Shaun Levin

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


In Uncategorized, Writing on October 28, 2022 at 10:44 am

Your style is where you fell short but kept going anyway.

I’m not sure that’s true but at the moment it feels like it might be. You aimed for something and you couldn’t do it but what remains is the thing they call style. I say this because someone said “I like your style” and I thought: Style? I can’t even draw! I’ve been learning to draw. At the moment it’s life drawing. I attend regular life drawing classes online and I fall short.

I want to draw the human figure the way the human figure should be drawn, the way it’s drawn in what I guess you’d call traditional ways. Of course, there are also moments when I think, no, that’s not what I want. I just want to have fun and play. I want to see what I can do with what I have, with what comes naturally (if there is such a thing). Maybe that’s what style is. If you’re having fun, that’s probably a sign you’re writing or drawing or painting in a way you feel at home in. Despite and maybe because of that nudging nagging feeling that I should be doing it properly. I should be writing great family sagas, historical dramas, doing what Jane Austen did, what Dostoevsky did, what VS Naipaul did, what all those robust writers did. Big grand novels. What Caravaggio did, Virginia Woolf, even, Picasso, even, if you look at his earlier work, at Hilma af Klint’s earlier work. But you look at their earlier work, even the work of Kandinsky, for example, and you realise that what they were doing at the beginning was not their style, or at least the style they are known for.

Style is the opposite of tradition. Or a conversation with tradition. Or a refuting of tradition, a skill for those who once did it the traditional way. At some point we thought that’s what writing should be. Traditional. Tradition was all we had to refer to, at least most of the time. It’s what everyone was doing so should we be doing it too, writing like that, drawing like that, painting like that. As I gradually immerse myself in the world of drawing and illustration (not yet painting, still not) I feel how there is much more room for the non-traditional, in a way that I’m not sure writing or literature has many examples of. Maybe it’s to do with how we think of language, what we expect when we open a book, what you can actually do in a book made up of only words.

Sometimes I feel like that I can’t draw, not in the traditional way, not with much skill. When it comes to writing it’s a bit more complex. I studied literature. I read a lot, more in teh past than now, but still. Question: Is the link between looking at paintings and painting per se (I love that expression: per se! So archaic, such chubby cheeks to pinch) the same as reading is to writing? Maybe looking closely at paintings for the past many years has been some kind of groundwork, some kind of permission to play and to tell myself that this might be my style, and then to keep doing it, and by doing it become better at it.



In Writing on June 13, 2022 at 10:09 am

There is something about the novel, about the short story, but mainly the novel, that’s always moving towards resolution towards solving putting things in order and the illusion that this is what writing is for, to give form to existence to anxiety to the internal world to make sense. What if there is no shape what if there is no deep longing for form, that a form must be found to reflect the no-sense of existence, that there isn’t always a longing for comfort. But I’m not sure I follow you, I’m not sure I’m saying what I mean. The writing itself will find its form like water will find its flow. Yes, it’s nice if there’s a dam, nice if there’s a canal and a lock and an irrigation system, but what if you follow the water what if you let the water flow as it wants to flow, do what it wants to do and let that be the shape, let nature dictate the shape, the internal world (the closest we get to nature) create the shape. My god it’s hot and I’m sitting here writing and sweating and even with the AC on evidence of our triumph over nature I can barely breathe it is so hot and sticky and I feel ugly and fat and untouchable sat in the blobbiness the wobbliness of thoughts, the melting and resistance of ugliness and what is the form? Ugliness. What is the form of ugliness if we let it find its own flow everything merging together the messiness and the anxiety and the beauty and the clear and vague the shaped and unshaped, the diffuse, the sharp, to put them together for all of that to live together and that is the form the form is the mess (the complexity, okay, the complexity) of existence and that is what the novel wants to fix to shape into something nice to move towards nice make order out of ugly but what if there is no order what if you don’t need order if you don’t need to calm and comfort by making up stories what if I create something that is messy and ugly and that’s all there is, but the creating is the triumph, the creation is the grace, the making is the AC, the showing of that the exposing of that without the movement towards order towards comfort towards reassurance. Art as an act of survival not as a sense-making, order-making effort. How do you survive? By art. To put everything into one place, the writing, the sketching, the photographs, the poems, the memories, all of that into one place because all of that exists together (in nature) and we are here (here I am) so intent on the segregation of the gestures of expression, the creative outlets, and what would happen if everything went into one place, if everything was there and nothing was left out? I’m thinking of a particular project as I write this, a project about a place, a block of flats I lived in for twelve years, and the different ways to tell that story all the different elements that want to go into that story, the story of one building in one city on an island. Stories and photographs and illustrations and architectural drawings and memories to piece together a time, not to bring order but to remember to document to archive to hold onto to let go and not let go, to put to use, not to waste seeing as we’ve made a choice to make art our survival mechanism and everything is sustenance.

