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Old 15th Jan 2005, 14:11   #1
HP
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Thought perhaps we might have a thread devoted to examples of the bad, the ugly and the downright dreadful of literary endeavours. (Thinking about it - it might be rather nice to create another thread solely devoted to the good and inspirational - a sort of 'I wish I'd written that' collection.) But leaving that aside for the time being, shall kick this one off with a wee extract from David Wolstencroft's (creator of Spooks tv series) debut novel, a thriller entitled Good News, Bad News:

"a conversation of water debated itself on to the corrugated iron roof."

As Peter Millar, reviewing this book in today's edition of The Times, states: "There's such a thing as trying too hard."

Over to you ......
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Old 15th Jan 2005, 19:33   #2
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The interesting thing about that line is that it's very close to being very good - or at least it has the seeds of something good in it. What this usually means is that the author has not worked it through enough to make it sound natural - or has worked it over too much. This may be true of a lot of overdone prose. The only example I can think of offhand was in Louise Welsh's overrated debut The Cutting Room, where the narrator spoke of "a bruised boy with the face of a prophet." Fuck off.
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Old 16th Jan 2005, 16:14   #3
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Hmm. Try as I might, John, I can't say I can see any virtue in Wolstencroft's effort - so blinded am I by the contrived nature of it, and the sheer bloody effort that is sadly all too visible. Visible and risible - at least for me. But both the examples - yours and mine - clearly display an ill-judged moment of 'Look at me being fabulously original and talented' - a flashing of authorial ego. To me it's a bad case of Creative Writing Class-itis. It's when the writer, forgetting his duty to the story, simply cannot resist a moment to preen, to strut his stuff, to draw the full spotlight of reader attention on himself, not the tale - and suddenly he becomes (fanfare, drumroll, clash of cymbals ....) .... A Writor - much as a ham thespian (think Donald Sinden), declares himself in full mellifluous boom to be 'An Actor. Both are prime examples of that old chestnut that commands the scribbler to 'Kill his/her darlings!' In both snippets, the art of art concealing art has been abandoned for full-frontal 'cop a load of this!' Such self-regarding cack-handedness would have Messrs. Carver and Hemingway turning in their graves. Indeed, Mr Hemingway had this to say on the matter:

'The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all good writers have it.'
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Old 16th Jan 2005, 17:03   #4
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Yes but a world with only Hemingway- or Carver-style plain unadorned prose in it would be drab indeed: and I say that as a big fan of Carver's. Orwell said prose should be a clear pane of glass through which the meaning flows unimpeded - but there is room for a little Tiffany-style decoration too. Louise Welsh's line is meaningless and straining for effect, whereas Wolstencroft's, although also straining too hard for effect, does actually contain some truth: "a conversation of water" is a very good way of describing rain on a corrugated iron roof - he just should have left it at that.

If a metaphor like that is not allowed - and it's a fine line between whether the line is drawing attention to the writer or the thing being described - then there is also no room for Rupert Thomson's "he had a moustache like a barcode on a pint of milk" or Martin Amis's "necks like birthday cakes" - both of which do draw attention to the words and away from the story but also highlight not only the thing being described but also ancillary qualities of the person which the reader can infer from it - and I would hate that.
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Old 16th Jan 2005, 17:20   #5
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Quote:
Yes but a world with only Hemingway- or Carver-style plain unadorned prose in it would be drab indeed
:

Oh yes! On this I am with you all the way, Mr S. And you're right - it is frequently a very fine line between inspiration and obvious perspiration. I think a reader has to trust his or her instincts on this. My own rule of thumb is that if I am suddenly yanked out of the story with a 'wow!' that's stunning (RT's moustache like a barcode on a pint of milk being a sensational example) - all is well and good; if, on the other hand, I'm just 'yanked' and it feels like a bum note in what was a pleasingly fluent piece of music, then the writer has either overlooked, or deliberately (and most unwisely) neglected to wring the unlovely darling's neck!
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Old 17th Jan 2005, 2:44   #6
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Bunged this over into General Chat - hope no-one minds.

I'm all for slagging off bozos who think they are far cleverer than they actually are, with their overly fancy wordsmithery. But it would be a shame if no-one dared risk anything, and stuck to the plain and simple all the same.

Orwell's comments are fine, and perfectly correct, especially in terms of political writing, but I think the fact that his two best, and best-loved, novels are essentially parables is relevant to his writing style.
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Old 23rd Jan 2005, 2:56   #7
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Two words - Arundhati Roy

Two more - Salman Rushdie
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Old 23rd Jan 2005, 18:08   #8
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And another two: Will Self
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Old 23rd Jan 2005, 18:23   #9
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Oh, I like Will Self's prose - I don't mind it being so deliberately artful and non-repetitious.

I agree with the Arundhati Roy though.
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Old 23rd Jan 2005, 18:37   #10
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Quote:
I don't mind it being so deliberately artful and non-repetitious
.

That's gotta be one of the best euphemisms I've ever come across. Must remember to use that lovely expression of yours, Col - the word, 'pretentious' is soooo overworked............. :wink:
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