12 December 1952 – 6 June 2017
Through the white noise and static thrown up by the ongoing news coverage of Manchester, London Bridge, and the ill-tempered general election squabbles, hearing that Helen Dunmore has died was a moment of further sadness. I knew she had been ill, but it came as a shock to realise that there’d be no more intelligent and entertaining contributions to the weekend literary reviews.
Helen was one of the writers whose new work I always looked forward to, and an inspiration for my own writing. She was generous with her support to new writers and contributed to the creative writing course at Bath Spa University. Most of all she demonstrated that you didn’t have to specialise and proved that you could be a successful award-winning novelist and a successful award-winning poet too; you didn’t need to be one or the other. And in addition to her novels and poetry she also wrote books for children and YA.
I like Helen’s work because of the attention to detail in the settings of her novels in WW1, WW2, and the contemporary world, and the openness and clarity of her poetry. Her death is a tragic loss to the literary world and I’ll miss her very much. In 2010 she contributed to the Rules for Writers theme compiled by The Guardian, and it’s timely to share the guidance she offered then.
Rules for Writers
1 Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.
2 Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don’t yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.
3 Read Keats’s letters.
4 Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.
5 Learn poems by heart.
6 Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.
7 A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.
8 If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.
9 Don’t worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed “What will survive of us is love”.
Thanks Helen. We’ll miss you.