I expected Alan Garner, as a fantasy writer to be as strange as other fantasy writers I know of (Alan Moore springs to mind). However he was surprisingly normal and down to earth, but quick to say he believes that being a writer is a pathological state. He also warned us that his talk would not be a guide on how to write. He stresses this sentiment again later, insisting that you cannot tell how someone how to write.
Garner elucidates the importance of learning from your own work, stating that the writer is a 'subordinate to his own work,' and that stringing two sentences together does not make you a writer any more than knocking two bits of wood together makes you a carpenter. And I can see what he means: that you have to dedicate yourself to writing well and sweat over it as any craftsman would. He goes on to insist that rewriting and redrafting your work is the best way to make progress with your writing.
Garner demonstrates this tried and tested method of perseverance by sharing with us the opening to his first book, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, as it appeared in his original draft. He follows the first pages in which Colin and Susan appeared with the comment, 'I challenge you to do worse.' The audience responds with delighted laughter. Later he tells us how bored he became with Colin and Susan in The Moon of Gomrath.. This led to the point in one draft where he was so fed up with Colin and Susan that he allowed an ending in which one of the villains attacked Colin and "wrung the little bugger's neck."Somehow Garner managed to return to the novel (intended for children aged 8 and up) and give the characters a less devastating ending. He them left Colin and Susan for decades, returning to them only in his latest, adult novel, Boneland.
The talk with Garner was concise, encouraging and has given me a lot to think about. Garner states that he has no patience for writer's block, branding it as merely a writer's impatience. He compares writing to the dripping of a tap; sometimes you only get a few drops sometimes you get a rush of water. Garner's advice for when you feel you have writers block was simply to 'have a bath!'