Review of Tessa Hadley in conversation by Amanda Read

Pic of Tessa Hadley

‘There is nothing more beautiful than clarity’ 

Image of Tessa Hadley copyright Mark Vessey 2015
Tessa Hadley c Mark Vessey 2015

Tessa Hadley, acclaimed novelist and short story writer, was speaking to a capacity crowd at Novel Nights, June event, in Bath.

Tessa’s latest collection of short stories, Bad Dreams and other stories, was published in 2018 by Vintage. Now a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University, Tessa wrote four novels before her work garnered interest. Then it clicked: she’d been too impressionable. Her longing to write like other novelists had crushed her own voice. The answer was to write as she knew how.

During an evening of sheer brilliance, Tessa’s enthusiasm galvanized the audience as she reflected on the craft, techniques and mindset of a successful writer.

What we learnt was to loosen up. ‘Part of becoming a writer is disinhibition,’ Tessa said. Only when we rid ourselves of self-consciousness, are we free to fantasise. She challenged the over-use of show-not-tell, the cause of many convoluted sentences. After all, without telling, the author is only half alive on the page.

In the same vein, she added, authors can free their creativity by thinking in advance on the next project, before the task of putting it all on the page weighs down writerly inspiration.

Tessa advised that a novel should offer, in some way, to resolve what the author started. Each novel has its own solution as uniquely as every person has their own story. But, when an author prolongs writing the ending, it may be a sign the story is too close to the author: to end the one means the end of the other.

Tessa’s tips for the writer’s arsenal:

  • Cut savagely: one adverb is usually stronger than two together. Similar advice applies to sentences. See what happens why you take one sentence out of four. The remaining three rise to the occasion. Every sentence should add something new.
  • Be Brash: one of the most common faults in works in progress is the story lacks an engine, so overdo it a little and make bold choices.
  • Wield Muscle: the muscle of the mind, that is. Using it along with impression aids invention.
Picture of Bad Dreams
Bad Dreams

On her own writing practice, Tessa writes for four hours a day, with an output of 400 words. An admission greeted by gasps of relief from the audience.

Tessa’s reading from Bad Dreams, drew the audience into the world of a teenage girl who accepts a lift in a car with a group of strangers.

Tessa Hadley has written six novels – including The London Train and The Past, which won the Hawthornden Prize – and three collections of short stories. Bad Dreams and other stories was published in 2017.

She publishes short stories regularly in the New Yorker, reviews for the Guardian and the London Review of Books and is a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University; she was awarded a Windham Campbell prize for Fiction in 2016.


Earlier in the evening, we heard from three authors at the outset of their fiction writing career.

J.M. Monaco read an extract oozing with foreboding from her debut novel How we Remember, to be published by Red Door Publishing (@RedDoorBooks) in September 2018. She explained she took a one-day workshop in how to write a novel at the Bristol Folk House, and had friends critique her manuscript, before submitting to the independent publisher.

Liz Jones read a contemporary ghost story from a collection of short stories, inspired by a legend of a dragon in Wells. Liz highlighted the MA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, offered via distance learning and part-time, as a way of focusing on her writing while also managing a fulltime job as freelance editor and being mother to young children.

Graduate of the MA creative writing at Bath Spa University, class of 2015/16, Melanie Golding’s debut novel, Little Darlings, will be published by HQ in May 2019. Signed to an agent within a week of its submission, Melanie stressed with disarming candour that rejections from other agencies continued to roll in long afterwards. Melanie enticed the audience by reading the opening of her work in progress.

In a programme that proved to be a feast of creative writing, its performance and a demonstration, if any were needed, of the idiosyncrasies of the route to publication, the audience was spellbound.

With thanks to the authors for their readings, Mr B’s Emporium for the books, to Karla Neblett, @KarlaNeblett, on the door, Ruby Vallis, @rubielavallis, on book sales, Colette Hil, @colettesylvia, on co-hosting, and Grace Palmer @wordpoppy; @novelnightsuk, for hosting and organising. This is Amanda Read @_ReadAmanda signing off.

Amanda Read

Amanda Read is a writer and botanist. Her writing celebrates plants, nature and supernature. An MA (distinction) in creative writing (2017) at Bath Spa University brought to fruition her first novel, Ya’axché: The World Tree. With her next project, a literary adventure, she is exploring the writer-reader relationship: how the choices made by writers influence perceptions of plants and conservation. Connect with her: @_ReadAmanda