Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pen and ink scribing - and Francis King

Chatting with Francis King at the Turkish restaurant Tas after the 'in conversation' event with him on Thursday, I mentioned that I was writing my new novel by hand, in old-fashioned pen and ink.
'But why?' he asked, quite astonished. At 86 he stays utterly nimble to the moment. I would expect so venerable a writer to be shy of computers, and am enjoying a pen and ink correspondence with Edna O'Brien, a relative chicken at 79.
'I'm weary of computers,' I explained. 'I needed a break. And all that time a novel needs, when you're not writing but just staring into space, I now stare out of the window rather than into a screen.'
Francis writes entirely on the computer, and was bereft the other day when glitsches saw him off email for two days. He gave the audience at the London Review Bookshop (a great venue for talks, this one a sell-out of its 110 seats, all with a fair view) one secret for how he stays so up-to-the-minute in terms of dialogue, the voices of the street, and 21st century social concerns. He takes his bus pass, climbs onto any bus that seems interesting, lets it take him somewhere new, continues the journey with another bus, and overhears conversations all the way. He has a remarkable aural memory.
I got home towards midnight and went straight to bed. Francis was still up, on his computer, writing me a thankyou email for the evening. He sleeps from 12.30 to 7.30 and then is up again, ready to write some more.
My own novel is set in 1994 ... and then back in 1938 / 39. It has meant a huge amount of research. Francis's Cold Snap is set in 1947 ... the year AFTER he published his first novel. Historical writing for him is from lived experience.
The evening's conversation clearly did me good. I came home, sat down with my paper and pen, and finished the first draft of that new novel, Play Bach. I'm remarkably light-headed today, no longer carrying inside me a story that first lodged itself in my head fourteen years ago. Of course I do now have to type it up. That's where the pen and ink mode no longer seems so canny.

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