‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’
So wrote the great American poet and author Maya Angelou. Her contemporary Toni Morrison advised:
‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’
The untold story must be told.
Writing for the Guardian newspaper in the UK, Italian author Elena Ferrante explores this deep-seated need to write, and determines that one should not put off writing. ‘If you feel the need to write, you absolutely should write,’ she says, because otherwise the need to write is haunting, distracting.
But Elena is clear that writing and publishing are two very separate endeavours. ‘Publishing,’ she writes, ‘can certainly be put off; in fact, one can decide not to publish at all.’
Last week, my interest was piqued by an article about an author who has written a book that is an addition to The Chronicles of Narnia. The Stone Table slots in between The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in the enduring children’s fantasy series, and it has been written in a style to match the original Narnia books.
CS Lewis’s works are still under copyright, however, and so The Stone Table is, at present, an ‘unauthorised’ book. By all accounts, it is a really excellent book and a very respectful homage to CS Lewis, but it may not be published.
Francis Spufford, who is a professor at Goldsmiths College in London and the author of several non-fiction books, does hope that The Stone Table will be published someday, and he has approached the estate of CS Lewis for permission.
But what really interests me is that, according to the article, he did not write the book with publication in mind – he wrote it for himself, and for his daughter. He told the Guardian that his daughter ‘had been lobbying for me to write a book she would enjoy for some time’, and that the novel was a ‘present for [his] younger self’, who had so loved the world of Narnia.
Why write, then? To tell the story that must be told.
That, certainly, is what drives my own writing. A story comes to me, and I must tell it. I need to write the words. I write the book for myself, and I write it for my family, who are the staunchest supporters of my writing.
Of course, I do publish some of my stories, and that is a delight: it is wonderful to be able to open the door to my story world and invite like-minded others inside. But I do not write in order to publish. As Henry Miller so aptly put it, ‘Writing is its own reward.’