Writers uncovered

<strong>How I Write: the secret lives of authors</strong>

Edited by Dan Crowe, with Philip Olterma

Nowadays even hacks have byline photographs, and this Saturday the Guardian Review will snoop through the latest in its series of "Writers' Rooms". It seems that modern readers are not satisfied knowing authors by their work alone. This book seeks to feed such greedy curiosity by revealing the rituals and superstitions of contemporary writers.

Published by the New York art specialist Rizzoli, How I Write is lavishly produced. The authors' contributions are displayed in expertly makeshift scrapbook style, and are introduced by a short history of loony writers. Who knew Flaubert always wrote alongside his lover’s mittens and slippers? Peculiar, yes, but there is strong competition to out-quirk him. Will Self confesses to a Post-it compulsion. He fills entire walls this way with freakish alignment: "the auto-cannibalisation of the fictive world", he explains. Claire Messud writes only with a .005 nib on European graph paper.

Indeed, when Michel Faber displays a dose of rationality, one feels almost cheated: "I use a computer. What time in the morning do I start work? Whenever I wake up. What do I eat? Whatever's around." No one asked for realism.

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New Leader, New Danger