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Alison MacLeod

Alison MacLeod’s third and most recent novel, Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton), was long-listed for The 2013 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and was one of The Observer’s ‘Books of the Year’.  The Independent described it as a ‘a novel of staggering elegance and beauty’.  Her short fiction has been nominated for The BBC National Short Story Award and The Sunday Times EFG International Short Story Award, and has often been broadcast on the BBC.  Her new book, all the beloved ghosts (Bloomsbury), is a short story collection which ‘seamlessly blends memoir, biography, and imagination to create narratives that explore the edges of reality’ (Kirkus Reviews).  In 2016 Alison was joint recipient of The Eccles British Library Writer’s Award.  She is currently writing her next novel and lives in Brighton.  She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester.

Alison’s Top 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.

Alison’s Recommended Books: