Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Love A-E-I-O-U

At the risk of sounding like a doctor in a Carry On film, one thing I’ve learned as a writer over the last year is that you’ve got to keep your vowels regular. Forget minding your Ps and Qs, you’ve got to mind your Os and As. Oh yes, missus: you heard me right. If consonants are the breeze blocks of language, doing the heavy lifting and keeping the whole structure in place, the vowels are the picture windows.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: How literary tourism has become big business

Some writers are inextricably linked to a particular location; I was in Eastwood, in Nottinghamshire, recently, and when you enter the village there’s a sign that welcomes you to “Eastwood, Birthplace of DH Lawrence”. Although, sadly, the heritage centre is shut, the museum in the house he was born in is still very much open.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Holly and the envy

At this point in the eleventh month of the year, people who work in shops are sick and tired of the Christmas music they’ve been forced to play, and listen to, since about mid-October.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Room to let rip

A lot of people say to me that they’d like to have a go at writing a poem or a story but they don’t know where to start; well, I know about the tyranny (and the excitement, let’s be honest) of the blank page, but here’s a little exercise I’ve used many times on my own and in writing groups to kickstart my imagination. Try it. Just go and get a piece of paper and a pen. Take your time: I’ll wait.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: That’s the idea...

I wake up early, like I always do, on the Sunday morning and I have an idea for my column in this magazine and I write it down in the half-dark of autumn because if I don’t write the idea down it will walk away and all that I’ll be able to recall is that I had an idea and it was a good one.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: The write trousers

Years ago my favourite columnist Patrick Campbell (you may remember him from early editions of Call My Bluff with Frank Muir) wrote about his favourite pair of Writing Trousers, by which he didn’t mean he had some magical trousers that could actually write his columns for him but that he had some very comfortable trousers to wear as he scribbled. They were corduroy, which meant that he could rub the knees for inspiration and they wouldn’t wear out. Well, not straight away.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Literally magic

As someone who has loved reading for as long as I can remember, I find myself getting very excited at those moments when babies start to recognise that those runic squiggles the grown-ups are pointing to and making noises around are actually symbols that communicate the meanings behind the sounds the adults are making. There’s a fantastic tipping point when the shapes and sounds solidify into that thing we call reading and it’s a moment that I find thrilling and moving in equal measure. It’s a constant miracle, happening all the time all over the world. Or sometimes not, which is a very sad thing.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Bum steer

Ideas are the lifeblood of any creative writer, because without them you simply stare at the blank page scratching your chin until the sparks fly, looking into the air above your head in the hope that a lightbulb will illuminate.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Common senses

Writers like to use the senses when they’re describing something in a poem, or a story, or a piece of non-fiction. Sensual description can put the reader right there, looking over the writer’s shoulder. This kind of writing has been happening for many hundreds of years and it’s a staple of any kind of prose of verse. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that some senses, and our experiences of them, are easier to translate into language than others.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Why I’m now more 50 shades of Dorian Gray

I was once doing a poetry reading at a literature festival and I was being met at the station by the organiser. “How will I recognise you?” I asked, really hoping that they’d say they’d be holding up an enormous piece of cardboard with my name on it in coloured marker pen because I think that for a writer being met at a station or an airport by somebody holding their name up is something that really strokes their ego. “I’ll be holding a photograph of you,” she said, and I said “That’s okay.” Perhaps I sounded slightly disappointed, hoping for the felt-tip name, because she said “It’s all right: it’s a recent one!” Well, that’s all right then. I’d still have preferred a name board.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Not beyond our Ken

Lines from a half-remembered poem have been tickling the exposed wires of my memory recently, like lines often do. I read such a lot, and so much of what I read goes in one ear and then just stays there, waiting to be found again, before it tumbles out of the other ear and into the Barnsley air. Sometimes, though, lines stick and resurface like those songs you can’t shake off, no matter how you try.

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Ian McMillan on the words every good writer should sidestep.

Ian McMillan: Why the key to good writing is avoiding the Truth

In my writing, I try to avoid the truth. No, that’s not quite right. What I mean is that in my writing I try to avoid Truth, and that’s slightly different. As well as avoiding Truth I do my best to steer clear of Fear, Hate, Desire and Love. The clue, of course, is in the capital letters: I’m talking about abstract nouns here. The great poet Ezra Pound said “Go in fear of abstractions” and he was right.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Why good writers always listen to their inner rhythm

I think that writing and reading are, to a great extent, about rhythm. When I’m writing this piece I like to think about the rhythm of the sentences, the way they build into paragraphs and gradually into the rhythm of the column as a whole. When I’m reading I try to get into the inner beat, the pulse of the writing, because it helps me to understand what’s happening in the story or the poem.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Why you don’t need to wander far to be a travel writer

Years ago there was a man who came regularly to one of my poetry workshops who always liked to read what he called his “Travel Sequences”; he had a big folder marked Selected Poems (selected by him, presumably), and each week he’d open it with a flourish, clear his throat theatrically and intone: “This is a travel sequence about my recent sojourns in foreign climes.” Now I realise that this was the mid-1980s but even in those days people didn’t use words like “sojourn” or phrases like “foreign climes” much in our corner of Yorkshire. It felt like the kind of language that belonged in print, not in shared air.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Ideas are great, just make sure you can read what your write

I always tell people who want to become writers that they should carry a notebook at all times. That’s a piece of simple, good advice that was passed on to me by people much wiser than I am but the addendum to that advice is: Just make sure that what you write is legible.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: The perils of the great holiday read

This is the time of year when people buy books or download books, to take on holiday with them, to put next to the towel by the busy pool or balance in a tottering pile on the bedside cupboard of a rented cottage by a quiet bay. The received wisdom is that these vacation volumes are a kind of relief, a change of direction from the ordinary humdrum reading that fills your working life. So, if you spend hours in the office reading reports and spreadsheets, you’ll pack a thriller or two, and if you normally stretch your brain poring over academic documents, you’ll stash a huge historical romance in your backpack.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: How clichés are killing the English language

I woke up to a blanket of snow; there was a knock at the door. “All right, all right, I’m coming!” I shouted as I ran across the room, moving with surprising agility for one of my bulk.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Ode to joi

At school we were doing French one afternoon (après-midi, if you will) and the teacher, a bright-eyed lad newly out of college, asked us to tell the rest of the class, in French, what we’d been up to over the weekend. One girl, perhaps trying to show how grown up she was, said that she had spent the evening “dans les bras du Jardinier”. She’d intended to show off about the fact that she’d had a couple of lager-and-blackcurrants in the Gardener’s Arms but what she actually told us contained a more DH Lawrence-ish scenario about being in the arms of the gardener.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Literary competitions won’t make you rich, but they might just make you a writer

Lots of people ask me how they should get into writing, and apart from the obvious answer, which is “buy a notebook and start writing in it”, I reckon that one thing new writers could do is have a go at entering writing competitions, but always with the proviso that you’re not going to win.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Game of the name

It all began for me many years ago with a pile of Happy Families cards, I reckon; with Mr Bun, the Baker and his lovely wife Mrs Bun and their two children, Master Bun and Miss Bun. Or there’s Mr Plant, the Gardener and the Plant wife and the Plant kids. From playing endless games of Happy Families on a soaking summer holiday with the rain paradiddling on the caravan roof, the young reader (in this case, me) learns about the way that the name of a fictional character can influence the way they behave. In other words, there’s not much point being a baker called Mr Plant, and in further words, nominative determinism.

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