LIFESTYLE

Bailey's Women's Prize Shortlisters On The Reality Of Life As An Author

'People worry about loneliness, but writing is not a lonely occupation for me.'

20/05/2016 16:02 | Updated 20 May 2016

More often than not, the wonderful shortlisters who appear on the Bailey's Women's Prize For Fiction are tipped for greatness.

But while our bookshelves (and Kindles) are jam-packed with their stories, what do we really know about the authors behind the plot lines?

We spoke to the six Bailey's Prize shortlisters about their writing styles, motivations, struggles and - most importantly - what's on their current reading list.

Hanya Yanagihara

HANYA YANAGIHARA – A Little Life (Picador)

Who are you currently reading at the moment, and why?

I just finished Lori Ostlund's very good and moving 'After The Parade', an elegant, compassionate, and quietly confident book about trauma -- and how we can come to make sense of our lives. 

What's your writing routine when writing a book?

I've always had a day job, but when I was writing my second book, I was able to (finally) achieve a real sense of discipline. I came home from work around 6:30pm or 7pm, went to the gym and had dinner, and then wrote between 9pm and midnight Monday through Thursday; on Fridays, Saturday, and Sundays, I wrote for six hours a day.

The other thing that helped me focus was my desk--it's a long counter and faces inward, so there's nothing to look at but my screen. I never realised just how important it was to have a dedicated writing area. 

What's the one thing that people don't realise which is difficult about writing? And what makes it all worth it?

It's interior, lonely work. That said it's pleasure as well, of course. But the manuscript while in progress often feels unwieldy, as if all you're doing is trying to stuff snakes into a small bag. You secure them for a while, but they invariably escape, and then you have to begin anew.

Lisa McInerney

LISA MCINERNEY - The Glorious Heresies (John Murray)

Who are you currently reading at the moment, and why? 

I’m very behind on my reading, so it’s only now I’m getting around to Andrew Michael Hurley’s 'The Loney'. I expected unsettling and Gothic and it certainly delivers, but there’s also a warmth and a liveliness to its characters that I hadn’t anticipated, and I’m delighting in it.

I’ve just finished another book that took me far too long to get to – Mark Dunn’s Ibid, which was equal parts barmy and beautiful. I’m a capricious kind of reader and very easily distracted, so to get two joyful reads in a row is a lucky thing.

What's your writing routine when writing a book?

I write in my office. And by office I mean box room with the bed taken out and a load of bookshelves stuck in. My desk is relatively uncluttered, with a couple of pop culture figurines by my monitor – Yoda, Squall Leonhart, Pac-Man – because I’m just a big child.

In terms of routine, I don’t really have one, outside of aiming at a thousand words very working day. But I am a advocate of the Alice in Wonderland method: Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

What's the one thing that people don't realise which is difficult about writing? And what makes it all worth it?

It can be desperately lonely. Not the writing itself – that inner landscape where the stories come from is cacophonous – but the professional to-do that comes after.

If a line doesn’t work, it’s no one’s fault but your own. If a chapter doesn’t work. If a book doesn’t work. If people react badly, or worse, don’t react at all, there is no one to share the blame.

It’s not so much that it’s all worth it in the end as it is the writer having no choice.

I have to write. The only thing more miserable is not writing.

 

Elizabeth McKenzie

ELIZABETH MCKENZIE – The Portable Veblen (Fourth Estate)

Who are you currently reading at the moment, and why? 

I’m reading 'The Past' by Tessa Hadley because I’m a great admirer and I read everything by her.

I’m also alternating with 'Memories of Silk' and 'Straw', a very delightful book I found at a library sale, a portrait of a “small, unremarkable town” in Japan by Junichi Saga. I read often about Japan after living there a few years ago.

What's your writing routine when writing a book?

In the morning. My routine has been to start as soon as my children have gone to school. The house is quiet and I can slip away into the imaginary world of my novel and pace around mumbling new dialogue or sit and stare into space uninhibited or whatever’s necessary that particular day.

Accompanied by several cups of coffee of course. I’ll spend the day that way until everybody’s home in the afternoon. From that point on, the day’s no good for me for writing, but good for everything else.

Do you have a special writing room? 

Yes, I do have a little writing office, and feel very lucky to have it. It’s at the moment a bit stuffed with too many books and files and papers, and I’ve just asked a friend to come build a few new shelves up around the top of the wall.

There’s a bulletin board over my desk with things I need to do, or inspiring quotes or amusing cartoons or a treasured note from somebody or other. Prominent on another wall is a guide dog calendar, and family photos are leaning against books in the shelves. There’s an armchair squeezed into the corner by the window.

What's the one thing that people don't realise which is difficult about writing? And what makes it all worth it?  

I’m not sure if they realise how un-inevitable a book can be, and how unintentional some of the best parts come about, for me at least. Every step of the way there are so many turns the story might take.

I usually find myself trying out a number of them before discovering which one feels right. And often the best sections and transitions come unexpectedly, and of course that’s what makes it worth it, when something has zest and at last comes alive.

Anne Enright

ANNE ENRIGHT - The Green Road  (Vintage)

Who are you currently reading at the moment, and why?

I am reading 'Strangers Drowning' by Larissa MacFarquar, which is about extreme altruism; people who give up everything to help or save others. I have a residual interest in sainthood, as a result of a catholic upbringing. I also tend to find and read books after I have written about something - my last book, The Green Road, is also interested in ideas of goodness and compassion (somewhere in there, deep down).

