"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The End of Ink?

Iris Murdoch said that she could not conceive of writing with anything other than a fountain pen, a view that must seem impossibly fogeyish in an era of daily internet activity at the keyboard or of fingers flashing over the keypads of mobile phones, sending text messages. In those features in the newspapers that show a picture of the Writer's Room and in which various celebrity authors describe their writing habits, a surprising number of Bookerbookmen admit to writing still in longhand and then transcribing it on a keyboard for the final version. I can't imagine that anyone under the age of 25 would think of doing this and even nearly a hundred years ago young novelists like Aldous Huxley would sit at a typewriter in their rooms on the Tuscan coast bashing out the words. The simple answer is that there are no rules. Whatever works for you. I look at those writers' rooms and think: all they would have to photograph in my case is whichever flat space my 12 inch Mac i-Book is currently resting on. All I have ever needed to be able to write are two things: time and an absence of interruption. The means of writing are irrelevant (a quill pen if necessary) as is noise (a pneumatic drill outside the window is no problem, an unwanted phone call a catastrophe).

In one area of my life, an occasional diary, I write in longhand with a fountain pen filled with sepia ink. I don't know why I do this. Maybe because I always have done so. Inertia. I certainly couldn't erect a theory of literary creation based on the flow of ink through a nib. Without wanting to sound pretentious the act of literary creation is a bit of a mystery and if we could isolate the things that make it work we really would be on to something. In reality we can only wait for the spark to come. As Philip Larkin put it, being a poet is often a matter of "waiting for poems to turn up". It's the same for prose too though compositional habits are more regular - if not industrial. One simply has to be prepared for that moment, like firemen ready to slither down the greasy pole when the klaxon sounds.

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