On Writing by A L Kennedy
|On Writing by A L Kennedy|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: A witty, profound and intensely personal account of the importance of words by one of our best-known and loved contemporary writers.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 362||Date: March 2013|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
|External links: Author's website|
How do you even begin to write a review of a book which expresses trenchant, no-holds-barred opinions on reviewers and the process of being reviewed? But the task is there, so there's nothing for it but to roll up your sleeves, gather your courage and mutter the word with which A L Kennedy regularly signs off from her blog: Onwards.
Ms Kennedy is a popular and award-winning writer and comedian. She spends her life travelling the world to speak at conferences and festivals, she teaches creative writing to university students and, when she can squeeze it in, she writes. This engrossing book is a reprint of some of her Guardian blogs, along with essays on the subject of writing and the script of 'Words', her one-woman show. It is sharp and funny, full of her trade-mark dark humour and deeply-felt convictions, and deserves careful and repeated reading by people involved in the business of writing as well as anyone who truly believes, as she does, that humanity has the right (and indeed the duty) to express itself as cogently and freely as it can.
There are several major themes in this book, not least among them the many and miserable maladies which can beset the busy writer, especially if she is inclined to overwork, poor posture and an even worse diet. But what stands out like a beacon is Ms Kennedy's deep conviction that the word is a powerful tool. Why else would politicians in repressive regimes move first to crush the poet and the writer, she demands? And lest we in Britain feel the urge to nod smugly at the very thought, she broadsides us with references to our own increasing tendency to deny access to words by closing libraries and charging enormous fees to students. She recounts moments of joy and clarity but also helpless rage culled from her time running writing workshops for the poor, the sick and the elderly. We meet an old person whose whole life is reduced to the view from her window and who is led through words to appreciate and express the beauty to be seen there. A blind woman startles and delights by suddenly demonstrating her ability to catwalk with grace and dignity. But unfortunately there is also the clumsy and insensitive 'care' worker (the word seems at times so inappropriate) who interrupts a moment of self-discovery and increasing confidence to bludgeon hapless participants with foolish and irrelevant questions. No wonder Ms Kennedy insists that a poorly-handled workshop will do infinitely more harm than good.
Her righteous rage is coupled with a deep insecurity about herself and her writing, and reading her words is only rendered bearable at times by the hilarious comments and situations she includes as both warning and comfort to the self-doubting artist. Who could forget the image of a possible Goth range for Mothercare, or the concussed gannet she once encountered on a beach? But for that very reason, this book should be read by all those who hold freedom of expression as utterly essential for everyone in a civilised world — whatever their ability. It is a rallying cry for the arts, a bold and fearless statement of the nature of humanity, and a refreshingly intimate portrayal of an acute yet compassionate mind. Don't miss it.
A L Kennedy has written several award-winning novels and collections of short stories. Try Day which won the Costa Book of the Year Award in 2007. And if you want another book on writing, try Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill and My Mother by Simon Schama, much of which has also appeared in the Guardian newspaper.
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