FIVE GREAT BOOKS ABOUT WINTER
SNOW Marcus Sedgwick (Little Toller, £12) One of a beautiful series of small hardback monographs published by Little Toller, this is a fabulous examination of snow. It takes a truly flinty heart not to be enthralled and captivated by seeing a snow flurry outside the window and this is a book that captures the magic, stillness and silence of the most enchanting aspects of our meteorology.
BURIAL RITES Hannah Kent (Pan Macmillan, £8.99) Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Burial Rites is a re-imagining of the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland in 1829. Sentenced to death for her role in the murder of her lover, Agnes endures a last winter billeted with a district official at his remote farmhouse until such a time that the ground defrosts enough to dig her grave. A brilliantly human portrait of relationships, social conventions and the gradual emergence of secrets.
MAD DOGS AND AN ENGLISHWOMAN Polly Evans (Transworld, £9.99) Polly Evans is a travel writer of the old school – a born adventurer and natural storyteller. Deciding she wants to learn to drive sled dogs, she decamps to the Yukon for because I did far too much research which led to far too much writing, meaning by the time I submitted it to my editor I’d written twice as much as I was supposed to, an excess that was swiftly excised and binned.
7 Jonathan Franzen is an evangelical advocate of avoiding the internet while writing. This is one thing we can agree on. Distraction is the bane of writerly productivity. You can tell when I’m up against a book deadline because I’m not on Twitter. You can also tell when I’m up against a book deadline because I’m on Twitter more than ever.
8 Find your writing space. Whether it’s a dedicated room with large windows looking out over mountains, sea or steppe or a corner of the kitchen table near the bin, find what works for you. It doesn’t have to be fancy. If you find yourself worrying about table heights or what inspirational prints to hang over your desk then you’re just trying to avoid the actual writing. Helen Simpson says she a snowbound winter and immerses herself in the dogsled community. A mixture of fearless confidence and self-doubting vulnerability, Evans is a terrific guide to the landscape, people and culture of northern Canada, one of the least forgiving landscapes on Earth.
MIDWINTER Fiona Melrose (Corsair, £8.99) Father and son Landyn and Vale Midwinter are facing a bleak winter on their Suffolk farm, the harsh landscape and grim financial outlook chipping away at their relationship and the hitherto unspoken tragedy of Vale’s mother’s death in Africa years earlier. In language as sparse and unyielding as the frozen ground, Melrose uses winter as the backdrop to a heartbreaking exploration of grief, masculinity and how the ownership of a story can be as fractious as the ownership of a piece of land.
SPEED KINGS Andy Bull (Transworld, £8.99) The story of four young American men and their attempt to win Olympic bobsleigh gold in 1928 and 1932, Speed Kings is a brilliant and pacey tale of privileged young men with a thirst for danger on and off the track that leads to acts of immense courage and heroism. A wonderful portrait of an era when the scars of war bred a fearlessness bordering on the reckless and winter was an exhilarating playground. just has a Post-it on the wall over her desk with ‘Faire et se taire’ written on it, a line from Flaubert “which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it’”. Good advice.
9 Have a few carefully-chosen people in mind for whom you are writing. You can’t just write for yourself and you can’t write trying to second guess the reactions of reviewers, editors and readers. Once you’ve learned to trust yourself it’s time to write for those you trust. I have about half a dozen friends, whose opinions I respect and value, in mind when I’m writing (and if any of my friends are reading this, you’re definitely one of them).
10 Enjoy it. It’s supposed to be fun. In the light of this I shall leave you with my favourite quote from a writer on writing and again it comes from Gene Fowler. “Writing is easy,” he said. “All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood start to form on your forehead.”