To explore: The writer as hoarder and declutterer.

Tell Me More

In Writing, Writing Workshops on May 17, 2022 at 12:07 pm

In 1997 when I started running creative writing workshops, I used to hand out a page with how-to suggestions for reading your work and giving feedback. The guidelines were adapted from Elaine Farris Hughes’ Writing from the Inner Self and Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers, books that, along with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, resonated with me in a way that shaped my practice as a writer and my approach to workshops.

When I compiled the handout twenty-five years ago I knew on some intuitive level that we don’t learn to write and be writers through critique. Critique does not teach us how to write.

Honestly, it’s been so many years since I was in a critiquing environment that I can’t remember exactly what people say. I never liked those environments and I never liked what people said, unless they said nice things, then I liked it because those nice things made me want to keep writing. If anything, keeping writing is what makes us writers. We learn to write by learning how to write more, by wanting to write more, to expand, think deeper, notice more, go on tangents, waste nothing (so much gets wasted, left out, too much), experience the thrill of a tangent, long or short, a page, a chapter, a few lines, and then the return to the thread that is seeing us through the story.

The act of writing is where I am most at peace, as when I’m in a swimming pool or the sea, anywhere in water, the bath, too. I remember the thought distinctly, the feeling, when I wrote my first story in English, when I wrote exactly what I wanted to write and the story flowed, the language flowed, me and the language were one. This was after living in Hebrew for almost fifteen years and already having published a couple of stories in Hebrew, a language I immigrated into as a teenager. I sat down one day and wrote that story in English, the story of a person at the window of a shoe shop looking at a pair of stilettos. That was the story that took me back into the language I had grown up in. Three years later I moved to London where I lived for just over twenty years.

Five years ago I moved back into living in another language, but by then I had found my voice. Not just my voice, by which I mean my subject matter and the way in which I like writing about it, a way of writing that feels like my own, my way of doing it. I felt, too, I feel, that I have accumulated enough unfinished and almost-finished work to last me a long time, many years, I don’t want to say a lifetime because new projects are always appearing, making themselves known and available – pick me, pick me – but enough that I feel I have turned up in Spanish with a substantial stockpile of writing to keep expanding on.

Lumb Bank, October 1999. Photographer unknown (Penny, perhaps)

Writing taught me how to write. Being immersed in writing taught me how to write, those weeks at the Arvon Foundation’s Lumb Bank or Totleigh Barton, were weeks that made me a writer, made me want to keep writing. If we have a role as a teacher, a fellow writer, I mean, isn’t that what we want from our fellow human being, is to hear and say the words: Tell me more about… The more we hear those words, the likelier we are to make them our own, to keep asking ourselves that, tell me more, so that we keep writing, despite the critiques and regardless.

Embrace the Tangent

In Story, Writing on May 11, 2022 at 9:24 am

“She grabbed a piece of fruit and ran for the bus.”

Don’t say “fruit” say…

Words are memories – if she grabbed a strawberry, or a slice of melon, or an apple, or a wedge of an orange (wedge? Why wedge? All wedged in there like something that’s been missing from her life, my life, our lives) and whatever fruit she grabbed would be a memory, a story to add to the story we’re working on and maybe she’d remember those summers when they went strawberry picking or she’d think how much she missed summers when melons were in season, I mean like really in season, not somewhere else in the world where this melon was from – Spain? Guadeloupe? Morocco? – not quite ripe, not quite right, and nothing was right in her life right now, things were hard, this slice of melon was hard, even though when she bought it she was hoping it would fix something, this melon and all that it held, summer, and joy and so much sweetness of the juice that would run down her chin, but not this slice, not this melon, not this life she was living now, almost late for the bus for a job she almost hated, but not quite fully, nothing quite fully. Fool. And this tangent, this tangent we’re on right now is what stories are made of, stories are made from the tangents we take and we must embrace them, embrace the tangent, because that’s what gives our writing texture, they are the true evidence of our imagination and its workings, this is what my imagination looks like on the page, if you could see inside my head, this is what you would see, this is what a tangent looks like. Singing, this is what a ta-ha-ha-ngent looks like.

And as we do one thing, so we do everything. Who said that? The way we do one thing is the way we do everything? Because if I settled for “fruit” and not the peach or the grapes or the slice of kiwi fruit, then I might settle for imprecision when it comes to other things. A thought, a touch, a feeling, a smell. Don’t avoid the details. They are where trust is built. They are where the connection is established. With the reader. The Reader. Don’t think about the reader. Be honest with your imagination and readers will take care of themselves. Trust is established through the melon. The peach. The over-ripe banana. She’d never eat an over-ripe banana. Never a soft blueberry. Never a floury apple. She hardly ever, almost never, wastes food but she would waste a floury apple. I will waste you, floury apple!

Where were we? Yes, the tangents. Tangents build trust. Tangents are invitations into the private workings of the individual imagination. No two imaginations tangent in the same way. Is tangent a verb? I tangent, you tangent, we all scream for tangents. Give me tangents or give me death. Tangents are the specificity we must name. Don’t let her catch the bus without naming the fruit she’s grabbing from the plate in the kitchen, no, straight from the chopping board, for wasn’t it her lover who’d sliced the melon before he left to catch an early train to Glasgow? No, Paris. Every specific detail has a story, and it’s that story that makes the story in which it appears. Don’t avoid detail. (Okay, I won’t, I won’t, I promise, never!) Don’t avoid story. Don’t avoid the work of the writer. Embrace the tangents. All of writing is a series of tangents as we work our way through creating a story.

Now what was the number of the bus she just got on? (Phew, just in time.). The 116? The 73? Which, of course, is a whole other tangent.

An Hour a Day

In Writing on August 22, 2021 at 12:38 pm

It’s the day itself that overwhelms, how to fill it now that we’ve taken eight hours off to write, morning noon and night, to work on whatever it is that we’re working on, and wasn’t the plan so wonderful, delicious, what a delicious plan to take the day off, no kids, we sent the kids to school, or to their gran, where did we send the kids, babe, and we said, the whole day, we’ll write, we’ll get so much done, we’re ordering take aways, we’re doing a 10 minute HIIT workout to start the day, fresh, showered, all fresh and lemoney, so ready to start the day, I mean if we usually get 1000 an hour, that’s at least 5000 for the whole day, it’s going to be great.

Obviously that’s not how it worked out, did it, babe? We were so distracted by the amount of time we had, by Dan and Sue coming and going, and the garbage trucks, I mean do they always make so much noise, and the letter we should be writing to the agent, did you get that letter out to the agent, we’ll do it afterwards, afterwards, let’s focus. Can we focus here, please? Stop talking to me. You in your room and me in mine and the whole day is ours. What if we fail, we’re already failing, I mean it’s been about an hour and look what I’ve got done and you’ve done even less, or maybe a bit more, it’s not a competition, but we do have to get stuff done because at the end of the day there’ll be the letters to write and the children to feed, never mind ourselves, we don’t need to eat.

