From one of my favourite books on the craft of writing…
Mastery [of the art of writing] is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.
—John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
What happens to our past when we can no longer remember?
What an amazing, complicated, unpredictable, enduring and fragile thing is memory. It is like a river. It can silt up and need dredging, it can flood and destroy, it can lose its way. It is like a river of moonlight, evanescent. When it goes dark, navigation is treacherous.
—Janette Turner Hospital, ‘Moon River’, Forecast: Turbulence
… life would be terrible … without death to give it gravitas and shape.
—Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Good Squad
But it’s a shape that Western society generally prefers not to acknowledge.
Once you begin looking, you see punctuation everywhere…
One night they fell asleep, side by side, on Maud’s bed, where they had been sharing a glass of Calvados. He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase.
—A. S. Byatt, Possession
I’m not sure where I saw this quote from the wonderful Tillie Olsen, but it lodged in my memory:
Any woman who writes is a survivor.
Or perhaps is trying to be? Is writing always an act of survival?
An editing colleague put me on to Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s quirky book years ago, and I often dip into it. Grammar with drama and a touch of goth…
The verb is the heartthrob of a sentence. Without a verb, a subject would be abandoned, stranded in a sentence, incapable of sensing the void. There would be nothing between words but meaningless space or a clutter of adjectives, phrases, and pronouns, and maybe something to eat, but no way to reach for it or bite it, since action and feeling are missing.
—Karen Elizabeth Gordon. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: the ultimate handbook of grammar for the innocent, the eager, and the doomed
Another impossible, heroic attempt at defining love:
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs
—Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
As it happens, sometimes, in life… This from one of my favourite novels.
I remarked one day that if our characters could have been combined we may have made between us one good person.
—Jessica Anderson, Tirra Lirra by the River
Words to write by…
I think that nearly all good writing is suggestion, and all bad writing is statement. Statement kills off the reader’s imagination. With suggestion, the reader takes up from where the writer leaves off.
—John McGahern, Memoir
We all have our own ways of describing love. I’ve always been drawn to this one. Perhaps it’s the idea of a secret sky…
This is love:
to fly toward a secret sky,
to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment,
First to let go of life
Finally, to take a step without feet.