The Weird and Wonderful World of a Writer – Sarah Nicholson

I went to see a play last month, written by a local Suffolk author, Suzanne Hawkes, with my friend, Virginia Betts, in the lead role.

Pat and Ron – Writers in Crime was an exploration of the friendship between American crime writer Patricia Highsmith…

“I write thrillers!” she interjects with an exasperated drawl.

…and fellow author Ronald Blyth. He was Suffolk born and bred and they met when she stayed in the county.

The play was brilliantly written and acted and I found out much about two authors who I confess I’ve not read.

However, the most surprising thing I learned that evening had nothing to do with their literary works, or character creations. I discovered that Patricia Highsmith collected snails. Maybe not too much of an odd fact on its own, but her penchant for these slimy creatures went even further as she used to keep them in her handbag with a head of lettuce when she went out and was even known to stick them inside her bra!

She did have more usual writerly habits like talking to her fictional characters, Tom Ripley turns up in the play to challenge and tease her. I guess most of us writers would admit to that one, but snails in your bra – that’s a new one to me. I think she just liked the creatures, I’m not sure if they ever gave her inspiration or helped her figure out a complex plot twist

But it got me thinking about weird and wonderful things other well-known authors get up to.

Google is a most wonderful thing and here are some other “facts” I’ve found, I’ll even list some of the websites at the end as a sort of bibliography, with a disclaimer that I’ve not verified them and some lists appear on multiple sites, using mostly the exact same words – make of that what you will - I’ve added some of my own thoughts to make it different πŸ˜‰

·         John Steinbeck needed 12 perfectly sharpened pencils on his desk at all times to help him write. (Personally, I need a good supply of tea and biscuits.)


·         Joseph Heller got ideas while riding on a bus, this includes the last line of his novel Catch 22. (Some of my best lines appear to me in the shower when I don’t have a notebook to hand – perhaps that’s why I’ve not written a global best seller.)


·         Agatha Christie ate apples in the bath. (I wonder if she had a notebook with her? Or jumped out, starkers, apple core in hand shouting “Eureka! The butler did it!”)


·         Dr Seuss put on a hat if he had writers’ block. (I just go and make myself another cup of tea!)


·         Isabel Allende starts writing all her books on 8th January. All her close friends know this and know not to disturb her on that day. (I am usually happy to have a distraction – did someone mention tea and cake? – can you see the pattern developing?)


·         Poet Edith Sitwell (who I will admit I’d never heard of, but this fact it so creepy I needed to include it) started each day laying in an empty coffin. It gave her focus and cleared her mind.


·         Mark Twain invented the bra strap (back to lingerie, but this wasn’t entirely intentional just a by-product of another invention – what a clever chap he was.)


·         Stieg Larsson who wrote the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trained female guerillas for the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front in the seventies. (Not gorillas, I admit that image did pop into my head and I asked myself - WHY???? Interesting story idea though…)


·         Alexander Dumas wrote fiction on blue paper, poetry on yellow paper and articles on pink paper. (At first this appears to be the most eminently sensible idea I’ve found, but then again, what if you start a poem and it develops into a story or start an article and it rhymes like a sonnet?)


·         Bram Stoker was a conspiracy theorist who believed that Queen Elizabeth 1st was really a man in drag. His idea holds some weight as she never married, or had children and he maintains she wore a wig to cover her male pattern baldness. However, he completely loses credibility when he also claims she was so smart there was no way she was female!


There you go, at least ten weird facts about writers you may or may not have already known. If nothing else you will never look at a snail in the same way again!


Bibliography so you too can fall down a rabbit hole…



Griselda Heppel said…
Ha ha this was fun. I think I knew about Patricia Highsmith's predilection for snails and Edith Sitwell's for lying in a coffin, but I had no idea Stieg Larsson trained Eritrean female guerrillas. Yikes.

Bram Stoker is a disgrace and you are being much too kind to give any weight at all to his classic misogynist assumptions eg Of course Elizabeth I must have been a man in disguise because she was 1. clever 2. successful 3. wore a wig in old age (Stoker had clearly never heard about elderly women's receding hair lines). If I was ever going to bother to read Dracula, I certainly won't now.

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