Borrowed P D James' Time to be Earnest, a Fragment of Autobiography from the library the other day and have finished over the weekend. It's a charming book - partly because James, born in 1920, is very much of her time. She is a courteous writer, consciously avoiding any scandal or gossip in the diary she keeps in her seventy-eighth year. She's conservative, but she's also a philanthropist and sharply aware of her duty and responsibilities to the larger community. She's a church-goer with a great respect for church literature. The book doesn't chronicle her writing process as such, but it does provide interesting glimpses of the post-publication work a writer with the status of P D James undertakes. In one week she signs more than 2000 books! Her reflections on crime writing make interesting reading but she also talks about the books she reads throughout the year and books she has read.
Here are her own four pieces of advice to aspiring novelists:
The first is to read widely, not in order to copy someone else's style, but to learn to appreciate and recognise good writing and to see how the best writers have achieved their result. Poor writing is, unfortunately, infections and should be avoided.
Practise writing in whatever form; the craft is learned by practising it, not by talking about it. Some poeple find that writing courses or local writers' circles are a help, but they are not for everyone.
Increase your vocabulary; the raw material of the writer is words and the more we have abailable and can use effective and with confidence the better.
Welcome experience. This means going through life with all sense open: observing, feeling, relating to other people. Nothing that happens to a writer need ever be lost.
From: P D James, Time to be in Earnest, A Fragment of Autobiography, Faber & Faber, 1999, p. 187.
I think it entirely appropriate that the first real entry under my new blog banner should include P D James and knitting - although I'm not certain that P D James knits (and I rather think she doesn't), her autobiography often harks back to a time where women knitted out of necessity.