Ahead of tonight’s 26 book launch with Room 121 authors, John and Jamie, we asked them about their writing life.
What is the starting point for everything you write?
Jamie: Hearing the voice in which I’m going to write it, usually a phrase that resonates in a particular way.
John: I start with a single word. Not the same word, it’s different every time. Sometimes the word becomes a phrase. The word or the phrase gets me started. I try to make sure it’s not the expected word. If I’m writing about ‘pensions’ the word pension won’t be the best starting point because I’m looking for different angle, a different approach that will get me as a writer into that subject – and bring the reader with me. So to write about pensions, let’s start with, for example, ‘tomatoes’….
What one thing could we all do to improve our business writing?
Jamie: Think harder about what we really mean.
John: Banish any thought that you are writing for a business – either that you are writing on behalf of a business or writing to be read by a business. Ban the phrase ‘business to business’ writing along with that thought. I’m making a simple point: a business does not write to another business. A person writes to another person. Don’t ever think that you’re writing for an amorphous mass, a faceless organisation made up of groups. A business is made up of individuals – you are an individual too. Reach out through your words, make a human connection. It’s what Room 121 means.
What is your favourite word?
Jamie: This morning it’s ‘ineluctable’ – great mouthfeel.
John: ‘Blimey.’ I’m stuck with it as I put it in one of my books a decade ago. Even though I always say, when I ask this question in workshops, “don’t worry, you can change your mind after the workshop” I feel I have to be loyal to my original choice. I also wrote “Words are your children”. You have to stick by them, they need to be looked after. So ‘Blimey’ still makes me smile whenever I hear it. – that’s a good effect for a word to have.
What is your favourite poem?
Jamie: This year it’s Christopher Logue’s “Come To The Edge” with its soaring sense of possibility.
John: I wish people would read more poetry. But they get intimidated by not completely understanding a poem, not being able to translate it into a straightforward description. If they could, it wouldn’t be a poem. So I’m going to choose “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins which I quoted in The Invisible Grail. It’s a brilliant poem that’s about the validity of finding your own meaning in any poem, saying that there never is only one ‘authorised’ meaning. So I find it a liberating poem.
Tell us a secret.
Jamie: I’m writing this in a corporate training compound in Hyderabad, India.
John: I have a lovechild called Julia Buendia Allone. She’s actually an angel so I know I’m an unlikely father, but she’s alive and living in Spain. This secret was subject to a super-injunction I brought against the News of the World but now the paper has gone, I feel the truth can be told and not be sensationalised. So you can read about her here. www.darkangelspress.com