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Greater Minds: Hilary Mantel on the life and project

Shortly before her death, Susan Sontag said ‘that somewhere along the line, one has to choose between the Life and the Project’. Hilary Mantel quoted her in the third of this year’s Reith lectures, while she was talking about the

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Hilary Mantel on adapting the past

The Reith Lectures are an annual pleasure from the BBC to the world. Every year, a prominent speaker gives a series of lectures on a subject close to their heart, followed by questions from an audience that usually includes some

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Greater Minds: Richard Feynman on the value of doubt

Richard Feynman’s essay, The Value of Science, described a philosophy of ignorance. The scientific mindset is excited by ignorance as an opportunity for discovery. The opposing demagogic mindset denies the existence of ignorance and claims certainty. We all use the

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Greater minds: John Joseph Adams on the art of short fiction titling

Prolific editor John Joseph Adams wrote his thoughts on what makes a good title. Short stories need longer titles than novels, as they stand without cover art. The best titles hook attention with tension. Other approaches are to use slang

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: When writers wrote their writing tips

Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing are widely quoted. In 2010, 28 other authors offered their own rules for the Guardian. The value of technical rules depends on whether you’re trying to do what the rulemaker does. There are some

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification, Writing

Greater minds: Lauren Beukes on writing the other

Lauren Beukes wrote an article on writing diverse characters. She described the reading and conversation she used to research Zoo City. To write a character from a different culture or subculture, we need to vicariously experience it. It would be

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification, Writing

Greater Minds: How Isaac Asimov designed a brainstorm

Isaac Asimov described a process for generating original ideas for his friend, Arthur Obermayer. An idea generator must understand their field, make connections and be resistant to criticism. He suggested ideas would come from small groups in which some foolishness

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Ronald Knox and the prankster’s rules of the detective story

In 1929, Ronald Knox published ‘decalogue’: ten rules of writing a detective story. Knox was a priest, a crime writer and a satirist. He’d already invented retcon and caused a national panic with a parody radio broadcast. Knox probably didn’t

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Greater Minds: Anthony Horowitz on writing Sherlock Holmes

Anthony Horowitz was commissioned to write a Sherlock Holmes novel. His afterword described the process of planning a mystery novel. He starts with who murders whom and why, and works outward from there. He developed ten rules to be faithful

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Greater Minds: Niall Ferguson and Jane Smiley fight over history

Two historians and a novelist argued about the roles of historian and historical novelist. Niall Ferguson argued that a novelist projects their own view on to past events. Jane Smiley argued that historical fiction and non-fiction are both constructs of

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification
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