But this time there was an extra special dash of fairy dust - maybe something to do with the group being particularly serene, creative, curious and willing to do any of the crazy things Adam and I asked of them! Many many new stories were begun last week, by the two of us too. And the staff - Claire, Olly, Steph, Eliza, Bridget, Caroline, Huxley - making us feel so at home. And the luminous Helen Dunmore, our special guest, talking to us so candidly about her life and work.
And it really hit home to me, how important this is - and, thus, how vital it is to read everything you can get hold of - when I was talking to undergraduates at Bath Spa Uni, my old alma mater, recently. I talked, of course, about using science as inspiration for fiction. Someone put their hand up and said, "So, do you think it's okay to use anything as inspiration, science, or maybe history?" I said Yes, I do, I think everything is up for grabs, and it wasn't until afterwards that I realised that perhaps I had just given that questioner permission he might have needed, that he hadn't just taken it as a given that a fiction writer can scavenge from anywhere. That really made me think.
At the same time, he was encountering the two authors whose work would mold the tone and temper of his own. "I was reading Updike and Nabokov for the first time. Updike showed me it was possible to write in a realist way, with a poetic approach. I'd never come across his blend of poetic sensibility and prosaic imagination in realist fiction before. Nabokov blew me away for the same reasons; not quite as down to earth, but he has the same qualities of poetry and playfulness. I found reading them both incredibly liberating, and permission-giving for what I wanted to do. They were the presiding spirits when I was writing August [the first novel in the trilogy]. Everything fell into place, after years of struggling both with novels and autobiography in poetry. I thought, at last I've found a way of writing about autobiographical material that works for me."
[Read the full article here.]