Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Still working on that Nobel Prize

As a pretentious and precocious young man at Grammar School I signed off one of my English Literature essays with the phrase ‘Ian McMillan, future Nobel Prize for Literature Winner’ and Mr Brown took me one side when all the others had gone out of the room and gently told me that he didn’t think Nobel Prize winners came from Barnsley, something I disagreed with then and I disagree with now.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Catchy and Saatchi

I woke up the other day with the words of that old Penguin advert running through my head like water down a stream in the Dales after sudden rain. You remember the one: “P-p-pick up a Penguin”. Yes, that’s right; it’s in your head now, ringing like a bell and making you fancy a crunchy chocolate bar. Other chocolate bars are available, of course, but “P-p-pick up a Kit Kat” doesn’t work quite so well. And anyway, the phrase that sold you Kit Kats was “Have a break, have a Kit Kat”. Other chocolate bars are available, of course.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Excuse the mess

Excuses for not writing the column No. 1: I’m desperate for a cup of tea. I’ll just go and put the kettle on. Excuses for not writing the column No. 2: I’ll have to sit somewhere else because the sun’s in my eyes. Unplug the laptop, change positions, plug the laptop in again. Excuse No. 3: The phone’s ringing. Ah, wrong number. The sun’s moved again. Unplug the laptop, change positions, plug the laptop in again.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Wowed by Walcott

I think that the writers you read when you’re young stay with you forever. As you grow and mature and your hair turns grey and you start having to wear stronger and stronger glasses you still turn to the books (in large print, obviously) that impressed you when you were at your most impressionable, in the sensitive adolescent years when your voice went up and down like a xylophone and you kept going to your room or being sent to your room where you’d stare out of the window and plan your escape to, well, anywhere really.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Charity shop? Me?

A man once came along to one of my writing workshops clutching a manuscript for a novel that, he said, “would be the blockbuster that knocked the block of all the other blockbusters”. He wasn’t lacking in confidence and he certainly had a very good turn of phrase: when I asked him what sort of style he wrote in, he replied “I’m waving from the guard’s van of the avant-garde” which is a phrase I admit I’ve used since.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: The last word...

This is the last Saturday column I’ll ever write. Goodbye! I’m off to the wastes of an uninhabited island north of the Arctic Circle to raise reindeer and make Yorkshire puddings from whale blubber. Okay, I’m joking. This isn’t my last column, but I’ve been thinking about how you start, continue, and then end a piece of writing and one way to start it is with a bit of a surprise to make the reader sit up and take notice. And that’s why I did the ‘last column’ thing.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: I know my place

I’ve been thinking about the fact that, as readers, we don’t only read words on pages or on smartphones or on billboards or as subtitles on the bottom of a French film. The word ‘reading’ can be used for all sorts of things. We talk about reading a situation, so that when you walk into a room you can sense the atmosphere and you reach into your bag for a knife to cut it with. Some people say, of other people ‘I can read him/her like a book’ and as a child I often wondered what that meant, and I imaged my Auntie staring hard at my Uncle Charlie’s waistcoat to try and work out some semblance of plot or character development, and failing.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Imagine and tonic

Write about what you know, they say, and on the whole that’s good advice, although I reckon you should sometimes speculate about things you don’t know, places you’ve never been to, people you’ve never met. As a man, you could write from a woman’s point of view, and vice versa. And then there are things you know really well: how about looking at them from a completely different angle, seeing what you can mine from them that you’ve not noticed before?

