Thursday, 3 September 2009

Guest Blog by Vanessa Curtis - Which writer would you secretly like to be?




I’ve decided that I would like to be Sarah Waters. Damn the woman, she just gets it right every time! I’ve finished reading ‘The Little Stranger’ recently and although it doesn’t have the shocking plot twists so familiar to anybody who has read her ‘Fingersmith’ novel, it does have the usual heady combination of evocative scene-setting, warped and memorable characters and a subtle but hypnotic growing tension towards the climactic scene of the novel (yes, you can tell I’m a book reviewer, can’t you?). Best of all it’s just so damned readable – on the sofa, in bed at night, in the garden by day – it doesn’t matter where you pick it up, you’re bound to be sucked in and forget about your surroundings. This is the sort of writing that I out-and-out envy. There’s no point hiding it – I’m jealous as hell. And so few contemporary authors really have this knack of churning out brilliant novel after brilliant novel and never running the risk of doing the same thing or becoming boring. Waters has stayed quite near to the era she used in ‘The Night Watch’ in this new novel but that’s where the similarities end. It is also, as somebody pointed out, her first novel not to include lesbianism. I can’t say as I noticed. I was entirely caught up with her slightly obsessive and maybe even a little unreliable narrator and the crumbling aristocracy of ‘Hundreds Hall’ where most of the action takes place. So few authors can be entirely fresh and captivating with each new book. Tracy Chevalier got off to a good start with her ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and the very different Victorian follow-up, ‘Falling Angels’ but subsequent novels have been low on believability, crammed with too much research and not enough genuine plot development and featuring a succession of rather one-dimensional characters. Similarly Jeanette Winterson who has never, in my opinion, matched the beautiful, bitter-sweet ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’ and whose novels have got increasingly weirder, laid out in odd ways upon the page and given to chapters of one or two lines. Only the wonderful Helen Dunmore seems able to match Waters for sheer versatility and quality of prose – in fact, she goes one step higher with her prolific output in not just one, but at least three genres. Each adult novel is a jewel in itself, some historical, some contemporary but each perfect book intriguing and self-contained. Her trio of ‘Ingo’ novels for children, set in a land of Mer people living underwater in a place inspired by Dunmore’s beloved St Ives, are a lesson to any writer. She weaves her hypnotic swirls of fantasy action in and out of very gritty, contemporary family drama – a difficult feat to pull off. And Dunmore is also a wonderful poet and broadcaster as well as a very nice, grounded person. Grrrr. So, I’m already a children’s author, but if I wasn’t, I’d quite like to be Jacqueline Wilson mixed up with a hint of Louise Rennison, whose wickedly funny Georgia Nicolson novels I really admire for making teens laugh out loud. So, the novels and novelists I envy the most are not perhaps hyped as great ‘literary novelists’ but they have that far greater quality of appealing to the Common Reader and of creating strong, flawed, unusual and highly memorable characters and setting them against contrasting backdrops. And surely that’s what excellent writing is all about? Now – who do you want to be?

Vanessa Curtis is the talented author of children's books 'Zelah Green: Queen of Clean' and 'Zelah Green: Dating Queen' (due out early 2010). She is also a journalist and biographer of Virginia Woolf

10 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

Interesting post, Vanessa. So, can I play? I'd like to be Sophie Kinsella - for her vivid characterisation, her humour, her page-turnability and her ability to churn out book after book (she's also successful under the name of Madeleine Wickham).

That would do me nicely, thank you:)

Susannah Rickards said...

What a great game, Vanessa.

Choices, choices.

At the moment, and for some time I've wanted to be short and non-fiction writer Kyle Minor, who is only 33 (spit) and has written some of the most brilliant short stories I've ever read.

I'd love to be Coetzee too, or Peter Carey. Oh to have their clarity and precision of thought and language.

But like Sam I also have an admiration that borders on envy for writers who churn em out and keep churning without losing their edge. I love crime writers Sue Grafton, Sarah Paretsky, Harlen Coben, and admire the verve of Jodi Picoult.

Not read any Sarah Waters but your description of being transported has completely sold her to me. Thanks.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Vanessa I too am a great fan of both writers. I would like to be the following - Kate Atkinson; Ruth Rendell and Annes Fine and Tyler.

If I had to be a man I'd like to be Jimmy McGovern for his characters, powers of old-fashioned story telling; gritty realism and working class heart.

What a great game!

CarolineG said...

Oh I'm with you on Sarah Waters! I have loved every single one of her books. I think my other choice would be Kate Atkinson, like Geri.

As for children's stuff [my chosen genre] I'm afraid I have to be cliched and say JKR. My youngest is now utterly in love with her world and missed all the hype. There is a magic in those stories, for sure...
Michael Morpurgo and David Almond have to be mentioned too.

Samantha Tonge said...

Anne Fine, too.

Caroline R said...

I'd be Sarah Waters too. I love all her books, especially Fingersmith and Affinity.

sarah fox said...

Actually, I loved Sarah Water's Victorian novels but have to confess that Little Stranger didn't quite 'do it' for me.

Helen Dunmore writes beautifully, and then there's Rose Tremain. Wonderful. And, like Dunmore, she can vary the genre, but you always 'believe'.

And finally, A S Byatt. If only I could be that clever...

Lydia said...

O.K for me it would have to be the great Joanna Trollope. I have never yet read one of her books without thinking : if I could write one tenth as well...sigh! She manages to combine insight into character with smooth prose and un-put-down-ability. Even when her characters annoy me I have to read on to find out what happens next - and isn't that what it's all about? On the children's front it's the meistro JW but also Lauren Childs for her wonderful Clarice Bean who makes me laugh out loud.

Gillian McDade said...

I would love to be the enigmatic Larry McMurtry, or even Cormac McCarthy. They're two of my favourite authors. I'd like to be admired as a great writer!

In terms of my fellow countrymen, there have been many great writers - and I do have a secret desire to be reincarnated as Seamus Heaney!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Yes, put me down for Joanna Trollope too - and Rose Tremain.

I'd have said Heaney, Gillian, but then thought I might be getting a bit above myself. Glad to hear you have nos such qualms! :)