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Toby Litt

I picked up a copy of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Selected Stories in a properly smelly second-hand bookshop in Beverley. Singer is the kind of writer who might be seen as old-fashioned – he likes a tall story or an anecdote, he doesn’t mind a yarn. But I have been looking to read writing with what – for want of a better word – you would call soul. It’s a quality I feel I lack. Recommended by Singer are ‘The Cabalist of East Broadway’ and ‘Taibele and Her Demon’.

Another not-particularly-fashionable writer who goes recklessly after the soul is D.H.Lawrence. For many years, he was someone to whom I had a standard issue aversion. However, in his attempt to write in a living way (as a living/changing person, addressing a living/changing person, in living/changing language), I think he’s a real corrective to so much of the IKEA prose that passes for literature. Suggested: ‘Daughters of the Vicar’ and ‘St Mawr’.

Writers I reread and reread include Kafka, Beckett (Ill Seen, Ill Said), Donald Barthelme, Osip Mandelstam (‘Journey to Armenia’ and ‘Fourth Prose’), David Foster Wallace, Jennifer Egan (‘The Stylist’), Muriel Spark (‘Not to Disturb’), Virginia Woolf.

Recently I came up with a piece of advice for myself, which I’ll pass on: Write about what you absolutely don’t want to write about.


Toby at Word Factory:

Toby LittToby Litt is best-known for writing his books – from Adventures in Capitalism to (so far) King Death – in alphabetical order; he is currently working on M. His story ‘John & John’ won the semi-widely-known Manchester Fiction Prize, and his story ‘Call it “The Bug” Because I Have No Time To Think of a Better Title’ was shortlisted for the notoriously lucrative Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. In December 2013, Vertigo DC launched Dead Boy Detectives a monthly comic written by Toby, based on characters from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Renowned for the craft and innovation of his award-winning novels and short stories, Toby teaches at Birkbeck, the University of London. His short story collection Life-Like, was shortlisted for the 2015 Edge Hill Story Prize.