What if I disappear?

What if I run out of things to say?

How does one fill so many pages in so many hours where does inspiration come from whose suggestion was it to take the whole day off I mean we were hungry for it so hungry for this writing time and it’s not as if it this is the first time, I mean it hasn’t worked in the past remember Paris and that day we wrote all day, going from café to café, museum to museum, one park one gallery to another, writing writing writing maybe we should do this in the garden or, wait, I’ll nip out for coffees and we can pretend we’re in a café lets go to a café I’ll take my notebook you take your laptop and we’ll go write in a café and no one will be here when the parcel arrives we promised the kids we’d be here when the parcel arrives.

What if we just did an hour. Like just an hour. We can say we wrote for the whole day but we’ll just write for an hour. We’ll take the whole day off and just do whatever we want and for the next hour, look it’s almost noon, we can start at noon and go for an hour, then make lunch. We’ll make lunch not order lunch no need to order lunch we’ll take the time to make lunch after this hour of writing, just focus for an hour, that’s all we need, an hour, I mean we’ve done it before, haven’t we done an hour before, an hour here an hour there and it was fun and we felt like we’d accomplished something i mean we had accomplished something because an hour a day is accomplishable and it’s easy to measure and it’s easy to sit and we don’t have to reach the end of the day like dried-out creatures drained of their blood and we can end on a high note, wanting more, gagging for more, and when we have that hour tomorrow, I mean how happy are we going to be when tomorrow’s hour is available to us and we know exactly where we left off today which will be yesterday remember yesterday when we wrote and everything was exciting and ripe and we just wanted more, but the clock struck one and we put our pens down and closed the lid of our laptops and went to the kitchen and opened the fridge and my god those eggs look delicious and they smell delicious frying in all that butter and the toast my god that toast smells delicious toasting in the toaster and we’re like, maybe we can sneak in another hour after lunch but we don’t we savour this till tomorrow because tomorrow there’ll be an hour somewhere in the day, somewhere between chores and duties and picking the kids up from ballet or tap or singing.

Reading a Lot

In Reading, Writing on August 5, 2021 at 2:10 pm

Or: On reading Carole Maso’s The American Woman in the Chinese Hat

We used to read a lot. We had books on the go, many books by our bedside, in our bags, on the coffee table, the kitchen counter. On the way to, the way from, while waiting. We read a lot, and all the people we knew read a lot. Oh, we had a lover every now and then who didn’t read a lot, but how could that ever last, that passionate affair with the one who did not read. We didn’t all read the same books but sometimes we did and we exchanged this book and that book oh you have to read this and yes, i loved it too, no i couldn’t get into it, but mostly our friends were like us, people who read a lot, and there was always room for more books, always more to read and we read everything we wanted to read and nothing was left out.

We had books on the go but there was always the one book we loved the most and we would disappear into it, on the bus, during a break at work, while off duty, and we read, and that was our world mainly, that world of disappearing into books. It’s not like that anymore. We’re not always reading and we blame the world and we blame ourselves and we blame Netflix and our screens and their screens (your screen, we blame your screen) and the end of the world but we know there was a time when things were different and we read a lot. We remember reading a lot because that epoch of reading lasted a long time reading and reading for years and years and discovering who were were through books and at the backs of those books – lists of other books and we’d go in search of them and we lived a life of a daisy chain of books one leading to the next, tied to the next, and how wonderful it was to be reading a lot.

