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BOOKS IAN MCEWAN

“When I’m working, there are those moments when something goes well in the morning for half an hour or an hour. I try to describe this experience, and I think everyone’s had it. We don’t have a good word for it, but it’s a form of happiness — one psychologist called it ‘flow’, which isn’t quite enough — that consists of total absorption in trying to do something. It could be playing a game of tennis or gardening or cooking a meal, or writing a novel. But it’s that wonderful suspension from time and from the narrative of your existence, when you are simply, absolutely lost in the thing you are doing. And you don’t even remember who you are. And you don’t even feel any pleasure at the time.

And those moments — which I think are rare for all of us — are only realized in retrospect. It’s when the doorbell rings and you pop out of it that you realize you have been supremely happy. But not the happiness of laughter or exhilaration. And it’s those episodes that I really treasure — those moments when there’s only the writing, only the page or the screen, only the thing itself. They’re very hard to sustain, but every now and then — maybe only once or twice a week — there are those moments of pure absorption.”

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From Ian McEwan, during a conversation with Ian Katz at the Guardian’s Open Weekend festival last year.