The great author John Irving appeared at our city’s writers’ festival tonight. He was here because of his new book The Last Chairlift, but he talked about writing and process and they whys and hows he does things.
I got emotional when he talked about where he started learning about fiction writing and who he wanted to emulate – Dickens.
When I was in Grade 10 we studied Great Expectations and I learned about Dickens’ and his serials and how he published this stories. Dickens stories were enormously complex with all these divergent piece coming together in ways you don’t see beforehand.
(This is something Colum McCann does brilliantly – Let The Great World Spin is a fantastic novel).
There was an assignment that went along with this, we had to write a short story in the style of Dickens. It turns out, I can write like Dickens.
Dickens liked short sentences. He liked wordplay. He used satire and wit.
Hearing a man who has written so many beautiful novels that I love talk about learning so much from Dickens and knowing that I can aspire to that lifted me up.
In my OAC year (Grade 13), I wrote a comparative essay – I still think it was the best essay I wrote in all of high school. We were studying Jude the Obscure (terribly sad Thomas Hardy book), and I was reading The Cider House Rules, my very first John Irving. (Irving actually said during the Q&A that he loves Thomas Hardy).
I took the two stories and wrote about how they intertwined. The Cider House Rules, of course, starts with a line from David Copperfield.
I have not yet finished reading The Last Chairlift, as it is more than 800 pages long, but as Irving said his books get better as they go along. I look forward to the rest – especially since he said he writes the end first and works back.
(Irving also said that he is um… not a fan of Hemingway, and I feel very much the same way, even though I do like to write with short sentences in Hemingway’s style).