Tag Archives: Jeanette Winterson

One hundred and fifty ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 145 – 150









Further words on writing fiction gleaned from interviews, and articles, by the award winners and published…

145).  Be ready for anything. Each new story has different demands and may throw up reasons to break [the] rules. Except number one: you can’t give your soul to literature if you’re thinking about income tax.   (Hilary Mantel)

146).  Finish everything you start. Get on with it. Stay in your mental pyjamas all day. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. No alcohol, sex, or drugs while you are working.  (Colm Tóibín)

147).  Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.  (Zadie Smith)

148).  Trust your creativity. Enjoy this work!  (Jeanette Winterson)

149).  Talent trumps all. If you’re a ­really great writer, none of these rules need apply. If James Baldwin had felt the need to whip up the pace a bit, he could never have achieved the extended lyrical intensity of Giovanni’s Room. Without “overwritten” prose, we would have none of the linguistic exuberance of a Dickens or an Angela Carter. If everyone was economical with their characters, there would be no Wolf Hall . . . For the rest of us, however, rules remain important. And, ­crucially, only by understanding what they’re for and how they work can you begin to experiment with breaking them.  (Sarah Waters)

and if indeed this is the end of this long running and much loved series, I have to draw a conclusion with:

150).  Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.  (Samuel Beckett)

I hope you enjoyed.

Kaite x

One hundred ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 92-96.











Further thoughts from the great and good on writing, gleaned from interviews, articles and festivals:

92.  You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. (Ray Bradbury).

93.  Woolf was right. Make sure you’ve got a room –or even a house – of your own, so that you can work away when necessary. House-sit, pet-sit, plant-sir, go on retreat, residency, writing course – or just make sure your family, friends and neighbours respect your closed door. (Helen Simpson).

94.   Writing fiction is not “self-­expression” or “therapy”. Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.  (Sarah Waters).

95.   Have humility. Older/more ­experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. ­Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you. (AL Kennedy)

96.   Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward. (Jeanette Winterson).

One hundred ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 57-61








Further provocations and reflections on writing fiction (and poetry), extracted from interviews and articles collected over the years…

57.  When an idea comes, spend silent time with it. Remember Keats’s idea of Negative Capability and Kipling’s advice to “drift, wait and obey”. Along with your gathering of hard data, allow yourself also to dream your idea into being. (Rose Tremain).

58.  Read like mad. But try to do it analytically – which can be hard, because the better and more compelling a novel is, the less conscious you will be of its devices. It’s worth trying to figure those devices out, however: they might come in useful in your own work. I find watching films also instructive. Nearly every modern Hollywood blockbuster is hopelessly long and baggy. Trying to visualise the much better films they would have been with a few radical cuts is a great exercise in the art of story-telling. (Sarah Waters).

59.  Think with your senses as well as your brain. (Andrew Motion).

60.  Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether. (Jeanette Winterson).

61,  Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. (Kurt Vonnegut).

In the republic of poetry (2)

As I am now a poet according to The Poetry Society, Jeanette Winterson and the laureates of England and Wales (and in this company, who am I to disagree?), it is time perhaps for me to go public and brace myself for that first poetry reading.

The opportunity has come from my friend Chris Kinsey, who in so many ways is responsible for repatriating me back into the republic of poetry. Her latest collection, Swarf, will be launched at Oriel Davies in Newtown, where she is poet in residence, on Thursday 15th September 2011, at 7.30pm, and she has invited me to duet with her.

The idea is thrilling but also perplexing. I don’t write poetry per se, so am not quite sure what I’ll be expected to read at this ‘poetry reading’. Ever supportive, Chris gives me some suggestions of speeches from my plays which she feels have resonance with some of her poems in Swarf. This helpfulness merely perplexes me even more. What she has chosen are dialogue from play scripts, speeches written down as prose in the same format as this paragraph you, dear reader, are looking at now. They were not written as poems, but words to suggest a character, create pace, dynamic and rhythm, to push a story along. They aren’t set out in any shape or manner that resembles what I’ve seen published in poetry books – Chris Kinsey’s included.

This relationship between language and form – poetic or otherwise – has puzzled me for many years.

When I was younger, I used to read poetry widely, but somewhere  along the way became nervous and suspicious – not of the poems, but my own capacity to understand them. There were always some poets I still read and engaged with, but I wonder where this self-denigration came from? I’m not the only one feeling this way, or asking this question. In this quarterly’s edition of Mslexia magazine, D J Taylor queries why generations are growing up with a phobia, if not fear, of poetry.

Although I don’t actually write poetry, my version of Persians won the Ted Hughes Award for new works in Poetry earlier this year. As Aeschylus’s original, which I followed closely, was a verse drama, it fits the label. I was honoured to win the award and to have my name linked with two astonishing Poet laureates – Ted Hughes and Carol Ann Duffy, who initiated the award.  So why this trepidation in labelling, this fear of the poetic word? Will I be an imposter, masquerading as something I’m not at Chris’s book launch?

I look up the other readers who will perform that evening, to see if some clues lie there. R V Bailey has published three solo poetry collections, and From you to me – Love Poems, with her partner U A Fanthorpe. Andy Croft is the publisher of Smokestack Books, a widely published poet in his own right, and (a detail which delights me),  the writer of a regular poetry column in The Morning Star. The final reader will be Jane Dards, who has poems published in publications as diverse as Envoi, The Spectator, and The Oldie. Alongside them and the cause for this gathering is the wonderful Madam Kinsey, BBC Wildlife poet of the year, celebrating her third collection….

They are all poets. They all write poetry.

