Three quotations about WRITING AND PATIENCE

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks, ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” U.S. poet and author, Maya Angelou.

“Fortunately for my nervous system I had never given much credence to the phenomenon of ‘writer’s block’. I was more inclined to think of it as a writer’s impatience.” British author, Alan Garner.

“Soak and wait.” Hungarian-British author and journalist, Arthur Koestler.

GENETIC MODIFICATION

I was standing at a bus-stop a few days ago, and I started chatting with an old man waiting there too.

Somehow we got talking about the way that plants and animals are being genetically modified these days. And he looked at me and said, “Well it’s nothing new. I grew up on a little farm. And I’ve got four brothers and sisters. And whenever we had a chicken for lunch, all five of us wanted to eat a chicken leg. But, of course, there were only ever two legs to go round. So that meant three of us always missed out. But what happened was my mother managed this extraordinary thing. Somehow she cross-fertilized some hens, and she managed to breed a chicken with five legs!”

I looked at him, amazed! “A chicken with five legs?” I said.

He nodded. “It sounds like some sort of made-up story but it’s true. She bred this chicken that had five legs.”

“Well I’ve never hear of anything like that before!” I said back. “What did it taste like?”

The man looked at me and replied, “I can’t tell you. We never found out. The chicken ran so fast we never managed to catch it!”

 

A WASTE OF GOOD PAPER

My novel A WASTE OF GOOD PAPER came out a few days ago, published by Frances Lincoln Books and available here.

It was interesting writing it. I was meant to be working on something different, but was having a read of TRACY BEAKER by Jacqueline Wilson, and the idea for the novel suddenly arrived.

I scribbled out a rough plan. And it came pretty much fully-formed. There were some shifts along the way, but I was still working from the original two-page plan when I got to the last pages of the book.

 

If you can make any sense of this over-excited scrawling (click on the image to enlarge, though that probably still won’t help…) you’ll see that the story is in a diary format.

The diary entries are written by a boy at a special school for young people with behavioural difficulties. I’ve taught in that sort of school. And, once I started writing, all kinds of recollections and imagined incidents…dramatic, moving, unexpected, funny…flooded out on to the paper. I wrote the novel in ten weeks.

It’s a gritty book. There’s a fair bit of violence, some explicit images of drug-taking. It’s not always comfortable to read. But if I’d written it differently it wouldn’t be right. The work I’ve done with young people with behavioural difficulties has been uncomfortable a fair bit of the time.

It has also been work marked by a lot of laughter, and some breakthroughs, and moments of effort, courage and creativity that take you by surprise. I hoped to come out of the book with some of these positive things in there too. And I didn’t have to try very hard. They were all there, as soon as the characters came to life.

What’s pleased me about early responses to the novel (reviews here for example) is the warmth people feel for the book’s narrator, Jason. I didn’t know if that would happen. He loses control, acts violently and doesn’t seem especially sorry about it. But there is another side to him, that’s typical of a lot of young people with behavioural difficulties. In spite of the low horizons of their lives, the cut-off options and unfinished stories, some, like Jason, manage to hold on to a fierce sort of cleverness and humour. Things which deserve to be celebrated…not just numbed out of them.

The back of the book says it’s “A searingly honest, funny and totally brilliant debut novel”. You don’t have to believe that. It’s just what the publishers are saying! Have a read, if you can, and decide for yourself.

 

AVENIDA SÃO JOÃO

 

This strange and beautiful photo, taken by a photographer called Danilo Verpa, appeared in a Brazilian newspaper a few weeks ago.

There’s a kind of magic to things that catch you somewhere between believing them and not believing them. It’s an effect that reading a book can have, and other kinds of art too. You can get caught between belief and disbelief watching animated films or puppet theatre. What’s in front of you seems real, but then again you know that it’s not…

What does the photo show? Avenida São João, not very far from where I’m living in São Paulo. It’s a famous avenue leading to the city’s centre. As part of an urban festival called BaixoCentro, 200 litres of paint were poured across the road.

So this time what’s in front of you may seem unreal…but actually it’s not!