On Writing

These essays and articles were written for books, periodicals, newspapers and magazines, some distinguished and others not. “On Being Translated” was really written by my translators. Its ‘argument’ came out of my correspondence with the (very) different translators of “Lemprière’s Dictionary”, and my unease over what had been done to my text. That unease was not soothed by the so-called ‘Ubersetzenstreit’ or ‘Translation-Quarrel’ which broke out in 1993 and which culminated in my sitting in the Black Box theatre in Munich one evening while every translator in Germany except mine got very very angry. My piece appeared first in New Writing 6, edited by AS Byatt and Peter Porter. It took me until New Writing 13 (ed. Toby Litt and Ali Smith) to manage another, this time about the kinds of music writers listen to when they write, called “The Words on the Page and the Noise in my Head”. The first version was written for a festival of alternative music in Aarhus, Denmark, then it was published in New Writing, then it appeared in The Guardian, and finally my cousin Rose Blake added it to a website she put together about what artists listen to when they work which (when it’s up) can be found here. The piece about my desk is self-explanatory, as is this cautionary tale about the perils of research. The article about notebooks eventually became part of a BBC radio programme which also featured AS Byatt, John Cooper Clark and David Mitchell. Lastly, a diary. In 1999 I was asked by Sian Ede of the Gulbenkian Foundation to take part in a project intended to shed light on the process of artistic composition. Nine different artists were asked to keep diaries on the progress of their work. These were published together in a volume called “Art, not chance: nine artists’ diaries” with photographs by Hugo Glendinning. My fellow-diarists were Bobby Baker, Shobana Jeyasingh, Joanna MacGregor, Jo Shapcott (with whom, by chance, not art, I would later spend a strange night in a sleeper-car travelling through Romania), Shelagh Stephenson, Tim Supple, Errolyn Wallen and Richard Wentworth. I was trying to finish my third novel, “In the Shape of a Boar”. The process is documented in the entries that follow which I think, looking back more than ten years later, give the fullest account of how it is to write a novel.