Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Putting good words together well

We all want to write well, don’t we?  And by write I mean, of course, make up stories that are readable.  And by readable, not only do I mean ‘make sense’ I mean entertaining, thought-provoking, interesting.  You know the thing.  That’s why you’re here.  Why we’re all here.

That’s what I presume anybody who has their name on any book has done; wanted to do and has proven to the world that they have the capability to do.  They have a book in print.  On shelves.  In my home, in my hand (and destined for the Charity Bin should I see fit). They can write. And if they have a book published I assume they can write well.

The penultimate book I read, I positively ‘devoured’. In fact if I’d been passed the pre-proof copy and asked to pen a suitable one-liner to go on said book, I’d have said something like “bloody brilliant”.  Because it was.  It wasn’t perfect - there isn’t a book I’d ever call perfect - but it was pretty damn near.  And here’s a line that made me want to squeeze it to death in a readerly-writerly hug:

“….. I stand holding recyclable bin bags in the middle of Age UK.  The woman at the counter has grey hair in a bun and glasses round her neck on a string, like a wonderful granny from a Roald Dahl story who’d adopt you if your parents were wiped out in the first chapter in  some blackly comic manner.’
…..
I can’t tell you how delighted I felt when I read this.  And how many times I had to re-read it because of how tickly-with-joy it made me.  I mean, it just evokes such a spontaneous image and reading as a writer, it made me doff a cap and a half to the author. (Mhairi Mcfarlane: ‘You Had Me At Hello’ – bloody brilliant, I might have mentioned).

This book made me want to write and write and write… and that hasn’t happened to me since I read Marion Keyes’ ‘Watermelon’ debut decades ago.

Accessibility and personality leap from every page.  That’s both books.

And so to my next read.  And to a book which has just about as many  thousands of 5 star ratings as the above and I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into it.
But, dear writer, please, read this:

‘To go back to Gail, I must talk to her in person.  A letter just won’t do.  Oh look it started raining.  I hope Eilidh is not out on her bike.  She used to love cycling, we’d been everywhere on our bikes when she lived here.
I just burnt my hand.’

I’ve re-read this just as many times as I re-read the wonderful first example I gave you.  And it still makes me want to scream, tear something up and stamp on it (probably the book because it doesn’t get any better, let me tell you).

Oh look it started raining’? *ahem* tense?  Yep, just a tad.

So stunned by its awfulness, I showed people.  To make sure I hadn’t mis-read or misunderstood.  One person handed it back and said “It’s like something I’d have written in year 8 and been embarrassed to admit to.”

Well quite.

And this book (I read right to the bitter BITTER end just to make sure it was as bad as it started out. Guess what?) made me want to write and write and write as well, but for wildly different reasons.  I just couldn’t believe that this sort of thing got past a reader/editor/agent/whatever order they  come in and got published and was still getting SO MANY 5* reviews.   I mean wtf?
It gave me hope.

And it won't be going in the charity bin because whenever I feel like I can’t go on and everything I write is truly awful, I know that all I have to do is pick up this book, turn to ANY page… yes ANY… and it will make me feel better again.

Here, have another piece:

‘When I told Jamie, he didn’t say anything.  He said he had to go, he was meeting his friend John, they were going fishing. He avoided me for the next two weeks.’


Yep, I know.   Set in the land where, when people don’t say anything,  then proceed to SAY SOMETHING. (And even Word’ has green-squiggled the ‘they’ in this sentence.  Argh!).

7 comments:

Chloe said...

I've just finished One Day by David Nicholls and it makes me want to write for all the good and aspirational reasons.

My books I think of when I need to convince myself I'm better than some published writers are the Earth Children series by Jean M Auel. I actually secretly love them, but they're so badly written... "She beamed a grin at him" etc.

We need both types of books!

Debs Riccio said...

Chloe, you're SO right! And 'One Day' is one of my all time 'near-perfect's too!

Joanna said...

I have just read One Day too and feel just the same. Almost perfect. I can open it at any page when I need to feel struck by inspiration and there it is, spurring me on.
The bad examples you have given provide some sort of strange hope that my book might deserve to reach the shelves - one day.

Derek Thompson said...

Well, One Day will have to go on my reading list then! I think we read different books for different reasons.

I thought both Isabel Allende and Salman Rushdie wrote so beautifully that I wanted to give away all my pens (the ones I'd got from work!). However, as has been pointed out in the comments, some writers can inadvertently create stinkers. Like Joanna, I find it all strangely reassuring!

Debs Riccio said...

'One Day': not only a near-perfect book but a good mantra to have :)

Kirsty said...

Ooh, I've got 'One Day' on my shelf in my to-be-read pile. Must get it down soon.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I have 'One Day' on my shelf in the to-be-read pile. Must get it down soon.