We gathered at Rob’s for new member Clive's debut reading - a short story called Old Friends. Both Linda and I were initially put off by the golf club lounge setting of the opening scene but still the story managed to engage and everybody admired Clive’s acute ear for dialogue, much of which sounded completely natural, as if it were real conversation overheard. Annie was very taken with the character of the annoying waiter, commenting he was ‘annoying in a really good way '. She wanted the waiter to go away so she could continue eavesdropping on the other characters’ conversation - proof of the compelling nature of Clive’s storytelling. But it was Rob who really hit the nail on the head when he observed how Old Friends - a rather old-fashioned, highly moralistic tale in which the good are rewarded and the reprehensible get their comeuppance - could have come straight from the pen of Somerset Maugham.
Now I didn't let on about this at the meeting but Somerset Maugham and I have something in common. Last year I wrote an article for the British Journal of Wellbeing called Time to write the next book. I don't mean to cause a distraction here so I'll put a link to the article at the end of this blog entry and you can click on it and read it at your leisure. The point is, Clive is anxious to break out of his rather old-fashioned style but, as there are probably few people writing in the tradition of Somerset Maugham these days, why shouldn't Clive be the one who picks up that particular baton?
There is an apocryphal story that Thomas Hardy (one of the greatest of English novelists and also one of England’s finest poets) wanted nothing more than to be remembered as an outstanding dramatist like his friend JM Barrie (one of Scotland's most successful novelists and playwrights in his time) who in turn berated himself for not being able to write poetry like Hardy. The moral of this story is that, if you’re brilliant enough to create a Far from the Madding Crowd or a Peter Pan, you should be pleased with your achievements. And if my Severn Valley Author friends insist on my being Wyre Forest’s answer to Garrison Keillor then I think Clive might settle for being the 21st century’s Somerset Maugham.
|Who remembers 'An American Werewolf in London'?|
Trevor dragged the frightened lamb on its back across the unkempt farmyard in Sainte Béatrice, to a piece of rough ground in front of the kitchen window. … He slit the lamb’s throat and the blood dripped into the bucket below. Lily had expected it to gush out in a hideous torrent. He cut open the stomach and removed the liver with a knife that flashed in the sunlight. The liver flopped into a chipped enamel bowl. ‘Do you want to fry this up? It’s beautiful when it’s fresh, not like that crap in the supermarket.’ … She [Lily] grimaced, ‘I’d rather not.’
Meanwhile, Chris has been busy touring his ' one-man show ' based on his book Why don't you fly? With the logistical backup of Linda, Chris is as busy doing talks these days as he is writing. He played us a recording of a recent interview on BBC Radio Shropshire. Notwithstanding the chummy facetiousness of the radio presenter, BBC local radio remains one of the few forums for emerging writers to publicise their work. The BBC is a public service and, like all public services these days, is facing cutbacks. BBC local radio is a precious platform for writers just as BBC Radio 4 is one of very few outlets for short literary fiction for UK-based writers. Let us hope, as the BBC's output is scrutinised, opportunities for new writing are developed rather than cut back. Perhaps we should follow Rob's example and ask for as much on bended knee.
|A captive gerund - Gerald Scarfe|
IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
(From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
Thus Dickens begins Tale of Two Cities with one of the most famous one-sentence paragraphs in literature. If Dickens could use one-sentence paragraphs why shouldn't less celebrated authors? Yet I'm surely not alone in having been told in school that a paragraph must have more than one sentence. A quick internet search provides supporters and detractors for the practice in equal numbers. The consensus seems to be that one-sentence paragraphs are not strictly forbidden these days - and can indeed have great impact (hence their widespread use in print journalism) - but that they should be used sparingly. With this in mind, and bowing to Dickens’ genius, I'm prepared to forgive Chris’s one-sentence paragraph habit which became a talking-point at this week's meeting of the Severn Valley Authors.
We were discussing an extract from Chris’s work in progress: Karl Marx and Careful Driving. With flashes of brilliantly fine writing, Chris’s project is becoming ever more complex and multi-layered. Chris acknowledged that it is highly experimental but I'm not sure what he made of my suggestion that, at times, it is now closer to an epic prose poem than a narrative.
Rob noted Chris's tendency to sometimes “go off on one”, by which he meant those times where Chris quotes philosophy without linking it to his highly original truck-driving theme. The great difficulty is getting the balance right and the group agreed that it sometimes reads too much like a textbook. Annie wanted “nuggets of Marxism and chunks of real life” rather than the other way round and Chris defended himself by pointing out that the lengthy Marx quotes have only been ‘dropped’ into the text provisionally and will be edited and paraphrased in time.
Annie dazzled us with her introduction of the concept of ‘metacognition’ with reference to the following (two-sentence) paragraph of Chris’s:
Individual fulfilment is achieved by closing the gap that exists between our unique personal essence - the perfect imaginary world that figures only in our dreams - and our existence (the world transmitted by our senses). The gap between essence and existence, theory and practice, the World of Ideas and the World of the Senses, had narrowed.
Annie had always thought this thought, apparently, but hadn’t known she had thought it until now – metacognition, indeed!
After the above, one-sentence paragraph the only question that remains is: Do decades have capitals? That is to say, should it be “the eighties and the nineties” or the “Eighties and the Nineties”? Perhaps Linda will discover the answer to this and other questions when she attends the Arvon Foundation course at Clunton in June.
“Where’s Clunton?” asked Rob.
I don't want to give away the exact location for obvious reasons for, being an inveterate 'Shropshire Lad' of course I know that, in the words of A E Houseman:
Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.
(from Clunton and Clunbury by A E Housman)