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.


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.


Fred Inglis on Raymond Williams:

Williams’ prose, as the last pages of The Fight for Manod bring out, registers the deep difficulty of knowing what to do: of keeping your being and your culture, your feelings and your history in sufficient union, for you to be able to shake off sheer fatigue and bitter frustration, and know what your purposes are. Williams’ power is to bring out the real meanings of that experience without glossing its obscurity, indeed at times insisting with a rare and moving honesty that it is the obscurity of experience which has to be lived with, in your body and soul, and sorted out, a bit at a time and as best you can, in terms of everyday life and work and encounter. The grappling with obscurity in his work is always brave and sustained, even if what he takes for granted as the clarities and certainties look a lot less convincing to others than he takes them to be. But it is far more than expressing the self-importance of the over-theoretic and powerless intellectual in the still comfortable West to say that Williams is one of the trio of men whose attention to the possibilities of understanding and action made imaginable by Marxist Socialism, with its tense claims to the status of science and redemptive doctrine, allied to their living a real, visible life in the polity, who mark the spot at which thought becomes valid and valuable action – that sequence of moments Marxists themselves call praxis. 

And a reminder:

…the idea of the university is powerless without the material realities of membership and friendship, as well as the rather harder and more wintry virtues of solitary independence, resistance, doggedness, and the absolute resolution to get on with the task in hand and are not to be bought out by the cosy privileges and soft snobberies which are still amply available to bright young-to-middle-aged academics.