I am dipping into a book called 'Conversations on Consciousness', edited by Susan Blackmore, which I picked up, second-hand. As a novelist I am interested in the way people think. I am also rereading a novel that I have no intentions of telling you or anyone else about. It is a very famous and good novel. Just one paragraph makes me start writing fiction. No. Not telling you.

What's your writing routine when writing a book?

Erm. I write in bed. I write out of bed. On the sofa. At a desk. I don't have a writing routine, I have a writing life. Last year I took a break from writing fiction for the first time in thirty years. It was ok. I did not fall sick, or die.

What's the one thing that people don't realise which is difficult about writing? And what makes it all worth it?

People worry about loneliness, but writing is not a lonely occupation, for me. Everyone gets lonely, what distinguishes the writer is their tenacity; the ability to get to the end of the page, and then start the next one. I love when I get it right - the thing I want to say. That is deeply satisfying. I also am delighted when my own writing surprises me.

Hannah Rothschild

HANNAH ROTHSCHILD - The Improbability of Love (Bloomsbury)

Who are you currently reading at the moment, and why? 

I have, as always, several books on the go- each for a different mood or particular interest. I'm reading Andrew Ross Sorkin's 'Too Big To Fail' about the 2008 crash which is full of eerie deja vues with the current situation.

Also enjoying 'Brideshead Revisited' which is far darker than I remembered. Have just started 'Tuesday Nights in 1980' a debut by Molly Prentiss set in the NY Art World for which I have high hopes. Peter Frankopan's 'The Silk Roads' is a tour de force, eloquently shifting our view of world history. 

What's your writing routine when writing a book?

I often compare my writing routine to having a secret love affair- it happens whenever and wherever possible- it is sometimes thrilling, often scary, occasionally frustrating and always at the back of my mind. Because I work full-time, there are no real set times or places. I have to fight against other commitments and my own procrastination for it to happen.

What's the one thing that people don't realise which is difficult about writing? And what makes it all worth it? 

A lot of writing is simply a slog: getting the words down, cutting, rewriting, editing, cutting, rewriting, editing and so on. But when that process is finally finished, few things have ever give me as much pleasure or sense of achievement as holding a bound book in my hands.

 

Cynthia Bond

CYNTHIA BOND – Ruby (Two Roads)

Who are you currently reading at the moment, and why?

The truth is, when I am wading in the thick of a deadline writing--I don’t read.  Rather, the only reading I do is for research or inspiration—highlighted or swiped from the internet. 

For the second book of the Ruby trilogy; 1) A compilation of two books by Nella Larsen, 'Quicksand' and 'Passing'; 2) 'The Sanctified Church' by Zora Neale Hurston and loads of loose pages about circuses in the 1940s and 50s. 

What's your writing routine when writing a book?

I am a hunter and time is my quarry. As a writer and single mom to an 11-year-old daughter, I seek it every single day. Sometimes I’m lucky and I land hours at a time. But most of the time, I feel like a famished mountain lion, roaming the foothills near my home in Granada Hills, California searching for a scurrying, elusive moment.  I’d never known that one could be hungry for time, ravenous, desperate. 

I fiercely love my daughter and am equally inspired by her.  Yet I must hunt not only to feed our bodies, but unlike Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the urge to create is, for me, equally as strong as the need for food and shelter.  Now that I make my living as a writer, this is doubly true. So I write at 5:30 in the morning before waking her, driving her an hour to school and back and the 44 vital alarm blazing tasks on an infinitely growing list.  When she’s home and finally asleep, I marvel at her love of science and excitement telling me about the Diamond Planet 40 light years from Earth and my heart is full.  But I’m exhausted.

I want to lay back, turn on CNN anxious to watch an orange screaming man named Trump, praying he won’t succeed in imploding our world, but the need for time rumbles.  However now I must fight against my own resistance, my own fear.  Sometimes I lose. Sometimes I win, but I am never, never satisfied, not even in sleep. 

What's the one thing that people don't realise which is difficult about writing? And what makes it all worth it? 

Writing is a marathon with a constantly changing finish line.  While I was writing my novel I continually thought I was near completion. A good friend would take me out for some sort of sweetened berry martini concoction.  I’d get a little tipsy.  Then go back, look over a scene and curse out loud.  Damn!  What the hell was I thinking?!  So back I’d go.  Months, years, winning a PEN Fellowship, getting my brilliant agent, Nicole Aragi, and still I wasn’t finished. 

I remember almost giving up again, and again and again.  Especially just before the book sold, I was certain that it would not be published.  Around that time I had a dream and I saw men and women, each standing in front of a their own flag pole with a hand on their hearts. I looked up and saw that the flags were actually books, pages fluttering in the wind.  I realised that every writer must pledge an allegiance to their books. 

When Ruby found a wonderful publishing home—Hogarth Press, I still wasn’t finished, another rewrite.  But once I finally did, and held my published book in my hands I knew that I had finally broken the tape.  Being published by Two Roads, and being short-listed for the Baileys Prize I was finally able to do a victory dance.

SEE ALSO:

Author Anne Tyler Reveals Her (Rather Unusual) Secrets To Writing A Prize-Winning Book

Sarah Waters, Author Of 'The Paying Guest', On Why She Invokes Being A Lesbian Writer

 

The Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction celebrates the best in women's writing and is announced on 8th June 2016. www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk @BaileysPrize #BaileysPrize

 

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