Now we read less. We read a story here, an essay there, an article, an Instagram post, an Instagram post, an Instagram post, a tweet, a tweet, a thread, a tweet, hoping to be consumed and disappear the way we used to, emerging even more wonderful than we were when we went in, stronger, clearer, richer, peacocks, we were all peacocks back then when we read a lot, even if only in the privacy of our minds and imaginations, our heads from the inside as shining and colourful and reflecting of light as the plumage of a peacock. But then, yes, but then, but then… we come across a book every now and then, now, years later, years after that epoch of reading a lot, light years away from that time, stranded as we are now – where? where are we? – and a book appears to us, from where we’re not quite sure, maybe a secondhand bookshop, maybe a friend lends it to us, maybe – admit it – someone talks about it on their feed, and we feed off it, trough like, lay our hands on the book and read it and feel ourselves disappearing into it – look at that wonderful hole, Alice, look at the rabbit, follow the rabbit, open the closet, Mr Lion Witch and Wardrobe, let us in to the other side, and look, we’re disappearing the way we used to and how delicious, even if we are disoriented and thinking to ourselves, is this real, shouldn’t we be checking e-mails, shouldn’t we be working, working out, seeing what’s happening on the social networks we’re networking on, I mean, is it okay to be disappearing… how wonderful to be in this book and reading and the lines are beautiful and the words are beautiful, seeing them side by side the way they’ve been placed, and maybe the book was on our bookshelf all this time anyway, waiting for the right moment to make itself known. Read me, Alice.

at Fundación Valparaíso Artists’ Residence, Mojacar, Spain, circa 2005

We don’t read a lot anymore but when we find something to read, my god how we miss it and it’s as if no time has passed at all and we’re back in our lives, in that other country, that other place where we read a lot, how wonderful it was to read a lot and yes, it was nice to have others who read a lot but to read a lot is to live in the company of those who have written and the words on the page and the feel of the pages and the little bio at the beginning and the acknowledgements at the end and thank you to you and to you and Je t’embrasse she says at the end of her book because they were there for her, too, some of them dead and some of them living and what more do we need, no one, no one more than the books and the books before them and the promise of books to come, because if this book appeared to us out of nowhere, who’s to know what more is in store for us, these diamonds in the rock of our days that are harder but more solid and denser with less time and the memories of those days and years back and back and back to the epoch when we all read a lot.

What Is a Writer?

In Writing on November 3, 2020 at 4:05 pm

What, then, she says, is a writer?

He likes to think he takes the generous approach and tells her a writer is someone who writes, who puts pen to paper and keeps doing it regularly. The truth is he’s surprised by her question, as if he’d never considered it, never been asked. The more common questions are: Can anyone be a writer? Have we all got a book in us? Can writing be taught?

A writer, overwhelmed with the stuff in their head, reverts to the page to vent, as in: to let off steam, as in: to decompress, as in: to let out what has been bubbling up inside (for generations). A writer needs the page in order to think deeply. Joan Didion said something about writing in order to know what she’s thinking. And Flannery O’Connor: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” A writer knows, or likes to think, that with writing will come sense. A writer knows there is no limit to stories.

A writer does their thinking on the page. A writer prefers (“is excited by,” would be more precise) is excited by details more than abstractions, stories more than actions, a rhyme every now and then, when we’re not sure what to… A writer is never satisfied. A writer wants more. A writer knows that after a story comes another story. (There’s no such thing as writer’s block.) What comes after a story? Another story. Who said that? Elie Wiesel? Sholem Aleichem? He saw it once in a book of Jewish storytelling.

A writer is saved by words, by other writers, by the stories of other writers, but more than the stories, by the sentences themselves, the voices of other writers, even just one writer. If you have one writer you keep returning to because they save you, you’re a writer. A writer delights in their own performance on the page, is surprised by it. What? I wrote that? Impossible! A writer, like a good cook, knows when their food is delicious, because it is delicious to them, and also knows that what they’ve cooked up is not entirely of their making. Writers know there is some kind of organising principle in the universe, and we work to try and move with it, make sense of it, and offer up glimpses of it on the page.

