Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Most of the blogs I've been enjoying recently have taken the form of confessions and shameful moments, so here's mine which is - and please don't all shout at me at once - I've never quite 'got' Richard Ford.

I've been told so often by writers I admire that he is their favourite writer, that I SHOULD get him, that his books are the ones they'd save from burning buidings, and I've tried. Oh, I've tried. But here's another shameful confession. I have always LOVED the interviews I've read of his. In terms of process, he's way up there at the top for me, so why couldn't I enjoy his fiction in the way other people so obviously could? In his Powells interview I found myself jotting down notes - how it takes three or four stories for him to get the 'shape' of the collection, that the themes other people see aren't that ones he does, that he prefers to read work that is 'stylized, highly contrived, full of artifice' but to write in as natural a way as possible. In his Identity Theory interview he comes across equally as honest and truth searching. I even like his photograph - how shameful is that!

So it was both a surprise and a relief recently to find, when I sat down to write a story that had been hiding in my head for months, that the inspiration came from a short story of Ford's, The Overreachers. I'm not copying it, and this isn't a confession of plagiarism, but I wanted to capture the mood of that hotel room, and the relationship, where everybody is pretending to be someone different from who they are and secretly scared that they're aiming too high. But there's something else Ford captures so beautifully as well, and that's the relief of being found out. Or the worse actually happening. I can't think of anyone writing about that secret desire so well.

It made me wonder all over again, whether I'd been trying too hard to 'get' Ford. At first, I was even annoyed to find that he had written the story I couldn't stop thinking about. OK - and here's the real shame - what if I was put off him by all the people telling me I HAD to like him? Could I really be that childish? I've concluded that yes, I can. There are some writers I want to be able to find for myself, because that makes them truly mine. But now I've stumbled across Richard Ford all by myself ... let me tell you this. You HAVE to read Richard Ford. You MUST save his books from burning buildings. Sooner or later, whether you like it or not, you will!

And my writing prompt comes loosely from Overreachers and is a wrong telephone number.

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