The London Magazine
Why I Write — with Hanif Kureishi, Kit de Waal, Ashley Hickson-Lovence and Elle McNicoll
In a series of four newly commissioned films, four leading writers — Hanif Kureishi, Kit de Waal, Elle McNicoll and Ashley Hickson-Lovence — have shared their motivations and experiences as writers, answering the question of why they write.
The responses below are taken as excerpts from the new films, which have been created by The Literary Consultancy in collaboration with Story Machine, and will premiere in a digital event on Thursday 15 July. All proceeds from the film tickets will go towards a new initiative launched by The Literary Consultancy: the TLC Associate Artist fund, which is created with the aim of helping those aspiring writers without creative writing qualifications (BAs or MAs) pursue a literary career.
F0r more on the films, click here.
Hanif Kureishi grew up in Kent and studied philosophy at King ’s College London. His novels include The Buddha of Suburbia, which won the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel, The Black Album, Intimacy, The Last Word, and The Nothing. His screenplays include My Beautiful Laundrette, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and Le Week-End.
So, I looked out the window and I thought, I can do this all the time. I can do this in the future. It’ll save my life. Not only am I a kid scribbling on his desk at home, but I can also actually think about this seriously just like other kids who got out of their hometowns by playing guitars. And that really focused me, it really saved my life. It gave me a sense of purpose and direction and a way out.
Of course, what I was gonna write about I wasn’t really sure. But then it began to occur to me that I could write about—let’s call it my own situation. About race, about my father being an Indian marrying a white woman, living in the suburbs, growing up in the sixties, race, racism, Enoch Powell, all that stuff.
That was a good start. So, I started to sit down and I wrote mostly in the evening when I got home from school. But all the kids that I knew were into fashion—you know, clothes, dressing up—and started taking photographs. It was very, very creative, although we hated it and called it dead.
When you look back on it, the end of the sixties, it was really lively down there. But I was the only one who wanted to be a writer.
Kit de Waal
Kit de Waal, born to an Irish mother and Caribbean father, was brought up among the Irish community of Birmingham in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Her debut novel My Name Is Leon was an international bestseller, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award for 2017. Her second novel, The Trick to Time, was longlisted for the Women’s Prize and her young adult novel Becoming Dinah was shortlisted for the Carnegie CLIP Award 2020.
I write now because I find it easier than not writing. Not writing is like forever being at a party. The guests are lovely, the food is wonderful, beautiful wine, comfortable sofa, excellent music. You laugh and chat and pour another drink. Yes, it’s all great but after a few hours, you just want to go home, strip off the party dress, kick off the stilettos and loosen your belt. You want to climb into the big jumper and pyjama trousers and wipe off the lipstick and when you look in the bathroom mirror, why, there you are! That’s the real you, the real me. That’s what writing is like, being the real me, and what kind of a contradiction is that? By writing about the unreal, the made-up, the invented, I can find myself – I feel authentic and true, in touch with who I am. A psychiatrist would have a field day.
It makes you wonder if you would write without the plaudits and the success. It makes you wonder if you would write on a desert island with no expectation that anyone would ever find your words and read them, if straight after writing you had to burn your words to stay warm. I think I would.
Ashley Hickson-Lovence is a novelist, PhD student and Lecturer of Creative Writing, originally from London. His debut novel The 392 was released with OWN IT! in April 2019. His second novel Your Show, based on the life and career of former Black football referee Uriah Rennie, will be released with Faber in April 2022, and he is currently writing his third novel.
I wrote most of my debut, The 392, on my phone on my way to work, from station to station, thinking and pausing, typing and deleting, trying to find five minutes of magic while sat on the Thameslink. Trying to capture some semblance of authenticity from the world being lived around me; a proper noun followed by another proper noun: ‘Air Force Ones’ and ‘KFC’ and ‘Kentish Town’. Every little detail counts.
Now, this morning, I find my seat and start a new journey to the big game, not as a player, but as the referee. When I get there, I will be a Black man in the middle, like the subject of my second novel. I feel a weight on my shoulders heavier than what’s inside my kitbag. With every word I write, I’m grappling with the burden of expectation: from history, from society, from friends and family, how my work will be received on Goodreads and the wider industry.
But I write to give back; I write because I am Black, and there aren’t enough of us in places I want to see.
Elle McNicoll is a Scottish and Neurodivergent writer, happily living in London. She graduated with a first in Creative Writing and has worked as a bookseller, bartender, blogger and babysitter — all while writing stories for her own amusement. After completing her Master’s dissertation on the lack of Own Voices representation for Neurodivergent children, she grew tired of the lack of inclusivity in the industry and wrote a book herself. Her first children’s novel, A Kind of Spark, was published in June 2020 by award-winning indie press Knights Of and stars two openly autistic young women.
I think there is this really romanticised idea of the writer, with their crumpled-up pieces of paper and their multiple drafts strewn all about their room. Usually a large room. Like some kind of warehouse that is actually completely unaffordable. I grew up and started learning about writing as an occupation when computers were quite new and there was still a strong push for having perfect handwriting. “Print perfectly. Cursive has to be just right. Now we’re using fountain pens, get on board”—all of that.
Writing with a pen or pencil has never felt natural to me. I felt so disconnected from the physical act of writing as a young person because I was constantly being told that I was doing it incorrectly. Work I had spent ages on was torn up. I was criticised on the blackboard in front of everyone. This isn’t a self-pity thing, I can objectively understand how frustrated my teacher was with my inability to improve. She just didn’t understand, and neither did I at the time, that it was all caused by an underlying condition. Being neurodivergent, my hand’s tremor and I have great difficulty with holding a pan and motor skills in general. I was put through workshops, tutoring and occupational therapy before I was finally diagnosed. Not one single aspect of this experience made me enthusiastically think, ‘Yes. Writing. That’s an occupation I can do!’. No. It was completely alien to me.
For more information on the Why I Write films, and to buy tickets for the digital premiere on 15 July, click here.
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