Thursday, April 28, 2011



Last Thursday, after reading Sue Pike’s blog about sentences and her review of Stanley Fish’s, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, a book examining and extolling the virtues of the ‘perfect’ sentence I downloaded the book. I had never realized the importance or the difficulty of fashioning the perfect sentence and as I continue to browse in Fish’s book I become ever more aware that I need to pay more attention to each and every sentence.

However what really struck me about the book was the author’s passion. He cares deeply and might even be said to be obsessed with the sentence.

At the same time as I dipped into this book I was reading The Paper Garden, Mrs. Delaney (Begins Her Life’s Work) at 72 by the poet, Molly Peacock. This is the biography of an extraordinary woman, a member of England’s aristocracy, who was born in 1700, married off at seventeen to a drunken sot of sixty-one and widowed at twenty-five. She turned down a number of suitors including John Wesley of Methodist fame and didn’t marry again for twenty years. In the meantime she lived a creative, independent life.

Her letters to her sister and her journal reveal that she approached every day with passion and enthusiasm. Mary Delaney made it her business to notice the details of everyday living, to comment on them and to try new things.

At seventy-two, widowed after a happy marriage, she invented a new art form - mixed media collage. In the next decade she created 985 botanically correct, beautiful cut-paper flowers that are now housed in the British museum.

To invent a new art form is no small achievement and to do it at seventy-two is even more remarkable. She took her life’s experiences, her life long commitment to handwork, to painting, to botany, to gardening and melded these elements to create the mixed media flower collages that are her legacy.

It seems to me that passion connects Stanley Fish and Mary Delaney. Both pursued and Fish continues to pursue their particular passion in a single minded way and achieved impressive ends.

Writers who commit themselves to their work no doubt find the same satisfaction in the process and in the end product as Fish does with his sentences and Mary Delaney did in her collages.

The question - can creative individuals succeed without this passion?

Joan Boswell is a member of the Ladies Killing Circle and co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit toDie, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.


  1. Interesting notion! Certainly you need obsession to carry you through the slog once the initial creative burst has waned.

  2. Nice blog, Joan. I think we recognize the books that have been written strictly for the money or fame. They just don't have that conviction. I love knowing that the author really does give a damn about the issue and the story.

  3. It's so rare that we can excel at many things simultaneously. I think the passion lurks in the accomplishments that cause us to struggle a bit -- some urgency in the music that moves us from our safe place among the fat wallpaper roses, and propels us onto the dance floor. Such a wonderfully reckless moment!