The Way We Write

Book Review by Willard Manus

The editor of this anthology of interviews with award-winning writers prefaces things with a quote from T.S. Eliot: "Most editors are failed writers--but so are most writers."

That didn't stop Barbara Baker from interviewing a slew of literary folk on the mental and physical challenges of their profession. Baker conducted the eighteen interviews in THE WAY WE WRITE (Continuum) in diverse ways--sometimes in person, most of the time by e-mail, fax or phone. She also picked a wide range of artists for the book--novelists, short-story writers, poets and playwrights.

There are no ground-breaking or daring positions staked out here, but it goes without saying that writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, Willy Russell and Margaret Drabble (among others) will have worthy and interesting things to say. Oates, for example, confesses that "forbidden passions" are what fuel her work--"anger, hurt, envy, spite, rage, self-loathing, despair, lack of generosity, lack of a sense of community, indifference, deliberate stupidity. My characters range through all of these, and more."

Willy (Shirley Valentine) Russell confides that he can't write without a deadline: "I write because I have to write because I have usually entered into a contract. I will always try to get out of that contract. In monetary terms, I can do that, but if I am locked into a contract that I morally can't get out of, then I will have to write the play."

Novelist Drabble's confession goes like this: "I know that when I read a novel by, say, Martin Amis or Justin Cartwright, I realize that men, in their novels, think a lot about sex, in a way that I as a woman can't describe. So when I am writing from a male point of view, I am missing out a lot of what they would have been thinking about. I am aware of that. I don't think that means my characters are completely unconvincing, because they can think about business, or their children, or their jobs, or God, or the absence of God; but I cannot write about male sexuality from a male point of view, which means I have to work harder to make all the other bits convincing."

Barbara Baker's other books include Chinese Ink and Western Pen.