Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beginnings and Endings; which are best?

I have just read a stunning book called Cathedral Street by L J Hippler. Larry is a writer of the first magnitude and like all good books, it took me a while to get into it. This was partly due to the fact that the story is set in Baltimore, USA and being a Brit,I need a little while to adjust to the different speech patterns, attitudes and thoughts of the main characters. However, the triumph of a good author is that one warms to the flawed,imperfect but very real people he creates and L J Hippler is a master of such characterisation. By the time I reached the last page with its poignant and tender ending I was immersed in and felt a part of the unhappy family whose father had bullied and browbeaten them all mercilessly. He was a truly horrible character and it was fascinating to see how his sons all went their separate and very different ways in order to try and escape the crippling influence of their past and where their efforts at escaping led them. The past, alas, can never be escaped however hard we try. It leaves its mark for good or ill.

I never give up a book until I'm at least half way through because I have so often found that a difficult start can often be a prelude to something that evolves and eventually grips one. A good ending is better in my opinion than a good start because it is the ending we are left with ultimately and that seems to round off a story whereas the start is forgotten. There are plenty of famous opening lines, it's true but they are few enough.

Too many writers nowadays feel they have to begin a story with something nasty and violent like Dan Brown's entries into most of his books; entries into a vicious, violent world that sweeps one relentlessly along, mesmerised and horrified by the author's imagination. But at least Dan Brown keeps one involved to the end. Whereas so many writers start with a marvellous few chapters that promise a lot (in order to catch an agent's eye) and then peter off into a dull, convuluted and often improbable story not worth printing in Woman's Own.

I always say that a book should be like good sex...a long, slow, exploring start that warms up to a glorious climax.

Well, try Cathedral Street, it does just that.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Entertaining Thoughts

It's rather fun writing a blog that no one in the world reads but myself. I can write it as I want and not have to be massively funny, clever, modern, cranky, sexy or any other such thing. Today I want to muse upon getting older.

When I was young I considered myself serious, wise and wrote poems that meant something, that were full of deep,spiritual and lyrical thoughts. I loved to rhyme, to have a rhythm to the poetry so that it would sing like a bird. So much modern poetry tends to be disjointed and reads like prose chopped up into meaningless sections. That's not my style, no. Just like a good deal of of modern art and music, it appears pointless, sometimes contrived and even sham; an insult to rationality and good taste.

Now I'm older and I'm not so wise,serious or even sensible and this troubles me. What is more, I find I can't read heavy classical literature as I used to do because, having immersed myself this last few years in crime novels again (after thirty years of reading only non-fiction) now many classical novels seem slow, over-written and hard work. Lately I attempted Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'. I loved this when young but couldn't rouse any interest or empathise with the characters and plot at all. Thank goodness I read most of these classics when a teenager.

Sadly, I confess I've become used to a faster pace and less description. Not that I'm an advocate of the 'no description and just dialogue' school. Description is the setting for the jewel of the characters and the plot. It creates and maintains the atmosphere - though too much un-neccesary description can be like wading through treacle. In my own stories I try to maintain some sort of balance between keeping the plot going and creating atmosphere. Not sure if I succeed or not - but I do battle against the modern yearning for what I call the 'Dan Brown pace' which hurtles along from chapter to chapter at breakneck speed, leaving one literally exhausted at the end. The sort of plot where the characters are simply made of cardboard, mere foils for the story.

The point is, I now can't read anything that taxes the 'leetle grey cells' anymore. My mother went the self-same road and when younger I was very critical of her change of taste from Nietzche to Barbara Taylor Bradford.
'I don't want to be educated anymore', she told me. 'I just want to be entertained.'

I understand what she meant now. It's as if one reaches a point in life when one has 'been there, done that, got the t-shirt' they say. One has experienced life pretty fully, desire is ebbing and there's no real wish to be told anything by anyone anymore. It's a different sort of wisdom, a leave-taking wisdom. One simply wants to be entertained. As long as it's good quality entertainment, of course. Hand me Patrica Highsmith's 'Strangers on a Train'. Now that's high class entertainment.

All in allthough, this trend toward a shallower form of reading is, I now realise symptomatic of the fact that it began to occur since I started using the computer in the 90's and since my daughter began to introduce me to modern writing in an attempt to make my writings more 'commerical'. Before that I would never touch a modern novel and yes, my style was, probably still is, 'old-fashioned'.

There is a brilliant article on the Telegraph about it brought to my attention by fellow-author M M Bennetts (May 1812). Here is a brief quote from that article.

And as for the claim that new media is turning us into shallow multi-taskers, here are some wise words from the 18th century and the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. "There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once," he said, "but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time. This steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind."

Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.