Literary Birthday – 20 April – Sebastian Faulks


Interviewer: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Do you agree with E.L. Doctorow, or do you begin a novel with a shape of the whole?
Sebastian Faulks: It’s a nice image, but not my experience. I have an AA gazetteer, a sat nav, GPS and a route map. I wouldn’t dream of starting without.

Sebastian Faulks: Seven Quotes On Writing

  1. The words themselves are the beginning and end. Even when the style is apparently plain it is so for a reason. And within plainness there are a hundred choices for each sentence in rhythm and syntax and of course within each word. Think of Hemingway.
  2. Ideally, I start with the theme and setting, then a rough narrative arc including half a dozen big moments which are like the supports in a river over which the bridge spans; then the people are given to you because they are the ones capable of acting out what is required of the action to exemplify the theme.
  3. In the period of composition you have to be exceptionally open. Anything might feed in. The knack is knowing the difference between a disposable thought and a robust idea. You have to live in a rather vulnerable, open state, while at the same time making hard decisions. You are a like a valve that switches between active and passive all the time. This is what takes it out of you a bit.
  4. Almost everything I know about structure I learned from classical music. Most of what I know about narrative I took from cinema. I also think of oil painting quite a lot, particularly when I am trying to add layers, to thicken the texture.
  5. When I am writing a book I work from ten till six every day in a small office near my house. I never write less than a thousand words a day. Writer’s Block is God’s way of telling you to shut up. More people should have it…
  6. Real emotion comes from inside the reader. You are unaware that the author has been trying to make you feel something; in fact, you wonder whether the author is really aware of how sad, funny or inspiring this passage is. Artificial is when you feel your arm being twisted. Too many adverbs is a bad sign.
  7. Write about what you DON’T know. Research, invent. Write about people of other ages, sexes, nationalities and periods in history. Then find a book you think is similar to yours. Write to the author care of the publisher and find out who their agent is. Good luck.

Faulks is a British novelist, journalist, and broadcaster. He is best known for his historical novels including The Girl at the Lion d’Or, Birdsong, and Charlotte Gray. He has also published a James Bond sequel, Devil May Care. He is a team captain on BBC Radio 4 literary quiz The Write Stuff.

Source for Image

by Amanda Patterson