The other day I came across an article in the winter edition of The Author, the trade journal for members of the Society of Authors. As always, their magazine is full of useful stuff for writers, but one particular feature stood out, and it’s been niggling away at me ever since.
In the article, ‘Something of the Night’, the multi-talented writer and critic Bonnie Greer writes about her realisation that there are two kinds of books: ‘day’ books and ‘night’ books. (Greer is a playwright, novelist, writer of memoir and poetry, as well as a regular panelist on BBC2’s Newsnight Review, where you can bet she always has something interesting and relevant to say.)
‘Day’ or ‘Night’ writing – what’s the difference?
Okay, let me clarify that the terms ‘day’ and ‘night’ have nothing to do with the time of day that you do most of your writing. It matters not whether you’re a night-owl writer, or if you’re up with the lark, or (like me) a bit of a ‘grabber-inbetween’ of any scribbling opportunity, day or night.
Rather, the mark of a ‘night’ book, Greer argues, is that it’s driven by a ‘daemon’, or at the very least a form of interiority where:
“…the reader is a kind of intruder. This isn’t to say that the reader is ignored, not wanted, discouraged; just that there is something private happening, something that the reader herself cannot understand and is learning … as she writes.” p134
I liked this. It made sense instantly. To illustrate her point, Greer compares Oscar Wilde’s children’s stories (his ‘day’ books) with The Picture of Dorian Grey (the ‘night’ book). And Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island (his ‘day’ book) with Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, (a ‘night’ book if ever there was one).
I get your drift Ms Greer
In my own mind, I see ‘day’ books as safer, more commercial, written to please readers. They’re good little children – they sit still in church, eat their greens without a fuss. People love them because they do what’s expected.
Whereas ‘night’ books are bolder, liable to controversy, less controllable. They dig their heels in, refuse to get up off the supermarket floor. Other people look on with disdain. But you love them just as much, in spite of the runaround they give you. And maybe that makes the personal rewards of writing the ‘night’ book so much sweeter.
I’m not sure yet. I’m still thinking about it. Maybe the trick is to do both kinds of writing, like the versatile Ms. Greer.
So how about you? How far does this distinction between ‘day’ and ‘night’ books make sense for you as a writer? I’d love to hear your thoughts on your past and present writing projects.