Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Powell's Newsletter has a terrific interview with Kate Atkinson, where she makes some great observations about point of view, magical realism, and the truth about book awards.

"Georgie: How much does the difference between writing in first person and third person narrative feel to you?

Atkinson: The first few books of mine were in first person. They do have third person narratives in them, so they are not exclusively first. However, I had really had enough of first person by the time I had done with the third book. I thought I never want to write in the first person again, and I never want to write in the present tense again.

It was one of the many reasons I wrote a collection of stories at that point, because I wanted to break that voice and get away from it, as well as explore other voices. With stories you can get away with more, and move around, try things on. I discovered the internal monologue in the stories, which I had never written in. My earlier works can sometimes look like internal monologue, but they are not, they are first person narratives. With internal monologue I decided Ah, that's the way I want to go. Because I had written some other stories that are sometimes fantastical — in fact, some might call them "magical realism" — and after that I wanted to write some fiction that was realistic (well, fiction is never realistic, but what passes for realism in fiction). I wanted to write them in different interior monologues so you have different points of view. Once I got the hang of it I found it very liberating, because once you know that character and you want to write them, you just step into their head and think like they think and you write it down, so you can be very fluid and very fluent. I had really enjoyed that — and if I do do a third Jackson Brodie, I will probably continue to use that.

And then after that, I want to do something different. I am working on a proper omniscient narrator, so then it will be different. I'm thinking maybe by then I'll be ready to return to a first person narrator! But yes, you kind of wear out a narrative in a way; you explore every way of using the form, and have to do something different. But to come back to one after some time will be interesting. I am certainly not ready to write something in the first person yet, but I think it will be interesting to return to it. To me, that is part of the interesting thing about writing — working out how you are going to present it. I do love characters, but narrative voice is really intriguing."

Reading this is timely as I am struggling--yet again--with writing fiction. I began something recently with all high hopes only to rapidly run aground. Ain't that the way? Upon rereading I realized the trouble lay with the protagonist. Dull, dull, dull. What writer Anne Lamott calls radio station KFKD began playing loudly in both ears. I moved the narrative over to first person and lo, the character suddenly started talking. At this point she still sounds far too much like me, but at least she's saying something.

The story could still run aground, or even sink (just talking about it here is very bad juju), but point of view was an early problem, and reading Atkinson made me realize--yet again, for perhaps the sixteenth time today--what a limited writer I am. I am not at a point where I can fool around with third person or omniscent or announce I am bored with present tense. For now I am stuck with first person, and can just manage past tense.

Writing can be hell. Sometimes I wish I were the kind of person who has no desire to make art of any kind. The kind of person who watches all those HBO shows my coworkers are constantly yakking about without guilt. Who never sits down with a magazine and thinks: I should be writing now.

Oh well, no use puling, to use a quaint English term.


I am page thirty-three of Lisey's story. I am not enamored yet. So far Lisey seems pretty nebbishy. People she doesn't like are "smuckers." But I'm gonna give her at least until page fifty to call somebody something stronger.

Authors, Writing, Kate Atkinson


Anonymous ed said...

Re: Lisey. Told you so. :)

November 29, 2006 10:34 PM  

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