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The London Review of Books yielded this at the breakfast table:

"In the words of A.S. Byatt, who worked with [Penelope] Fitzgerald at Westminster Tutors, the London crammer, she was ...  ‘someone with an austere, original talent’, and Byatt presents the way she came to understand this as an epiphany.

‘She said to me about
Human Voices’ – the scent rising, perhaps, from the sausage roll Fitzgerald was warming up on the radiator for lunch ['cause how could I cut that? - ek] – ‘that she wished I would write something … to point out that it was based on a German poem by Heine, “Der Asra”’. Fitzgerald’s fourth novel, on the face of it a tragicomedy of love and loss among careworn bosses and dewy office girls at the wartime BBC, resonated, in its author’s mind at least, with a poem in which a Yemeni slave explains how, for the people he comes from, to love is to die.

We are talking about a writer for whom intellect was a passion, and whose books as much recount romances with whatever she has been reading as they do anything else."


--Not Penelope Fitzgerald, obviously - unless she's a particular passion of yours - but if you write, do you do so in conscious - or unconscious - dialogue with other things you've been reading?

I would have said, "Probably not anymore" - but I am very conscious right now of the fact that all my first published work absolutely was just that!  I am re-reading Dorothy Dunnett's the Lymond Chronicles [a fun discussion on FaceBook], and it's bringing it all back - just how bouleversée I was by that series, and how much I learned from her technique, both consciously and un-.  I'm seeing now even more clearly what a perfect master she is of characterization, pacing, transitions, and POINT OF VIEW . . . but that's another post. I just mean to begin by answering my own question by saying that there have definitely been times when my work has been, not so much a romance with what I've been reading, as a response to it - or a way of engaging with it in some manner.

I'll be curious to see what you have to say about your own.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 20th, 2014 05:56 pm (UTC)

And I'll throw in for free and for nothing that, yes, I think FanFic would count. Yes? No? Or is that just too obvious?
Jan. 20th, 2014 06:06 pm (UTC)
Love this, and not least because of the references to Dunnett (who influenced me in a number of major ways as well, even though I didn't discover her until I was in my twenties).

For me the most profound and telling example of engagement occurs in my debut novel Knife, the love story in which was largely inspired by my peevishness over the fate of Matthew Maddox in Madeline L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet. As those who've read the book will remember, Matthew is brilliant and sensitive young man in love with the girl who is his lifelong best friend, but he can never tell her about his feelings because he's in a wheelchair and therefore Sickly and Doomed to Die, and she is engaged to his able-bodied brother. I loved the book, I loved Matthew, but that setup made me SO MAD. So after several increasingly furious re-readings, I resolved to write a book where the boy in the wheelchair gets to be the romantic lead.

Sometimes I think the best ideas come not so much out of swooning over other books as arguing with them.
Jan. 20th, 2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
"Sometimes I think the best ideas come not so much out of swooning over other books as arguing with them."


And what a great story.
Jan. 21st, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
Yes, this. Definitely my stories are more of an argument with what I've read. Of the flavor of "How could you promise me bread and then give me stones?"
Nancy Werlin
Jan. 20th, 2014 07:06 pm (UTC)
Holly Black says that "all art is in conversation with previous art," which puts it neatly.
Jan. 20th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
I have definitely seen, as RJ mentioned, authors who include something that seems to be a direct reference to someone else's work, usually with an "I wish it had gone this way" attitude.

I think, too, many writers directly reference pop culture as much as they do other written works. Movies and tv shows in particular (mostly seen in urban fantasy novels I've read).

Jan. 21st, 2014 01:08 am (UTC)
Short answer: yes. But I find it impossible to extricate "all art in conversation with previous art" from "all experiences, including art, in conversation, period." All influences all the time.

Also love RJ's point about arguing with books being as important as swooning over them.

Jan. 21st, 2014 03:28 am (UTC)
Sorry, can't. Editing a couple of stories that are so bad I want to hit them with my "Granny stick".
Nancy Werlin
Jan. 21st, 2014 09:21 pm (UTC)
Negative influences
Coincidentally, on negative influences:

Jan. 25th, 2014 03:40 pm (UTC)
I'm currently writing fanfic that's deeply influenced by C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen, and my thoughts about a few of the things Cyteen engages with, after I just read it for the first time. But it's not Cyteen fanfic, it's Marvel Cinematic Universe, about Natasha Romanoff. So...definitely a response, but not a response that's likely to be obvious to anyone but me?

Also, I think it might be sort of a cool story when viewed as a MCU fanfic, an unusual take on Natasha Romanoff's backstory, but when viewed as a response to Cyteen...maybe not so much, because Cyteen is awesomely amazingly awesome and I'm just writing something...

So yeah, I think there's a certain romance with what I've been reading aspect there, but obviously also a lot of self-consciousness about that. FWIW. :)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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