Here's a Guardian interview with Joan Didion, one of our most esteemed women of letters. Her book The Year of Magical Thinking documents the year following the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne. It's a book that will hit hard at anyone in a long-term relationship, spotlighting as it does the often-avoided fact that one day the relationship will be broken apart by death.
She began writing The Year of Magical Thinking in the autumn of 2004, setting herself the task of finishing it by the first anniversary of her husband's death. In the end, it took her 88 days to complete, which, in itself, is an incredible achievement given the circumstances and the fact that this was a writer who once confessed that it often took her a morning to complete a single paragraph to her satisfaction.
In the book, she refers to the early stage of grief as a kind of derangement. I ask if the actual writing of the book, in all its frantic haste, had helped her stay sane.
'Well, the very act of writing did me some good. For sure. And the act of living through it again by putting down what I felt. It made me express what I thought and I wouldn't have done that otherwise. I wouldn't have admitted it.'
Did she have to force herself to write this book? 'Well, I walked around the block a lot,' she says. 'When you're walking, you can distract yourself. You can put certain thoughts out of your mind. If you do that sitting down at your desk, though, that's just typewriting. As a writer, you have a responsibility to be honest with yourself. In this instance, it helped to do it quickly insofar as I wanted to get the rawness of how I felt across, somehow to put it directly onto the page'.