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Al Purdy's Cure for Writer's Block

Aug. 23rd, 2010 | 01:01 pm

I've started Margaret Laurence - Al Purdy: A Friendship in Letters, and it's wowing me. Their correspondence is devoid of literary pretensions. It's simple and direct, even when they describe the major themes in their work. There's a lot of worrying about money. They joke about how to properly accept a Governor's General award (Laurence refuses to curtsy, Purdy chooses to shake hands rather than bow). They muddle through their ordinary lives, encourage each other, and struggle with words.

There's a letter in 1967 where Laurence writes Purdy in despair. After years of work, she abandons her first draft of The Fire-Dwellers, burning all 300 pages. She feels she will never write another novel, and gets a bit melodramatic. Here is the first paragraph of how Purdy writes back:

Dear Margaret,
     The way you seem to be feelin, a long quiet drunk with a friend, someone you can talk to, would be a good idea. Universal panacea, they say, but at least it does bust your life into before and after. However, it must be fun burnin all that money you coulda had for the typescript. Anyway, I recommend a drunk, tho I ain't qualified to prescribe – that or twenty four hours fucking.

Laurence perked up considerably in her next letter, and two years later, the novel was done.

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