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Rachel Knightley blog posts

Literary Lessons: Art Matters

Rachel Knightley

From Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell.

The best writing advice will always be the writing advice that inspires you to get on with the writing. Inspires, not instructs: no there is no great secret, yes it’s hard work and practise makes improvement. My favourite writing guide and favourite memoir, Stephen King’s On Writing, reminds us Dumbo made it into the air because of the magic feather clutched in his trunk, even though the magic was in him all the time. Writing courses and writing retreats and writing buddies and writing manuals are all great feathers. They can get us up there faster. But the magic is always in the elephant, not the feather. 

I have a new feather. It’s Art Matters, a stocking-filler-sized illustrated philosophy of life, art and freelancing. It sits beside my laptop on my windowsill “desk” in the living room. It’s made of three texts by Neil Gaiman – Credo (2015), Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming

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Literary Lessons: Gratitude

Rachel Knightley

From The Flame by Leonard Cohen (Canongate)

Leonard Cohen’s poetry was sometimes set to music, sometimes sung, sometimes accompanied cartoons, sketches and symbols – the Order of the Unified Hearts intertwining two Stars of David with heart-shaped bends at their tops; the brimmed hat he would doff in concert to the music, to its source, to his audience, to life itself – but whether it appeared in books or in albums, it was always poetry first.

The Flame is edited posthumously, and published just under two years after Leonard Cohen’s death on 7 November 2016. There is a foreword by his son, Adam Cohen, and his editors by Robert Faggen and Alexandra Pleshoyano, in which each says of Leonard Cohen what Leonard Cohen so often and well said of life itself: how unworthy we feel our choices might have been, how unequal we feel to the task. Yet what his verses, his music and, yes, his singing, taught with heartbreaking clarity was that that very appreciation – that gratitude – was

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Literary Lessons: Voice

From Melmouth by Sarah Perry (Serpent's Tail 2018)

Rachel Knightley - Melmoth


If you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve felt the ‘what now?’ at the end of a book you’ve loved. It’s most likely to happen with the strongest authorial voices, those fully in command of their world and message. Sarah Perry’s Melmoth is full, sharp and wittily observant in both the story and the telling. Distinctively articulate, it remains unassuming, clarifying without upstaging the action. This is a masterclass in authorial voice, and a solid marriage between research and originality, creating a sparklingly authentic world. 

Melmoth begins with a chance meeting in the street between Helen Franklin – a Prague-based translator living in self-made isolation and penitence for a secret crime of which she accuses herself – and one of the rare people who have managed to slip under the net of her self-denial to become a friend. His panic, and the papers that have come into his possession by the death of a friend …

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Literary Lessons: Editorial Investment

From When The Curtain Falls by Carrie Hope Fletcher (Sphere 2018)

Rachel Knightley - Blog 3

Theatres and ghost stories have both played starring roles in every era of my life and, as a result, of my writing. The idea of a ghost story set in a theatre immediately had me on its side – especially one written by a former west-end Eponine in Les Miserables which was another huge plus as far as my inner child was concerned. Carrie Hope Fletcher turned up on the theatrical, music and literary scenes long after my actual childhood but she certainly connects with a whole lot of it; I’m not surprised her emotional intelligence and courage to recognise and discuss her experiences and mistakes have made her “honorary big sister” to Youtubers all over the world.

Actress Fawn Burrows and apprentice doorman Walter Brown fall in love during a production of When the Curtain Falls, Fawn’s first starring role. But their producer is in love with, if not Fawn herself, then what being seen with Fawn will do for his career …

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Literary Lessons: Investing In Faith

From Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (Cannongate July 2018)

Rachel Knightley with Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna

‘What if someone steals my idea?’ is one of the two most common questions would-be writers ask when sending (or not sending) their writing off. The second question, which may sound like the polar opposite yet often follows directly, is ‘What if my idea isn’t good enough?’ There are practical answers, such as emailing documents to yourself so you can prove copyright by date. There are gentle reminders that there are only seven basic plots but infinite original voices – what you’re selling is not just your plot or idea but the originality of your voice in that plot or idea, a unique combination in all of time and space.

But while the practicalities are helpful, it’s much more helpful to address the questions at the emotional level: The perfect thing in your head will stay perfect as long as it stays in your head. It will stay that way until you have the courage to turn your perfect dream into …

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