Alison’s Top Five Tips:
- Stay alert to the world. Carry a pen and notebook, and keep one by your bed. Develop the habit of looking and ‘gathering’.
- In bed, give yourself ten minutes before sleep and ten minutes on waking to sift through current writing ideas or to muse on a writing problem. Try to make it a habit, a really pleasant habit, but a habit.
- Pay attention to the fleeting, the coincidental and the fragmentary. Love the single image or the half idea that strikes you. Catch it live in your net. Ideas and images rarely announce themselves as your next brilliant story or poem or book. It’s easy to let them flit away into your next thought. Instead, be grateful for the prompts from your imagination. The more you recognise its offerings, the more it will offer. Writers know this in a way that most people don’t. The power of your imagination is astonishing. When you two are connected, it will problem-solve for you in ways that will take even you, its loved one, by surprise. Your imagination is bigger than you are.
- Be precise. Honesty in your work – whether it’s real or fantastical – comes from precise observation. To get to honesty, you’ll have to draft, re-draft and re-draft. It’s indescribably hard work – and it should be. Nothing less than honesty will do.
- Forget tricks, gimmicks, messages, morals, sensational plots, beautiful language for the sake of it, and any yearning to be clever or original. Originality happens when you’re not looking for it. Instead, be bold. Be bold enough to be honest. Every new piece should feel risky. The truth often means breaking a taboo or two. Every new piece, should take you somewhere new and at least slightly scary. You can never truly know whether you can pull it off – until you do.
Top Five Collections:
- Anton Chekhov, Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories.
- Franz Kafka, The Complete Short Stories.
- D. H. Lawrence, The Prussian Officer and Other Stories.
- Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories.
- Flannery O’Connor, Complete Stories.
Alison MacLeod is a novelist, short story writer and essayist. She is the author of two novels, The Changeling and The Wave Theory of Angels, and her current novel, Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton) has been longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. She is also the author of Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction, and is currently completing her second short story collection.
MacLeod’s stories have been widely published and broadcast on the BBC, and she was awarded the Society of Authors’ Prize for short fiction in 2008. She was also shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award (for ‘The Heart of Denis Noble’) in 2011 and longlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester.