Two days a week I am the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of East Anglia. Here, in my office, I help students to express themselves more clearly in their essays and dissertations and theses. For the RLF website, I have just been required to write a piece on why I write, in 200-500 words, as follows:
Why I Write, by S Foster
Considering that the first draft of the title line of this piece contained twp typos, ‘How the hell do I write?’ would be more like it. But, since I think even more slowly than I (two-finger) touch-type, then taking a secretarial course would be unlikely to achieve much other than to make matters worse.
I feel that the answer (to why I write) is meant to come bearing weight, consideration, and resonance. That’s okay: I want my work to have these characteristics, of course I do. I began (creative) writing at Art School, tutored by a poet, while at the same time, on the same course, also learning about the ineluctable flatness of the canvas, Jacques Lacan and his bold rewriting of the Freudian Oedipal crisis, the crystalline motifs of Modernism, and much more. I liked the crystalline motifs of Modernism and I like a certain type of literary writing that is something akin to them. I like work that’s about atmosphere and character before plot, and that is interested in the terms of its own construction. This is what I think I’m doing, when I write fiction: making a book that relates, in its form, to other books that I admire. Whether I succeed is a moot point; Beckett’s aphorism ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better’ would be of little comfort if you didn’t think you’d got somewhere near pulling it off.
Last year a short, non-fiction volume of mine, Walking Ollie, began shifting. In hardback, Ollie was a little literary book about a lurcher, or so I thought; certainly it sold in the modest numbers that would be consistent with an item fitting the description. For the paperback a commercial jacket was put on and suddenly you could buy it in Tesco and WH Smith. For a while, at least, this provided a new answer to why I write; though it had never much been this way before, now I could say: I write to make money.
But the fundamental answer is: I write because I can. I am at least some good at it, I know that. And the elemental answer is: it gives me a sense of self worth. For the sixteen years between leaving school and meeting the poet at the Art School I worked at a number of jobs – in catering, at taxi-driving, and later in the building trade. Experience tells me this: even when you’re at your lowest ebb with a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter, there’s no better way of spending your working life than by trying to fix that. Most of all I write for that reason.