6th January 2013
"You have to write the book that wants to be written," says Madeleine L'Engle.
I like this quote because it it emphasises the "hands off" element to writing. As in life, in art you don't get to write the music, just direct the choir. That's what scares me about writers who map out the plot of a novel from start to finish - it's sort of like conducting a relationship minute by minute from a set of instructions: it might work, but the elan vital is gone from it. I keep saying this, because it is true, that listening is the writer's best tool. You show up at your desk and hear the book that wants to be written, and if you're lucky, you'll hear the words to "A Wrinkle in Time," which is currently in its 5oth anniversary commemorative hard back edition. Presumably you'll also hear a good title, which "A Wrinkle in Time," is, and which I wish I had thought of first.
I heard from my editor at Simon and Shuster this week, because I had submitted the answers to the questionnaire that I am being asked to fill out for their author page. Those answers go back to my editor for review, and one made her sit up and wonder if I wasn't intent on committing career suicide. The question had to do with who I would most like to meet in history, and I said Jesus. This is not because I am an evangelical Christian (although I was brought up one) but because so much has hinged on that thirty-three year life, and now we're living in the throes of it. I said that I would like to ask him what he thought about what had become of his teaching, and I concluded he might....well, maybe that would be career suicide, so I redid the question and had him quoting TS Eliot instead: "That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all." I think my editor had a point, otherwise I wouldn't have changed it.
That was actually an easier question than naming my five favourite books. So many books in my past have been formative, but I wouldn't count them as favourites today. I struggled with this question, took it away and mulled it over. I scanned the books on my shelves, and came up with this:
1 "The Grapes of Wrath," by John Steinbeck
2 "The Meadow," by James Galvin
3 "Sunset Song," by Lewis Grassic Gibbon
4 "Cannery Row," by John Steinbeck
5 "Zorba the Greek," by Nikos Kazantzakis
I think they all wrote the book that wanted to be written, and that's why I like them. No apologies.