Relevant quotations

Reading other people’s writing, whether it be fictional or autobiographical, and listening to what people I admire have to say, is vitally important for me in understanding my own experience of the world.  Here are some quotations I have noted down, in which I have recognised an expression of what is motivating my own work:


A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth pervades my memory.  That robust reality makes a ghost of the present.

Still farther downstream, the endless tumultuous flow of a water mill gave the spectator (his elbows on the handrail) the sensation of receding endlessly, as if this were the stern of time itself.

The anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark, whose unique design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life’s foolscap.

..those distant times, whose long light finds so many ingenious ways to reach me.

One is always at home in one’s past…

Vladimir Nabokov from Speak, Memory


Life is an adventure of our own design, intersected by fate and a series of lucky and unlucky accidents.

Patti Smith


I, who had thought of ruins only as the transmutation of the city landscape, learned that ruins lie within people as well.

Shomei Tomatsu: 11:02 Nagasaki


Hardness and strength are death’s companions.  Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being.   Because what has hardened will never win.

From Andrei Tarkovsky: Stalker


Inside its elaborate packaging, my body is stiff, sulky, wary.  When I’m with my peers, who come by crinolines, lipstick, cars and self-confidence naturally, my gestures show that I’m here provisionally, by their grace, that I don’t rightfully belong.  My shoulders stoop, I nod frantically to indicate my agreement with others, I smile sweetly at people to show I mean well, and my chest recedes inward so that I don’t take up too much space – mannerisms of a marginal, off-centered person who wants both to be taken in and to fend off the threatening others.


After a while, I begin to push the images of memory down, away from consciousness, below emotion.  Relegated to an internal darkness, they increase the area of darkness within me, and they return in the dark, in my dreams […] Betwixt and between, I am stuck and time is stuck within me.  Time used to open out, serene, shimmering with promise.  If I wanted to hold a moment still, it was because I wanted to expand it, to get its fill.  Now, time has no dimension, no extension backward or forward.  I arrest the past, and I hold myself stiffly against the future; I want to stop the flow.  As a punishment, I exist in the stasis of a perpetual present, that other side of “living in the present,” which is not eternity but a prison.  I can’t throw a bridge between the present and the past, and therefore I can’t make time move.

Eva Hoffman from Lost in Translation


I don’t have any pictures of my mother, and it is difficult for me to remember what she looked like. […] She was capable of telling jokes that sent me into fits of raucous giggling, but that happened only rarely, when the planets were in the right conjunction.  More often than not she was dreamy, given to mild sulks, and there were times when I felt a true sadness emanating from her, a sense that she was battling against some vast and internal disarray.   As I grew older, she left me at home with baby-sitters more and more often, but I did not understand what these mysterious departures of hers meant until much later, long after she was dead.  With my father however, all was a blank, both during and after.  That was the one subject my mother refused to discuss with me, and whenever I asked the question, she would not budge.


I was looking down at Broadway, the smallest, most abbreviated portion of Broadway, and the remarkable thing was that the entire area of what I could see was filled up by a neon sign, a vivid torch of pink and blue letters that spelt out the words MOON PALACE.  I recognized it as the sign from the Chinese restaurant down the block, but the force with which those words assaulted me drowned out every practical reference and association.  They were magic letters, and they hung there in the darkness like a message from the sky itself.  MOON PALACE.  I immediately thought of Uncle Victor and his band, and in that first, irrational, moment, my fears lost their hold on me.  I had never experienced anything so sudden and absolute.  A bare and grubby room had been transformed into a site of inwardness, an intersection point of strange omens and mysterious, arbitrary events.


Each time I opened a box, I was able to enter another segment of my uncle’s life, a fixed period of days or weeks or months, and it consoled me to feel that I was occupying the same mental space that Victor had once occupied.

‘Our lives are determined by manifold contingencies,’ I said, trying to be as succinct as possible, ‘and every day we struggle against these shocks and accidents in order to keep our balance…’

The true purpose of art was not to create beautiful objects, he discovered. It was a method of understanding, a way of penetrating the world and finding one’s place in it, and whatever aesthetic qualities a canvas might have were almost an incidental by-product of the effort to engage oneself in this struggle, to enter into the thick of things.

Paul Auster from Moon Palace


When I was seven I spent Christmas with my father and his new wife in their small terraced house in Chelmsford and we watched Thunderbirds together.  I got a pea-green Thunderbird 2 model for my Christmas present.  I remember eating bacon and tomatoes for lunch, and the taste of tinned tomatoes.  He kept in sporadic contact for a few years, but then he did what many men did at that time, and still do: he lost contact with his children […] When parents say it’s too upsetting for the children to maintain contact, I think they mean it’s too upsetting for the parents.  My father made the decision not to see my sister and me any more.  Seeing us meant dealing with a wound that he couldn’t face attending to, so he let it fester rather than intervening and keeping the relationship alive.  Instead, he left us.  My dad became a ghost then.  When he left, I felt bereft.  The rug was pulled out from under me.  As far as I’m aware, it is the event that has had the largest impact on me in my life.  Emotionally I went numb, I closed down.  And that’s when I handed everything over to Alan Measles.

Grayson Perry


In a room full of growing girls, dark or fair, fat or angular, round-faced or freckled, all nice enough but none particularly distinguished, Theresa stood out like a work of art.  She seemed to belong to a different race. And the more closely Miss Bates observed her, the more set apart she appeared in more ways than just in looks.  She did not mix with the others, she did not conform, and by the studied politeness in her manners she seemed to surround herself with the kind of vacuum which she allowed no-one to penetrate.


She came, and he kissed her hand.  She was not embarrassed by his gesture.  It was obvious to them both that he must do so, since he now knew who she was.  Then they walked side by side under the chestnut trees, up and down, slowly and without touching.  She asked him about himself, about his exile, his life over there and his return.  For the first time the seal was broken and he was able to talk to someone who really wanted to know … she did not sentimentalise or console, in fact she spoke very little, but in the presence of her listening, much that had been twisted and cramped within him began to untangle and relax.

Elisabeth de Waal from The Exiles Return