The book whisperer

In The Boston Globe this week, there was an interesting piece by David Mehegan about novelist Margot Livesey, entitled, "It's done when Margot says it's done." Apparently Livesey, (author of "The House on Fortune Street," reviewed for the Monitor today by Yvonne Zipp) has a second life as a "book doctor."

She's taught at numerous US colleges and universities, in addition to many noncollegiate writing workshops. She's also the writer other writers (such as Andrea Barrett, Alice Sebold, and debut novelist Edgar Sawtelle) turn to when they get stuck or need a mentor. Her gift for teaching writing is evidently legendary among many of those who have "workshopped" with her.

The piece goes into the debate as to whether writing can really be taught. Livesey suggests that, like ice skating and piano playing, writing is an art form that requires years of practice and – perhaps – instruction. Her students she says, sometimes learn "in a few months what it took me years to learn."

However, she admits, she goes to the British Library and looks at the manuscript of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." There it is, says Livesey, "in all its magnificence" and she looks at it and wonders, "How did she do it?"

There is no workshop with an answer to that question.

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