Conversations with the Page

In Writing on September 30, 2020 at 9:27 am

Me and B were talking about our changing conversations with the page, and by page I mean canvas or any blank space before you, waiting. Waiting. What do you say to the blank page? How do you approach it? What kinds of conversations are you having with that space before you? By conversations I mean the parameters in which you operate, the limits you set yourself, the ways you choose to make contact with the page. With writing, the options are dictated by the activity itself, or at least the traditional way we approach writing. That is: you start on one side of the page – in our case: the left – and you keep going along a line until you reach the other end of the page, then you come back to the initial side and start again.

Line after line,

one line after the other,

until you’re done for the day or have said what you have to say. Those are, to a large extent, the facts. That’s just the way writing works.

But what if you approach the page differently? These are the conversations I’m having at the moment as I embark on the making (creating, composing, writing, drawing) of a graphic novel*, a genre (horrible word) that invites a more fluid approach to the page. In other words: Here’s a page. Now, do whatever you want on it. Start wherever you want, draw, write, colour in, erase, strike-through, paste over, write in circles, in panels. Every page is a series of questions about composition. How will I compose this page, now that I have more than words at my disposal?

In a world that has become overwhelmingly digitised and where writing is done primarily on a keyboard, a device, a laptop, various ways except by hand on a page, the graphic novel offers a space where I feel I have no choice but to create by hand. It’s a genre (horrible word) that favours the movement of the hand on paper. I want to say something about the intimate relationship with the page, the different means by which you can fill it, the different ways you can feel it.

I knew someone whose handwriting was so tiny that I had to scan their letters and read them as jpegs I could enlarge. There’s a kind of intensity and drillingdownness to such small writing, a concentration that makes me think of how, as a kid, I used the thick lenses of my glasses to burn blades of dry grass on those hot days in M’s garden in Summerstrand.

Tiny words burn holes into pages.

Using words as a drawing tool is one step away from drawing. If I could really draw with ease and skill, I mean really and truly draw, would I still return to words? Would I rely on words? If you could be another sort of artist, what would you be? Dancer? Painter? Singer? Mime?

*This is where you can follow the making of my graphic novel.

Awkward Waiting

In Story, Writing on September 27, 2020 at 2:28 pm

This is the continuation of a previous post.

The agent’s friend comes home and he has one more day to stay in the house with the agent’s friend, husband and their three children (not four).

“Are you hiding in the garden shed?” she texted.

And just as he’s staring out the window, a hummingbird – he sees it, at first he thinks: butterfly, one of those big orange butterflies he’d seen the other day when he and his schoolfriend had been sitting in the garden, rusty orange with brown spots on its wings, but this is a hummingbird! a small bird – is it a hummingbird? hovering over the flowers, beak inserted into a purple flower, moving from one to the next, taking what it needs to take, hovering mid-air by flapping its wings, staying like that the way a kid might doggy-paddle to stay afloat.

For him there is an awkwardness to waiting. He’s awkward around waiting. Waiting makes him awkward. It’s awkward – waiting. Waiting? It’s awkward. It’s an awkward kind of waiting. Awkward waiting. And so he waits for his agent’s driver to come and pick him up for lunch.

“Half an hour,” the agent had said (it wasn’t). “He’ll bring you to the restaurant.”

Then it fills the house: a screech. He has never heard anyone scream so loudly. It’s as if the agent’s friend is possessed. A shout physical in its violence, a roaring, lashing out. It is ugly. He is sitting in the kitchen waiting for the driver when the scream tears across everything. Like an earthquake, no, more personal: a punch. Am I remembering something? he thinks. Was I shouted at with such – as if a monster had been unleashed. Awful. And afterwards the man had come downstairs as if nothing had happened, as if a monster had not been unleashed. The child had tried to defend himself. The other child had been in the kitchen and while the man shouts and the child tries to defend himself – but I, but I – the other child walks around the kitchen in a state of shock, waiting for it to be over.

