The lives of others by Emylia Hall
02 May 2012
I used to loved the Guardian’s ‘writers’ rooms’, drawn to it by innate nosiness and curiosity about what a writer’s life looked like beyond the book jacket. 'How I Write – The Secret Lives Of Authors' does the same thing only with sharper focus; writers were asked ‘which object, picture, or document in your study reveals most about the relationship between living and writing?’ Edited by Dan Crowe of Zembla and art directed by Vince Frost, the answers are brought together in a work of design and typographical beauty.
I revisited the book recently (I was in self-aggrandising mood after blogging a picture of my own writing room) and realised it makes the perfect shelf-fellow for 'One For The Trouble', given the fistful of Book Slam alumni included within its pages. You’ve got A.L. Kennedy, Dan Rhodes, Geoff Dyer, Hanif Kureishi, Lionel Shriver, Nick Laird and Will Self, amongst others, all letting readers in on their secrets. It’s not a book about the craft of writing, more about the craftiness – the way writers trick themselves into keeping at it, through the objects they keep close. For Lionel Shriver it’s a duff looking horse called Clippity, whose job it is to keep her ‘humble.’ Will Self swears by post-it notes. Dan Rhodes looks to a framed fiver. Elsewhere there’s Day of the Dead paraphernalia, one-time showgirls and an Ol’ Blue Eyes LP. Each entry is like a short story, a glimpse into someone else’s world, and the ticks, the talismans and the ordinary things that keep some of our most extraordinary writers writing.
There’s something about the book – the whispered secrets, the confidences, the endearing revelations – that make you feel like you’re the only person it was written for. Maybe I’m preaching to the converted and 'The Secret Lives Of Authors' made a splash when it was published in 2007 - the list of contributors is certainly luminous - but if you’re yet to discover its charms then you’re in for a treat. Seek it out, tuck up, and peep into the lives of others. It’s beguiling, inspiring and just the right amount of bonkers.