Classical Accompaniment

The arrangement that shapes my characters

A decade ago, while I was struggling to write my second novel, when the work felt urgent and impossible, when I was too far in to turn back, when it was all moving too quickly and unpredictably but when I was also stuck with a boulder I couldn’t lift, I was reassured by the voice of Margaret Atwood on the radio. Asked by a BBC interviewer whether she found writing had become easier with time and experience (her biblio­graphy reveals she must have been about twelve novels in at this point), she replied that no, it hadn’t. In fact, the only thing she had been able to learn producing all those thousands of pages of fiction was that it was incredibly difficult each time and, unfortunately, each book was difficult in an entirely new way. I breathed a sigh of relief and returned to the long battle with my own incompetence.

I’m now working on my sixth book, my fifth has just been published, and...