A recent article in the Telegraph of an interview with Colm Toibin reminded me of advice I once heard Hanif Kureishi give in a radio discussion, which was that you should never write worrying about what your mother would think of your novel.  Kureishi, a well known miner of his own experiences in the pursuit of his fiction, was of the view that his own life and his experience of it, was exclusively his, to use as he wished.

It’s one aspect of the ‘write what you know’ debate.  Some might suggest that sticking to what you know underplays the value of your imagination, and prefer to use research as the bedrock of their fiction.  I suspect that it depends, like so many things in the writing process, of who you are, and what you like doing.  All writers must be magpies picking up bits and pieces wherever we can, constantly asking ourselves how we might use this or that tidbit or gem.  I’ve often caught myself contemplating exactly the thing that Colm Toibin talked about in this extract of the newspaper interview which I’ve taken the liberty of copying.

Tóibín explains that he once told a class that “you have to be a terrible monster to write. I said, ‘Someone might have told you something they shouldn’t have told you, and you have to be prepared to use it because it will make a great story. You have to use it even though the person is identifiable. If you can’t do it then writing isn’t for you. You’ve no right to be here. If there is any way I can help you get into law school then I will. Your morality will be more useful in a courtroom.’

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  1. Excellent advice. Works for me.
    Hanif Kureishi was in Cape Town recently for a book festival, I was devastated to have missed him. I love how and what he writes.

    • I’ve only ever heard him on the radio talking about writing, but his position on using everything that’s happened to him however he wishes, would I think, make him quite a difficult person to live with!

  2. sharpword

     /  October 28, 2012

    Yes He seems more fractured than I. Being moral, and a Godly person has great implication and positive directive on fictive writing as well as fribble. We see what we write, so it is possible to write wholesome fiction through a sanctified imagination. I think he has committed the ultimate Freudian Flip 🙂


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