Robert Pimm

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W. Somerset Maugham on sex, turnips and the meaning of life

A writer compares turnips and sex.  Is he wise, or daft?  Can we use his wisdom – if any – to make ourselves happier?

I have written often about happiness on this blog.  You can find a summary in my piece The one with the links to happiness.

W Somerset Maugham considers happiness and the meaning of life in his essay The Summing Up, written in 1938.  Perhaps writers – and others – can learn from him.  Try not to be put off by the old-fashioned way in which he often refers to “men” when he means “people”

W Somerset Maugham is most famous for his short stories

In The Summing Up, Maugham asks whether writing itself is enough for a happy life…

From time to time I have asked myself whether I should have been a better writer if I had devoted my whole life to literature.

… and concludes:

Somewhat early, but at what age I cannot remember, I made up my mind that, having but one life, I should like to get the most I could out of it.  It did not seem to me enough merely to write. (more…)

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Arvon residential writing courses: review

Ahead, in the kitchen, everyone seems to be laughing.  As I approach, the noise swells.  I push the door open to find ten people sitting around a long wooden table, drinking tea and eating lemon drizzle cake.  In an instant, the din dies down as everyone turns to look at the newcomer.

What have I left myself in for?

The prospect of attending a writing course holds both fascination and dread for would-be authors.  I recently attended the Arvon Foundation’s “Editing Fiction: Turning First Drafts into Publishable Books” at The Hurst in Shropshire.  So what actually happens on a writing course?  Do they help your writing?  And what if you don’t get on with the other participants?

I long to sit longer on this bench in the grounds of the Hurst

The Arvon course I attended, in November 2018, lasted from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning.  It consisted of morning workshops, followed by afternoons free for writing, walking, or attending 1:1 seminars with the tutors.  Workshops included sessions on how to edit a novel (including the advice “enjoy a moment (more…)

Dancing for New Orleans: a writing course in Greece

I recently attended an outstanding Arvon Foundation writing course in Shropshire.  I will write a blog about that shortly.

In researching, I found this piece, commissioned long ago by The Boston Globe but never published, about a writing course on the Greek island of Skyros.  It follows the rules on structure set out in my piece The 4 elements of the perfect article: Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers.  

Dancing for New Orleans

Ten would-be writers sit on a terrace high above the Aegean. We’re lapping up the bright sun, the cool breeze, and advice on how to get our books published.  Suddenly we’re interrupted: up the hill, participants in another course are venting their emotions in a cacophony of eerie howling. In response, a donkey brays: a shocking, raucous noise.  Everyone laughs.

The entrance to the Skyros Centre is low key

There’s a huge amount of laughter on a Skyros holiday. That’s the idea: by combining holistic holidays, writers’ courses and a Greek island, operator Skyros holds out the promise of both self-improvement and self-discovery in an idyllic setting. But how well do the different elements fit together?  The answer is: better than you’d think.

You sense the island of Skyros is something special before the ferry from the Greek mainland even moors.  As ship nears shore, music floats across the sea.  A cafe on the waterfront is playing “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.  (more…)

#howtowrite: paper or computer?

I sit down at my desk in Vienna to continue writing my current novel, code-named The Boyfriend.  Outside, birds sing in the trees; all is well in the world.

When I start to write, do I reach for my computer?  Or for my pen and paper?

Many authors write first drafts direct on their computers, or always write on paper, without thinking too much about which works best.  Here are a few things you might want think about.

In 1986 my then-employer acquired its first computer.  I was thrilled by the idea that I could move words around on a screen, and only print them out when I was happy with them.  It seemed to make the creative process less daunting.  I started to write my first novel, Biotime, on that computer the same year – after work, of course.

In this pic I am writing the first draft of a blog direct on an iPad in Austria

In 1987 I bought my first home computer, an Amstrad PCW.  Later I bought PCs; then Macs.  But over the years, I stopped writing fiction on the screen.  I write all my short stories and novels in long-hand.

How do I do that?  And why?

How: I like to use a ring-bound A4 pad, (more…)

#howtowrite: #ViennaWritingInspiration

You are an author.  You are about to sit down and begin to write a story.

How do you get started?  What will it be about?  Where do you get your ideas from?

As the author of eight novels and eight short stories*, I work hard to find ideas.  Here are my four sources of inspiration, and one non-source:

(i) my best source of inspiration is random ideas which pop into my head – when I am reading, walking down the street, in the shower, whatever.  These ideas have one thing in common.  I write them down.  Everyone has great ideas, all the time.  What makes a difference is keeping a note of them.  Maybe you are a genius and can remember good ideas indefinitely.  I can’t.  As soon as my mind wanders off – as it will – I forget my good idea.  Action point for writers: make a note when an idea strikes you and ensure you can find that note later.  Keep a notebook or web page where you store your ideas;

Some things are obviously inspirational.  This deserted children’s bumper car ride near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is crying out for a story

(ii) my second big source of ideas is external inputs.  If you read the piece about my hotel stories at the link above, (more…)

Short story technique from the master: 3 quotations

Every writer wants to write better.

Some of my most popular blogs set out tips on how to do this.  That is why I have a “Writing about writing” category (see top left), including such gems as:

The last piece, with the Cosmic Kickers, is my most-read blog this year.

To find out more about these two, see The Russians: Vladivostok

I mention this because this week’s blog consists of three literary quotations of very different styles.  One is by W Somerset Maugham, (more…)

Jeeves in the Offing: review and quotes

Attentive readers – if any are reading this* – will be aware of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse, including  How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide.

The latter drew, with humility appropriate to a neophyte, on the expertise of Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.

Sadly, I have been devoting an unreasonable proportion of recent months to a well-known trilogy (note to self: insert link later) which, while fascinating, was not quick, easy or pleasurable to read.  Review to follow.

So it was with immense pleasure that I returned last week to Wodehouse, with “Jeeves in the Offing”.

  

The front and back cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves in the Offing”: Jeeves waits, reading Spinoza, outside the Fox & Goose, while Bertie, within, meets Bobbie Wickham

(more…)

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