Last Wednesday I had lunch with the novelist Wendy Perriam whose current project is a book of short stories, Bad Mothers Brilliant Lovers. Wendy is a planner. The stories she tells have been mulling in her head, each twist meticulously mapped, before a word is written. It was her planning that led us to meet: a round-robin email forwarded to my inbox. Did anyone have a Probation Service contact who might help with her research for a new novel? I gave her a call. Thus began a writerly friendship.
Writerly friendships are not like normal interactions where conversations rake forwards and back with shared points of reference, short-forms, comment and interjection, and recognisable characters. Writers talk to each other in chapters, providing thumbnails of the main characters and settings before beginning a narrative that is heard all the way through before anyone speaks. It’s a form of literary criticism; we interpret, measure and question the detail against the outcome of a narrative.
I was reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch when we met. Tartt spends ten years researching and writing each novel. Meticulous details – scenes in galleries, auction rooms, furniture workshops, drug dens, casinos, and locations across the US and Europe – enrich every page. I asked Wendy how her Probation Service research was coming along. ‘Oh, I’m still at planning stage!’ she said. ‘I’ve had the story in my head for years. I need to structure it first. I’ll start researching around March 2015.’
Many people seem to think of professional writers as the lucky few who’ve turned a hobby into a job. They’ll tell you that they too have an idea for a novel or a film script or a memoir. This is no less misguided than someone who runs around the block every night thinking of Mo Farah as a fellow runner. As Einstein said in a different context, writing is one per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration. Donna and Wendy attest that being a writer is about application not intention.
At Tricycle Readers group we’ll extract and extrapolate meaning from diverse and interesting texts. Perhaps we can twist Wendy’s arm to join us to read one of her short stories. In the meantime I found this interview from the Independent newspaper, just after the publication of an anthology written at a very difficult time in her life. Wendy Perriam interviewed by Peter Stanford.