What does your inner voice sound like?

Writers' Inner Voices

Try it for yourself: stop what you’re doing and try to listen in to the mind’s ear. What can you hear? Indeed, are you hearing at all? Can you say, definitively, that your inner voice sounds in the sense that we usually understand it? If not, how are you perceiving what it is that you’re experiencing? Now try to describe this inner voice. Are you able to put into words what it feels like to “tune in” to the voice you hear in your head – if, indeed, you are hearing it at all?

If you’re having trouble, you’re in excellent company. The poet and critic Denise Riley describes the process of “tuning in” to the inner voice like this:

If I swing my attention onto my inner speech, I’m aware of it sounding in a very thin version of my own tone of voice. I catch myself in its…

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Writers on Writing: Susan Sontag

Writers' Inner Voices

sontagSusan Sontag would have been something of a dream subject for our study. Luckily, her diaries record her fascinating and intimate reflections upon the origins of literary creativity and the writing life. Here we explore just a few of her insights.

Susan Sontag was one of the leading intellectuals of the twentieth century, but is perhaps better known for her celebrated essays than for her fiction writing, which includes the novels The Benefactor (1963), Death Kit (1967), the best-selling The Volcano Lover (1992) and In America (2000).

Her diaries, however, reveal that Sontag’s abiding literary ambitions eclipsed her myriad achievements in criticism. ‘[B]eing a novelist’ was her ambition ‘even when she was writing her best essays’ notes her son, David Rieff, in his preface to the second volume, published by Penguin under the name As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh (2012).

In Sontag’s “The Art of Fiction” interview with The Paris Review

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Paper People – How Writers (and Readers) Create Characters

Writers' Inner Voices

paper dolls

The students I teach, although very able literary critics, sometimes need reminding that the characters in the books that they are interpreting are not, in fact, real people. It’s very easily done. Even the most sophisticated reader, when faced with the vivid and oversized inhabitants of fictional worlds, can easily become, as William H. Gass puts it a little bluntly  in his essay “The Concept of Character in Fiction” (1971), a ‘gullible and superstitious clot’.

We are all apt to forget at times that the startling likeness between fictional characters and human beings is only analogous – that these are paper people, not real ones. ‘Fiction’s fruit survives its handling and continues growing off the tree’, writes Gass. Where the text is silent we nonetheless attempt to infer characters’ histories, speculate upon their motivations, diagnose precisely what it is that ails them. In the margins of my students’ essays I…

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The Gustav Metzgers of Gentrification

On any given day I am, you might say, somewhat susceptible to feeling like I’ve unwittingly waded into some Pynchonian metaphysical quagmire. And thus it follows that I’ve been trying to work out what’s going on in this photo of a cottage 30ft away from the rapidly-eroding cliffs at Aldbrough on the Holderness Coast ever since I took it last Sunday.

What could move the occupier (or someone else?) to pin such a computer printout to their door? Have they been visited by prospecting gentrifiers eager to stake a claim on this overlooked patch of coast? There would have to have been a few of them, surely, to warrant a pre-emptive sign. And these must be gentrifiers of a pretty rare bent, since by my calculations this section of coast is disappearing at the rate of one house every two years and the cottage is only two doors from the cliff’s edge.

Ingrid Meinz Syndrome

So there I was, feet marinating in a puddle, bicycle turning to rust and I said WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THE SUMMER, ARE YOU GOING TO GET SOME SUN? and she said, No I’ll be working at home, I have six deadlines for articles I’m writing and twelve books on my shelves I haven’t glanced at and a major deadline for a peer reviewed journal so I guess I’ll have to open a tin of soup and spend the summer on an uncomfortable chair at my desk with my head down. And I thought, you know Ingrid Meinz THIS IS REALLY NOT VERY SEXY. You are intelligent and this should make you sexy, you are an independent attractive woman earning your living and this should make you sexy but you are not. How are you ever going to grab your self some LOVE with that tone of voice and that tin of soup. How much SEXIER if she had said, even though it might be impossible… OH YES I WANT TO GO ON HOLIDAY MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, I WANT TO TAKE OFF ALL MY CLOTHES AND LIE IN THE SUN… now that’s better, she might even stand a chance of someone saying gosh can I come with you? She could have said, I CAN’T GO TO THE SUN THIS YEAR BUT I WILL BE GOING TO KEW GARDENS TO MASTURBATE IN THE ORCHID HOUSE, now that would be evidence of some humour lurking inside Ingrid Meinz, or EVEN if she’d said, I’M SO EXCITED ABOUT CATCHING UP ON THE BOOKS I HAVEN’T HAD TIME TO READ – that would have been an improvement. But as it was she stood there SO INVOLVED WITH HERSELF she did not even notice I was soaked and by this time I was shivering and had lost the momentum that helps a girl cycle the last four miles in the rain so I said good bye and good luck with her deadlines and slowly turned the pedals up the hill, and I thought I will have to call this encounter the Ingrid Meinz Syndome. […] The Ingrid Meinz Syndrome describes an illness that means every time you open your mouth to speak the world turns grey.

                                                                                                                                            – Deborah Levy, “Conversations with Famous Artists”


Totally beside myself with DELIGHT to say that THIS is happening. Pat Waugh and I have brought together some excellent dudes, inc. China Miéville, Stewart Home, Jim Crace, Maureen Freely and Vic Sage, to argue the toss about the future of the British novel. There’s finger pointing, doomsaying, soothsaying and some enthusiastic repping of the GOOD LADS. And it has an extremely delectable cover by Jamie George. Buy here.


Honoured (honoured, honoured) to have been asked to provide an Afterword for The Coelacanth Press’ brilliant republication of Brigid Brophy’s 1956 novel, King of a Rainy Country. She’s a right one, that B.B. Here’s what they say at The Coelacanth:

The Coelacanth Press, founded in 2008 and having released seven issue so far of its cult journal, releases its first book title in November 2012. Continuing the press’ ethos of uncovering the forgotten (either in the present of the past) their first book is Brigid Brophy’s “The King of a Rainy Country”.
As Ali Smith writes in endorsement of this edition, ‘This pitch-perfect novel, an inquiry into romanticism and disaffection, is witty, unexpectedly moving and a revelation again of Brophy’s originality. Entirely of its time, it remains years ahead of itself even now, nearly 60 years later, in its emotional range and its intellectual and formal blend of stoicism and sophistication.’
The Coelacanth Press has commission one of today’s best visual artist, – Bonnie Camplin – to provide the perfect package for the reintroduction of this text now ripe for re-evaluation. 

It’s out on Monday 19th November and available, as they say, in all good bookshops. More here.


I merrily dashed the last dregs of from a magic pot o’ cash across the Indian subcontinent. Because: sheep/lamb, etc. Other, less magic, pot arrived mercifully quickly. Writing of the tooth-extracting and non-tooth-extracting kind continues, of course. Details to follow.

But! In the realisation of several girlhood dreams I am a radio announcer, now. For a bit. It’s all these flat vowels ever wanted. Listen to or-bits.com’s 128 kbps objects here ’til Sunday.