Helen Simpson's Writing Tips and Best Books by Young Authors

Posted on 5th November 2015 by Helen Simpson
The Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist is announced on Sunday and in the run up, we have asked previous years' winners to share some writing tips and favourite texts by young authors.

Helen Simpson won the award in 1991 for Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories


Helen’s Writing Tips:

1. Be brave, be honest and only write what you want to write, not what you think you ought to write.

2. Get used to your own company and to working on your own.

3. Keep at it!

Helen’s Best Books by Young Authors:

1. John Milton wrote The Masque of Comus (written and performed at Ludlow 1634, published 1637) when he was twenty-six—none too soon according to his sonnet of three years earlier:

“How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,

Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!

My hasting days fly on with full career,

But my late spring no bud or blossom showeth…”

2. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was twenty-four when he wrote his epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774).  His short novel of fatal love took Europe by storm and started a copycat craze among its young male readers for wearing blue coats and buff waistcoats in imitation of its hero.

3. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847) was published under a male pseudonym when she was twenty-nine to be greeted with general incomprehension and hostility.  She died a year later of tuberculosis.

4. Katherine Mansfield died in 1923 at the age of thirty-four, also of tuberculosis, leaving forty or so short stories which are now famous throughout the world.

5. Edna O’Brien’s taboo-breaking The Country Girls (1960) was published when she was thirty.  “My novel was completed in three weeks.  It had written itself and I was merely the messenger,” she writes in her recent memoir, Country Girl.  Banned in Ireland, the family’s parish priest burnt copies of it in public. 


Helen Simpson’s sixth short-story collection, Cockfosters, follows Four Bare Legs in a Bed (1990), Dear George (1995), Hey Yeah Right Get a Life (2000), Constitutional (2005) and In-Flight Entertainment (2010).  She lives in London.




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