Col­lected blogs clev­erly de­tail a writer’s life

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Chris Smith

A.L. Kennedy has shown an ex­cep­tional tal­ent for writ­ing, and an en­dear­ing wit, in her six nov­els, three non-fic­tion books and five short-story col­lec­tions. And the Scot­tish au­thor puts those tal­ents to good use, even while writ­ing books, in a blog for the U.K. news­pa­per the Guardian. Those blogs, at least a three-year stretch of them, form the core of On Writ­ing, a hu­mor­ous look at the se­ri­ous business of writ­ing that Kennedy de­signed as a guide for new and as­pir­ing writ­ers, and for those of us who like to live vi­car­i­ously through one of our favourite au­thors. Through the train trav­els (she hates to fly) of an eru­dite, some­times-cur­mud­geonly au­thor and lec­turer, we learn some­thing not only of the craft of writ­ing, but of the strug­gle to be­come a writer and to make a de­cent liv­ing at it, es­pe­cially in a time when fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion, the arts and li­braries in the U.K. is un­der at­tack. “I am also aware that even peo­ple who love writ­ing and are free to write may some­times need some­thing to smile about,” Kennedy writes in her in­tro­duc­tion. “I have hoped to be en­ter­tain­ing.” She is that. She spends a great deal of time on the move, at­tend­ing work­shops and con­fer­ences, and so spends lit­tle time wor­ry­ing about the neigh­bours she sel­dom sees “and more time wor­ry­ing about why so many B&Bs are run by for­mer law-en­force­ment per­son­nel. On the one hand, their emer­gency-re­lated skills are prob­a­bly cracking and, on the other, they clearly har­bour a press­ing need to lock peo­ple up overnight in tiny rooms with in­ad­e­quate plumb­ing and fa­cil­i­ties. When I started writ­ing, no one told me it would come to this.” The blogs in­clude a pe­riod of pro­longed ill health in 2011, and Kennedy man­ages to make even her dis­com­fort and dis­tress read­able and en­gag­ing. She did a lot of writ­ing and re­vis­ing stretched out on a ho­tel bed, but would-be writ­ers prob­a­bly shouldn’t try this at home. Kennedy on eat­ing on tour: “Ho­tel restau­rants are ei­ther full of satel­lite foot­ball games, tat­tooed men and soiled copies of the Sun, or have dress codes and an in­sis­tence on stay­ing up­right which I usu­ally can’t man­age when I’ve been on the road for more than 48 hours.” On New York’s Penn Sta­tion: “...one of the very few rail ter­mini to have been de­mol­ished in the real world and re­con­structed within Satan’s colon.” “And why is it I can en­joy th­ese happy tor­ments?” she writes. “Be­cause I got an ad­e­quate ed­u­ca­tion, be­cause I grew up in a house with ac­cess to books, was a child who could visit my lo­cal, well-stocked li­brary and know it was full of won­ders, unguesse­dat beau­ties...” and as a re­sult she can make a liv­ing as a writer. She wants new writ­ers to have the same or bet­ter chances, but doesn’t think they will. While the bulk of the book, first pub­lished in the U.K. in 2013, is com­posed of the ed­u­ca­tional and en­ter­tain­ing blogs, Kennedy in­cludes longer-form es­says on character, voice, writ­ers’ work­shops and writ­ers’ health. The es­says take a more se­ri­ous tone about their sub­ject mat­ter, but are not with­out the wry asides that make you want to spend some time with Kennedy — maybe even on the train. The last sec­tion of the book, Words: A One-Per­son Show, is the tran­script of Kennedy’s show about writ­ing and lan­guage that be­gan its life at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val and has trav­elled around the world. You don’t have to be fa­mil­iar with Kennedy’s writ­ing to learn some­thing from this col­lec­tion, or to sim­ply en­joy a peek into a world any reader has imag­ined in so many dif­fer­ent ways. If you want to taste Kennedy’s fic­tional wares, Par­adise and Day showcase her out­stand­ing abil­ity to imag­ine char­ac­ters from within.

Chris Smith is a Win­nipeg writer.

On Writ­ing

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