I wonder if I’m being overly literal. I’m not a fan of this segregational attitude I seem to have taken on. ‘Descriptive, not prescriptive’ I often say at workshops – and here I am, probably being blinkered in view and definition, quibbling about form.

But form is so essential. It is the life marrow in the bones that hold my work up.

I go back to the words.

What I seem to write are performance texts or prose which are viewed as poetry by poets, deemed highly lyrical by critics and cultural commentators. Told by the Wind, which I co-created with Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli for The Llanarth group last year ‘..has the astringent purity of a haiku poem..’ Elizabeth Mahoney reviewed in The Guardian.

‘The pleasure in O’Reilly’s play … is in  the easy, generous flow of the writing, with its mixtures of wit and singing lyricism ..’ Lynn Gardner wrote in the same paper of an earlier play, Belonging, for Birmingham Rep’.

At the Saville Club in Mayfair when I was given the Ted Hughes award, I likened it to discovering and being welcomed into a section of the family I never knew existed. I could see the family resemblances, sense the shared DNA – but was also aware of those rogue genes which brought unfamiliar features and essential differences.

Poets… Playwrights….I wonder if I’m being too narrow in my definitions.

When I think about it, many poems I read (not least the Poet Laureate’s The World’s Wife) use words ‘to suggest a character, create pace, dynamic and rhythm, to push a story along’, to quote myself from earlier in this post.

But more importantly, are there others who doubt their own capacities to read and comprehend poetry? If so, where does that come from? What has distanced us from where we began, and what we loved so much as children – and what we turn to in bereaved or troubled times?

Any comments?


For details of the poetry reading and book launch of Swarf by Chris Kinsey at Oriel Davies, Newtown, Wales, click on:                   http://www.orieldavies.org/en/events/book-launch-poetry-night

Andy Croft’s most recent column in The Morning Star: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/108528

For details of the book and the publisher:



In the republic of poetry – The Ted Hughes Award

In the republic of poetry

Alan Ward speaks to Kaite O’Reilly, winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry

This interview first appeared in the summer 2011 issue of Poetry News, which is mailed quarterly to members of the Poetry Society  (www.poetrysociety.org.uk).

Carol Ann Duffy presented playwright Kaite O’Reilly with the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry and a £5,000 cheque at the Savile Club, London, on 24 March 2011. Judges Gillian Clarke, Stephen Raw and Jeanette Winterson selected O’Reilly’s masterly retelling of Aeschylus’s 2,500-year-old play The Persians from a shortlist compiled from recommendations made by Poetry Society and PBS members. “Here’s the truth of language colliding with the clichés of politics and the advertisement of war,” the judges said. “This verse play is entertainment, challenge and a lie detector.”

Photo by Hayley Madden

Winning such a prestigious poetry award has, O’Reilly says, made her reflect on her practice and how she labels herself. “From the beginning of my career, critics have always called my plays ‘poetic’, or ‘lyrical’. Although I have never viewed myself as a ‘poet’, my poet friends do…”

So had she taken particular inspiration from the reworkings of Classical texts by poets such as Heaney, Hughes and Harrison when writing The Persians? “No, I was following a different trajectory,” O’Reilly says, though she had been keen to observe Aeschylus’s “very precise” poetic schema. “When Aeschylus used the heroic hexameter, I tried to echo this, sparingly, so as not to jar the ear of a modern audience. In the sections where he used prose, I did too.”

Poetry is an important part of her personal hinterland: “I’m Irish and, without trying to romanticise my culture, I do believe there is a form of poetics in the way Irish people handle the English language – or there was, certainly, in the living mouths of my parents and the way I was reared. There’s a love of language, an intoxication with what it can do – its lyricisms, its brutality – and this came to me through the language around me as I grew up.” John Donne remains a particular favourite. “He’s the poet I loved first and return to most. He and the Metaphysical poets wrote – to my ear, at least – the human voice in movement, full of humour and poignancy.”

O’Reilly’s adventurousness as a writer continues. She has been developing a series of work for disabled and Deaf performers for several years. In Water I’m Weightless: The ‘d’ Monologues will be produced by National Theatre Wales in 2012, as an Unlimited Commission and part of the Cultural Olympiad. The monologues vary in style and form, and include Sign Poetry. “I have been involved in disability arts and culture for over twenty years, and with Sign Performance for almost as long,” O’Reilly says.

So will the Ted Hughes Award finally allay her anxieties about claims to poetry? “I have always been rather terrified of ‘poetry’ – whatever that may mean,” she admits. “As a child, I gobbled it up and learned, as is so usual in Irish culture, huge swathes of it by heart. Then, somewhere in my twenties I became fearful – I wasn’t clever enough to understand poetry, it was something ‘beyond’ me – although I continued to read widely, especially in translation from German, Japanese, Welsh and Thai. My friend the nature poet Chris Kinsey started my repatriation into the republic of poetry, chasing away my fears, sharing her work and that of others. Now to be formally addressed as a fellow citizen, and by such luminaries – who I am to disagree?”

Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry

The award was founded by Carol Ann Duffy when she became Poet Laureate in 2009. The £5,000 prize money is funded from the stipend that the laureate traditionally receives from HM The Queen. The Ted Hughes Award 2011 will begin accepting recommendations from Poetry Society and Poetry Book Society members from September. Visit http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/competitions/tedhughes/ to find out more, to see examples of the type of work that may be eligible, and to make the Society aware of any exciting work you feel your fellow members might like to know about.

Further information about the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry can be found here: http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/competitions/tedhughes/