My friend Wendy Jones published her first novel, The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor or Superior Funerals (which is an even title worse for tweeting than mine) last week. She had a very lovely launch at Daunts in Marylebone, which was as warm and generous as the book itself.
Any writer will tell you that it can be a teeny bit irksome when people at parties tell you that of course they’d write a brilliant novel or that they have a great novel within them. It’s not that they shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to write, far from it, but it’s disconcerting to discover that they have this belief despite never having written a word since university. It might be that should they choose to, their work would be a masterpiece, but no unwritten book has ever been read. Most of writing is just, well, writing.
Wendy is an example to us all. I remember her very casually saying to me along the lines of ‘oh, I’ve written 20 books’. Or it may have been 30 or even 40. At the time, she’d had only one published, a very well-received memoir of the artist Grayson Perry. But she wrote as others might walk or eat, without show or angst, just instinctively and enthusiastically without immediate reward.
The other striking thing about Wendy is how different her working methods are to my own. The American expression ‘plotter or panster’ describes our differences, the latter referring to writers who do things by the seat of their pants. I am organised to the point of anal – with detailed plot summaries and character descriptions done before I start the book, every chapter neatly saved into its own document, all written directly onto a computer. Wendy writes in longhand, with random pieces of paper stuffed into folders, eventually typing it onto a word processor in one long stream. Her way is far more romantic and part of me views it as more authentic and creative than my engineered approach. On the other hand, like anyone organised looking at someone else less so, I find even thinking of doing it like this gives me a headache.
Whatever method, we both got their in the end so here’s a little teetotal teatime toast to ourselves.