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Trip round a block

I sit at the keyboard like a concert pianist about to animate some delectable Chopin; I crack my knuckles and I lean over to begin my artistic task. Of course, this is a laptop keyboard we’re talking about, not a piano one, and I’m just about to start writing my column for The Yorkshire Post magazine. I take a long glug of tea and begin.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Caught in the fact

Take the facts and print the legend. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Fact is fiction with an instruction manual. I made that last one up but I think it has a certain something, because I’ve been thinking, like the rest of the world in these uncertain times, about facts and their relationship with storytelling.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Legends of the fall

Picture the scene: The early evening. The darkened spare room. The middle-aged writer walking across the room to get to a shirt he has laid on the bed. The wide expanse of carpet dotted with the boxes of his own books that the writer has sent off for to sell at his readings because he is vain and he likes to sit at a table surrounded by his grinning image on identical rows of covers. The two important questions that spring immediately to mind. Q: Why did the middle-aged writer not switch the light on? A: He thought the glow from the street light would be enough to see by and he is a thrifty soul. Q: Why did the middle-aged writer not keep his eye on the boxes of books on the floor? A: He could only think of the shirt. He is a man so he cannot multi-task.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Common groobly

It was a cold February morning and I was walking to the station in the dark; a breeze was biting at my face and the rain was finding its way into gaps in my clothing I didn’t know were there. It was freezing, and indeed it was more than freezing. Somehow the word “freezing” wasn’t chilly enough. I needed a new and appropriate word, and suddenly one occurred to me: “Frezzing” popped into my head and hung there like an icicle.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Lost and found

I love it when you come out of the cinema on a spring afternoon and you step from the dark into the bright sunshine and you’re blinking a little bit disorientated and but still, for a few minutes at least, you’re in the film you’ve just been watching. The streets of your Yorkshire town become the streets of Paris and the canal you wander by on the way to the station gleams like the Seine. The man standing in the doorway of a shop reading a newspaper becomes a spy and the woman glancing at you from a passing tram could be the Rom in your Rom-Com if only you could catch her eye before the accordion music gets too loud.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Why great writing hides much hard graft

Every so often somebody will come to a writing workshop of mine and gush enthusiastically about an idea they’ve had that will make them rich. ‘It’s a story for children’ they’ll say, their eyes sparkling with joy and the prospect of lining their luxury yachts up in their private marina, ‘and I’ve read it to my grandchildren and they love it’ and at this point I hope you’ll forgive my eyes for glazing over.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Why big isn’t necessarily better when it comes to books

How long is a piece of string? Or, to put it another way, how long should a piece of string be? Or, to put it yet another way, how long is a piece of writing and how long should a piece of writing be?

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: One day, two greats

It seems obvious to say it, as the new year bursts from the starting blocks and begins the gallop towards December, but history is built on the scaffolding of individual days, and of course a day is just a fictional construct that we’ve invented to measure time with but that doesn’t stop days being full of significance and resonance.

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Why make haste?

The sharp starting point of January is inevitably full of predictions for the year ahead, and it’s always a good exercise to save these articles and look at them a few years later. Holidays on Mars? Not yet. Monorails to work? Afraid not. Only working half a day a week for the same amount of money you work all week for now? In your dreams. Yorkshire dialect dying away? Tha must me evvin me on!

Books
Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: That’s 2017 sorted

If 2016 is a book then we’re on the last page and we’re about to close it forever and open the first page of 2017, and who knows what kind of book next year will be? Well, nobody can say for certain but I reckon it won’t be dull. It’ll be a thriller with a cast of thousands; it’ll be a page-turner because you really will have no idea what’s going to happen next. And I guarantee that there will be some moments that will make you gasp and put the book down and say: “Well, that’s ridiculous. You couldn’t make that up!”

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Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Glib tidings I bring

I took on extra work this year to fill the family purse; I agreed to pen the occasional original Christmas greeting verse. You know the kind of thing I mean: behind the snowy Yuletide scene, the sentiments both loud and clear expressed in rhyme that drips with cheer, that fizzes like the brightest beer or tugs the heartstrings, brings a tear.

Books
Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan: Shelf life and soul

Whenever we went on holiday as a family to small towns in Scotland or Wales or the north of England, the first thing I would beg my parents to do, even before they’d unpacked the cases and had a nice cup of tea, was to go down the high street and find the nearest bookshop.

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