Episode #14: How to Write

Toni Morrison writing // Logo by 3Dperson // Hilary Mantel at her desk // Unknown // Detail from  Ekaterina Panikanova's Celestial Phenomena (2014)  // Unknown

Toni Morrison writing // Logo by 3Dperson // Hilary Mantel at her desk // Unknown // Detail from Ekaterina Panikanova's Celestial Phenomena (2014) // Unknown

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I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable
sadness I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along


  • Charlotte recommends Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know (London: Penguin Books, 2013);
  • Emma recommends The Paris Review interviews – you’ll find the Toni Morrison one online here. Emma also recommends Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir, in which Mantel writes: “This is what I recommend to people who ask me how to get published. Trust your reader, stop spoon-feeding your reader, stop patronising your reader, give your reader credit for being as smart as you at least, and stop being so bloody beguiling: you in the back row, will you turn off that charm! Plain words on plain paper. Remember what Orwell says, that good prose is like a window-pane. Concentrate on sharpening your memory and peeling you sensibility. Cut every page you write by at least one-third. Stop constructing those piffling little similes of yours. Work out what it is you want to say. Then say it in the most direct and vigorous way you can. Eat meat. Drink blood. Give up your social life and don’t think you can have friends. Rise in the quiet hours of the night and prick your fingertips, and use the blood for ink; that will cure you of persiflage! But do I take my own advice? Not a bit. Persiflage is my nom de guerre. (Don’t use foreign expressions; it’s elitist.)” (London: Fourth Estate, 2013, pp. 4-5)
  • Carolyn Steedman is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Histoy at Warwick University. Read more about her here and read her recent piece ‘Middle-Class Hair’ for the London Review of Books here;
  • Lynsey Hanley’s Respectable: Crossing the Class Divide was published by Penguin in 2017. An extract from the book was published by The Guardian in 2016 – read that here.

…Will be about writers: whose books are we reading, and what's with the gendering of book covers?

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Emma Lundin