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8 posts from January 2011

Jan 28, 2011

The Writer's Life: “When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.”

Read more: I had the privilege of interviewing Alan Paton at the BBC in London. His wonderful book, “Cry the Beloved Country,” had long mesmerized me with its lyrical beauty and its deep understanding of a people’s collective pain. If it were possible, he proved almost more inspirational in person. Not tall, he radiated modesty and immense kindness – not merely person-to-person, but for humanity in general. When I asked him (as we walked along a corridor) whether he thought his book had launched civil rights movements everywhere, he stopped and said, “Please don’t put that question to me in the interview. It will make me sound important and I only do what I can.” Several times during the broadcast, his eyes shone with tears as he talked about the beauty of his beloved South Africa – as did my eyes when news of his death came in 1988. He was born in January 1903, making (for me, anyway) every January worthwhile.


Jan 27, 2011

The Writer's Life: “Did you know? The origin of the word “sincere” might not be what you think it is. Or it might?.”

Read more: It used to be thought that “sincere” came from an unscrupulous practice in the world of goldsmiths. If a piece of work emerged from the mold with imperfections, they were smoothed over with wax steeped in gold dust – thus, “sine” – without; “cera” – wax. Likewise, in the marble quarries where Michelangelo worked, if a piece of marble had been hurt in the excavation, the quarrymen rubbed in wax to subdue the gouged scars. These origins have long been challenged by Latin scholars, who say that  “sincere” comes from a medieval Latin word, “sincerus,” meaning clean, unadulterated, pure of composition. But - dah! Couldn’t “sincerus” have come from “sine” and “cera”? We shall never know until we get that book I’ve always wanted to see published – the dictionary that gives us the root of the word-root, and for several generations of origin where necessary.


Jan 26, 2011

Re: Joyce, Episode 33. Silken Kine

The old woman carries, not just milk, but an allegory of Ireland herself - at least in the eyes of both Stephen and Joyce himself.

Jan 24, 2011

The Writer's Life: “The writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master.”

Read more: Charlotte Bronte’s relationship with writing had a difficult start ever before she got to “Jane Eyre.” She and her two sisters, Anne, who wrote “Wuthering Heights,” and Emily who wrote “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” had at first to publish under pseudonyms that suggested the authors were men.

Before that, while working as a teacher, Charlotte wrote to the then English poet laureate, Robert Southey, asking if she could make her living as a writer. This is what Southey replied; “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it.” He gave himself credit later for having given “that poor girl” what he called “a dose of cooling admonition.” He wrote this long after the appearance on the scene of Miss J. Austen. With such vision, no wonder he wasn’t much of a poet.  

How Charlotte wrote anything seems a miracle rather than a mystery, given the emotional stress she must have suffered; her brother, Branwell, a year younger, died at the age of 31; Emily, two years younger than Charlotte, died at age 30; and Anne, three years younger, died at age 29. No wonder Charlotte recorded one day that she picked up her pen “and, I regret to say, nothing occurred.”    


Jan 19, 2011

Re: Joyce, Episode 32. Old Mother Ireland

More scholarship of folklore. The milk arrives, and its bearer is mocked by Mulligan and venerated by Stephen.

Jan 12, 2011

Re: Joyce, Episode 31: Something Fishy

Mulligan gets mythic, and mocks exactly the sort of thing this podcast is doing.

Jan 05, 2011

The Writer's Life

At the end of the year, I signaled on Twitter that we had, believe it or not, completed a year of daily tweets - 365 Writing Tips. It seems remarkable but it's true! So many readers responded, and so often, and so enthusiastically, that we've decided to continue - but in an expanded form. Instead of simply providing Writing Tips, we'll now call the daily tweet from @FDBytheword "The Writer's Life" and it will, inter alia, be an amalgam of Tips (good and bad!), quotations about writing and creativity,  inspirational moments (or otherwise!) from the lives of writers, anecdotes (in 140 characters) about writing and publishing, "Don't Attempt This At Home" cautionary tales - in short, a rolling ragbag of arresting snippets. all amounting to a daily running commentary, so to speak, on what a writing life is like. I hope it'll be surprising; I don't mean it to be anodyne or bland, but I do mean it, above all, to be instructive. (And to the many of you who have asked whether there will be a book called "365 Writing Tips" - what an excellent idea; watch this space.) The Writer's Life tweets are also intended to help us all lose our fear, and to stand tall and assured in the knowledge that the next book will be the truly brilliant work we've been waiting to produce all along. Join me every day in The Writer's Life, and I hope that you'll smile as often as you wrinkle your brow in thought. Happy 2011!

Re: Joyce, Episode 30. Joking Joyce

Petulance for breakfast, "pet" and "kip," and a dirty joke about the tea.