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This article is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

Virtual Syntax, Actual Dreams Eavan Boland

I am surprised at how little exists to document the revolution in writing habits of the last twenty years. Almost exactly that long ago I went to interview Mary Lavin for Virago Press. They had decided to bring out a book on just that - the writing habits of women poets and novelists: whether they used a typewriter or a pen, which kind of pen, and so on.

During the course of the interview she told me she had never learned to use a typewriter. That she had sat at a dining room table writing and writing as the pages collected on the floor. I like to think of her even now, using that fast, almost unreadable pen script, making her marvellous short story `The Will'. She told me she felt the characters came into existence and deepened simply through this process of scratching out words and discarding sheets. As she spoke I could imagine Lally in that story, disregarding her inheritance, taking on her shabby coat, her way of speaking, those tears in her eyes, as she rose slowly through foolscap and ink.

I interviewed many writers in those years. But this one stayed with me. It was a glimpse: a small window opening onto the secrets of a process. The last twenty years have seen far greater changes. Writers have traversed centuries in decades. Many have left the form of writing they began with as poets or novelists - the pen, the ...

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