The man had shouted things that he does not now remember, but it had something to do with the child pushing. “See what happens?” he’d screamed. “You push and you push and then look what happens.” If the man could hear himself he’d be shocked. It is, he thinks, the kind of shouting to call social services for, but this man is the agent’s special writer, a man who brings in a lot of money for the agent, probably more money than any of the other writers, and definitely more than he’ll ever earn for his agent.

What the agent’s friend doesn’t know yet is that a video of his teenage son is going viral online, a video of him yelling abuse at another driver and being filmed by that driver’s passenger. The words are sexist and arrogant, misogynistic, entitled, something so ugly that again he cannot remember what was being said, but what he will remember is the boy, a teenager of about 16 or 17, leaning out the window, arm on the side of the car and gesturing to his own car, referring to its price – was it 100,000? half a million? – the boy was out of control, on some kind of drug. But maybe not, maybe the teenager was as sober as the agent’s friend had been when he shouted “you push and push” at his child upstairs.

On the flight back to London he talks to the woman next to him who is flying to Rome. They talk about Barcelona; she was there in June with some old college friends. She’d stayed on for a couple of days after they’d all driven down from the Basque Country. He thinks: What have I learnt from this trip? What have I gained or lost or been through? Where is the character development? Soon I will be back in my life: the gym, work, love There’s a lover who will be happy to see me.

Whose Love Child Are You?

In Writing, Writing Exercises on September 25, 2020 at 9:13 am

When I think of her I think of her and Alice in that apartment in Paris. Alice in Paris. Alice in Paris painting, painting, Basket panting, waiting. I see them walking the poodle, having Picasso over, come over, Pablo, come over Hemingway, so they all came over and the. I think of her sitting, big solid sitting like a matriarch, widowed, skirts and chins and hands, he said, like a Russian peasant. Immigrant hands, he said. How entertaining she is, having people over, how lucky we are to be invited. Gertrude Stein on the one hand.

Him on the other. Crossing America, coast to coast, maybe stopping in Denver to see Carlos, aka Alan. He, too, speaking French, him and Gertrude plotting in French in the salon on rue Cardinal Lemoine (but that’s Hemingway’s place, he realises when he awakes from the dream. The Stein-Toklas residence is at 27 Rue de Fleurus). Him drunk and in love with a girl called Mary Lou. I think of him hunched over a typewriter. In her case it’s Alice typing up handwritten pages, slightly high on hash cookies (recipe available in The ABT cookbook). With him there is the enduring image, I’ve told this story so many times I sound like a drunk, at City Lights Bookstore going round with his beret gathering small change so he can go out and buy wine for all to drink.

Most of what I know about him, what is remembered, is from the Ann Charters biography, my first guidebook to being a writer. Jack Kerouac was the first writer I read about in such detail and so I wanted to be like him, the kind of writer I wanted to be. Will you be my writer-daddy? Diana Souhami’s biography of Gertrude and Alice was my other guide, always her and Alice, never her alone. That’s how to be a writer, with a loyal companion who loves you blindly, openeyedly, warts and all. And all that matters is writing, art, making sentences, weirdly, drunkenly, uninhibitedly.

Who are the writers to whom your soul first clung for guidance? Who are the (dead) writers who parented you, showed you the way, let you tread in their footsteps?

But we are fickle, changing parents as years go by, weeks change, days, sometimes we have others, but they are the ones who endure, though sometimes we forget, the way we forget a dead parent who out of the blue, such beautiful blue, clear sky blue, reveals themself to us, or we do something and realise that yes, we’re doing this because of them, this way of writing, this way of being a writer, this fantasy of writerhood, this ambition, action, opening of the heart in a certain way before a certain thing, yes, I inherited this from Gertrude, this I inherited from Jack.

These are my parents (today): Gertrude and Jack.