I met Angela Carter in the spring of 1987 when I was a student and she a tutor on the MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. My work had over the course of the previous winter gone from bad to worse. I was 24, I had no idea how to live in the world, let alone write about it; and the self who was supposed to produce some kind of narrative by the end of the year seemed increasingly fugitive and fragmented. The whole business of being Irish in England seemed to me old-fashioned and, in tiny ways, ghastly. People thought I was amusing, in an Irish sort of way: and I suppose I was. My work was not going well. I did not know why. It was not that I was distressed - I had often written when in distress. In fact a little breaking open, a little falling apart, a tincture of four in the morning, used to work quite well for me. Emotion was not the problem, it was the fact that I could not make the shift from emotion to story, or not on the required scale. I don't know if stories do come from feeling - perhaps it just feels that way - but the inability to write is certainly an emotional state. This shift from feeling to fiction is the reason I still need, rather than just want, to write. And the more you need something, as I discovered in that room in East Anglia, the harder it is to get. I worked all the time, but inspiration did not strike. There was no shaft of light. If the words came from anywhere, it was from a point over my left shoulder, like a taunt. I was 24. I do not think that I was entirely well.
LRB 17 February 2011 | PDF Download