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'Working on a book can be gruelling. The feeling that you’re writing into a void can spawn an imagined readership of crippling inner critics — and make it harder to nurture the two qualities that a writer needs above all: self-discipline and self-belief.'
'Keats describes his position as he is writing, with his back to the fire, one foot on the rug and the other dangling over it. He considered it would be a great delight to know the exact bodily position in which Shakespeare began ‘To be or not to be’. '
'Nowadays I rarely venture into central London. I'm drawn instead to Hampstead Heath. It's the nearest thing to the countryside this city can offer. From the top of Parliament Hill, I look down on the great Babylon, the cityscape obscured by mist.'
'Tolstoy liked to go out with a scythe and work with the peasants in the fields. I'm not a nineteenth century Russian landowner, but I certainly find manual labour a more beneficial distraction than, say, googling the news every fifteen minutes.'
'When I was on the judging panel for the Man Booker Prize, we had to read around a hundred and twenty novels in three months. Enforced concentration made the brain's critical mechanism whirr at an adrenaline-fuelled pace. '
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