In The Lacuna, Kingsolver describes the finishing of a book thus: ‘I feel a peculiar sadness, like missing a lively, quarrelsome friend who has ended his visit. These days I purse my lips at the mirror and wonder how it is that other men find first-class reasons to shave, change out of pyjamas, and leave the house, practically every day.’
So what is this compulsion to write? Authors are often asked: ‘Where do you get the discipline from to sit down and write every day?’ But actually it’s the wrong question. The question should be: ‘What drives you? Why can’t you stop?’ The answer is this hollowed out place in my head, actually in my entire body that is there when a book is gone. I literally don’t know what to think about, or where to rest my mind. I was talking to someone the other night at supper who had read perhaps four novels in the last decade. He couldn’t see the point of fiction. I, like all readers and writers of fiction, can’t see the point of life without stories. The narrative of my own life, to be frank, ain’t that interesting. I seem to require layer upon layer of other people’s lives. And in answer to the question, ‘Why fiction?’ I suppose it’s to do with that layering. I like reading biography and history, yes, but the pure joy of a well-crafted fiction combines biography and history with drama and poetry. It is so rich.
And so I am a hollowed out person without a book to write. In desperation, I take to decorating the loo. I listen to the radio and I make a dreadful mess with spatters of eggshell paint - there can surely be no one less methodical or impatient. The skills I apply to redrafting a book refuse to be applied to other creative tasks. I wait.