Literary Crush – W H Auden

W-H-Auden-people-pageAnimating the inanimate.

Having a literary crush, for me at least, doesn’t automatically mean I know the object of my affections inside out. In fact, sometimes it only takes one piece of work from an author to affect me or to influence my writing in some way – just as in life, where one smile exchanged, or one fleeting moment with a stranger, can stay with an individual for a lifetime.

And that’s how it is with me and Auden. Just two poems O Tell Me the Truth About Love and Funeral Blues is enough for me to say with conviction that Auden has influenced the way I write.

For example, Auden showed me the inherent power of personification as a tool for description – the art of bringing alive the inanimate elements of a scene or an emotion, with the aim of enhancing the effect upon the reader.

In O Tell Me the Truth About Love Auden personifies the emotion of love, humanising it, asking in the penultimate stanza:-

‘Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all its time at the races?
Or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of its own about money?
Does it think patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.’1

So when I wanted to describe the pain of Eve Eddison’s heartbreak in my forthcoming novel, Highland Fling, I drew on Auden as I personified the unseen nature of emotional pain as a ghost lingering with baseball bat, poised to inflict agony on the next victim:-

‘Like a baseball bat swung toward and struck bluntly with a thump directly at the heart, it never ceases to surprise that our emotions often physically hurt. And yet there is cruel futility in ripping at your shirt, searching your bare chest for the wound made by the strike, for there is no purpling bruise, just the awful sensation of invisible pain. And like the sinister haunting of a ghost, the shadow of emotion lingers before passing to the next unwary soul, bat in hand, arm out wide, poised.’

But it is not just Auden’s use of personification which has inspired me; it is also his ability to reimagine the familiar so that it works in a new and evocative way. Using simple images he is able to transform the unimportant to become important, and the universal to appear small and personal. In Funeral Blues, the sun is ‘dismantled’, the ocean ‘poured away’ and the wood ‘swept up’:-

‘The stars are not wanted now; put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.’2

So when, in Highland Fling, I needed to describe what it was like for Roxanne when she felt like she’d lost everything, thanks to Auden I understood there was no limit to what I could reimagine to express what I needed to say:-

‘It is a good thing that time waits for no one, and that life carries on without us. That we are not relied on to spin the earth, or pull down on the sun to set, or encourage the autumn leaves to fall. No, that is not our work. Our work is to find a way to live, even if for some upsetting reason we find that we no longer recognise our life.’

And yet, if I was asked “who inspires your writing?” there are so many writers, who together – one poem, one novel, one wisdom at a time – have made and are making me the writer I am and the writer I want to be. But it will always be Auden, expanding the limits of my imagination, and animating the inanimate for me.

W H Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973)

  1. p9, O Tell Me the Truth About Love, by W. H. Auden, Tell Me the Truth About Love, Ten Poems by W. H. Auden, 1994, Faber and Faber Limited.
  2. p29, Funeral Blues, by W. H. Auden, Tell Me the Truth About Love, Ten Poems by W. H. Auden, 1994, Faber and Faber Limited.

 

Anna Larner – Author of Highland Fling, Hooper Street and Love’s Portrait.

© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

 

Thoughts From the Bold Strokes Books Festival June 2016

Book Festival Reading
Sweet Romance Panel

“So what makes a good romance?”

Writing Highland Fling has been a fantastic learning process for me. When I think of lesbian romance, I now have the following quick check list in my mind:-

A clear focus on the two characters falling in love. It’s all about them. With their story fully resolved.

“You want to fall in love with them” characters you can admire or can be attracted to. Characters you can invest emotionally in. Basically if they’re not fanciable in some way readers are not likely to care.

Conflict, both internal (what they’re thinking), and external (what they do) – the energy that drives the story.

A happy ending. Readers expect that despite all of the agonies or uncertainties on the characters’ road to love, there will be a happy ending, that their feelings are safe in the writer’s hands.

Sexual tension – the will they won’t they element, enticing, engaging cues to sexual attraction and longing.

And, as I have been asked to select my golden rule for a successful romance, it would be this – Writing from the heart, putting into the story what it feels like to long for someone, to fall for someone, the uncertainty, the self-doubt, the tortured agony of it all…

 

“What’s the difference when it comes to writing short stories versus novels?”

ShortStoryVSNovel
Moderating The Sprint Vs The Marathon Panel

Let’s have a think for a moment about what we mean by a short story, and what we mean by a novel – the clue to everything is word limit.

If we use Bold Strokes Books guidelines – a recent call for submissions for a short story collection asked for stories between 2,000 – 5,000 words; and novels, well they start from 45,000 words upwards, depending on the genre.

So with a novel, averaging say 85,000 words, how do you keep your reader gripped for so long? How do you build in the depth that’s needed? How do you write a story that will stay with the reader forever from just the seed of an idea? And if you’ve only got 5,000 words, how do you tell your story fully? You’re going to need to grab the reader quickly –how do you do that? Does it mean you can only focus on one or two characters? And how do you manage without the space for a back story? How do you get depth without depth?

But is the joy of a short story, that it’s not a novel? You can experiment perhaps, try out a new genre, a different voice, explore a new character, work on impregnating a story with meaning in every word. Do the restrictions actually make you free?

And the novel, do you get to live another life through the expansive canvas offered to your characters? Do you have the room to say just what you want to say, no restrictions, another kind of freedom? As a novelist are you thrilled that you’ll keep your reader reading far too late, night after night, after night, after night..?

Bols Strokes Books Festival 2016 Attending Authors
Authors At The 2016 Bold Strokes Books UK Festival

 

© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.