John o’ London’s Weekly, December 13, 1924

“How Our Novelists Write Their Books.”



THE very interesting series that has been published in recent issues of “The Strand Magazine” on “How Our Novelists Write Their Books” is continued in the Christmas number. Here are some extracts:—

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says that in short stories “so long as you produce your dramatic effect, accuracy of detail matters little,” and he admits having made some bad mistakes in consequence. But where history is introduced he insists on accuracy. Twenty books of Napoleonic soldier records are the foundation of the “Brigadier Gerard” stories.

As to my hours of work, when I am keen on a book I am prepared to work all day, with an hour or two of walk or siesta in the afternoon. As I grow older I lose some power of sustained effort, but I remember that I once did ten thousand words of “The Refugees” in twenty-four hours. It was the part where the Grand Monarch was between his two mistresses, and contains as sustained an effort as I have ever made. . . .
  From the time that I no longer had to write for sustenance I have never considered money in my work. When the work is done the money is very welcome, and it is the author who should have it. But I have never accepted a contract because it was well paid.

[Accounts from Mr. Robert Hichens and Mr. Perceval Gibbon omitted here.]

Mr. E. Phillips Oppenheim.

Mr. Phillips Oppenheim dictates the whole of his fiction to his secretary:—

I then re-dictate from the written sheets, an occupation which takes far more time and is more laborious than giving shape to the first conception of the story. Practically I work the whole of the time out of doors.
  As regards the assembling of the ideas necessary to produce a work of fiction, I have, perhaps, during the last dozen years somewhat changed my methods. In earlier days I was accustomed to evolve a plot and story first, and then create the characters afterwards. To-day I more frequently evolve from my mind what I conceive to be an interesting character, or characters, and one central situation. In other words, my characters to-day interest me more than the scenes in which they move.

[Account from Mr. W. J. Locke omitted here.]

Mr. P. G. Wodehouse.

Mr. P. G. Wodehouse writes:—

When I want to write a short story, I sit down on one chair, place the feet comfortably on another, put notebook, pencil, matches, pipe and tobacco handily on my lap, select a character, and then keep on sitting till I have discovered what happened to him, the time he forgot his wife’s birthday, or on the afternoon when he went to Wembley. In other words, the story grows out of the character. It may turn into an entirely different story half-way through, but the character remains the same.

[Account from Mr. A. S. M. Hutchinson omitted here.]