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'George Saunders develops the acronym TICHN — things I couldn’t help noticing. In other words, referring back to his advice ‘Don’t say something for no reason’; if you include a detail, make sure it means something, and repeat it, with subtle variations. '
'I came back to Britain and tried to get my novel published, naïvely posting it off to publishers without realising that, whatever they claim, they never look at unsolicited submissions. It was turned down by all of them, but I kept on writing.'
'In documentaries, the limits of your storytelling are largely set by where you point the camera. I had a tough boss who told me, bluntly, ‘If you haven’t shot it, Polly, you haven’t got it.’ I learned how to parcel up what I saw and heard into units of story.'
'Most human perception is probably lucky guesswork. To be truly an outsider, therefore, brings this disadvantage to the fore. I found, when researching books in India and Pakistan, that because I knew nothing, I was always in a questioning state.'
'I want to recognise the habitual, but not be numbed by it; to retain both first and lasting impressions of a place. It demands both sufficient experience to write with authority and distance to write with liberty, without misrepresentation or betrayal.'
'I’ve lost count of the number of artists I’ve seen live and become a fan of because I was saving my spot in the crowd for a band I liked. It’s similar at a book festival. The force of a writer’s personality, the life they give their characters, can attract followers.'

Andrew Greig speaks with Doug Johnstone about 60s music as his gateway to poetry, his accidental success as a poet while failing to becoming a musician, how a poem got him a place on Himalayan climbing expeditions and the value he places on triggering emotion in his readers.

'No two festival years can be the same. Literature festivals can be like jazz — it’s a known song, but each singer makes it sound so different with the unique chemistry of the three Aristotelian unities of time, action and space.'
'Self-isolation has become so ingrained as to be virtually indistinguishable from addiction. You still gravitate to the periphery, outside but looking in, close enough to discern the moving parts, distanced enough to have some sense of the whole.'
'There were no clear routes for becoming a writer. Degrees in creative writing had not yet mushroomed at the universities; I’d had no idea that writing might be taught. How novelists learnt their craft and made a career of it, to me was an utter enigma.'
'I had a Saturday job at a hair salon in London’s Soho. The stylists, all from northern Italy, would complain about their husbands in their dialect. Many of the customers were prostitutes; they’d exchange news in a secret code. I spent my early years eavesdropping.'
'I found a single email, sent by the organisers of a writing competition, inviting me to a reading and presentation, but my phone was out of service. I had been shortlisted, and I needed to call them by the following day, or my place would be forfeited. '
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