus twined around your young neck
myrrh poured on your head
and on soft mats girls with
all that they most wished for beside them
while no voices chanted
choruses without ours,
no woodlot bloomed in spring without song...
--Translated by Mary Barnard

Sappho c 630BC

 Down below, in the cellar, and elsewhere in the house, controversy rages. But here in the attic we will quietly celebrate with a poem.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A corner of the artist's room

Reading: Gwen John: A Painter's Life, by Sue Roe

According to her brother Augustus, also a painter, Gwen John favoured basements and underground cellars: when she returned to London from Paris in 1899, she installed herself 'in a kind of dungeon ... into which no ray of sunlight could ever penetrate'.

But here is her attic room at 87 rue du Cherche-Midi, where she moved with her cat Edgar Quinet, in the midst of an affair with Rodin.

A Corner of the Artist's Room in Paris (With Open Window) c. 1907-09

And this, I presume, is Edgar Quinet, who was 'not very popular'. She had sprung a vicious attack on one of the visiting lady painters. Gwen was sure it wasn't personal,  just 'une affaire de nerfs'.

And update on Ms Quinet (bec of me being currently obsessed with Gwen John):  Gwen felt sorry for her sometimes, because the cat tried to understand so many things with her 'little, troubled soul'.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The book I had to have

This was my first book by Gertrude Stein - I found it at Archives in Brisbane, a bookshop that is the archetypal secondhand bookshop - shelves stretching up to the high ceilings in an old building, ladders, a sense of hush, and absolutely packed to the gunnels with books.

In my opinion, Archives, you are also too expensive. I paid  $12.95 for this book, which fell to bits the moment I read it (note masking tape on the spine).

Still, it had provenance, having come from the Brooklyn Public Library ( WITHDRAWN FROM FREE USE IN CITY CULTURAL AND WELFARE INSTITUTIONS. MAY BE SOLD FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY ONLY   says the stamp inside the back cover).

And why did I have to have it?

It had a voice so confident and unusual that I thought I might learn something about writing from it. That is often my most compelling motive for buying a book.

For a brief while my writing was under the spell of Gertrude Stein, but fortunately, none of it (because it was a poor imitation) made its way into print.  Imitation of any sort is to be avoided (now stealing - that's another matter. 'Good artists imitate, great artists steal.')

James Herbert was often a very angry negro. He was fierce and serious, and he was very certain that he often had good reason to be angry with Melanctha, who knew so well how to be nasty, and to use her learning with a father who knew nothing.
From 'Melanctha', in 3 Lives, by Gertrude Stein

The other women she writes about are 'The Good Anna' and 'The Gentle Lena'.