Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

Reading before you write . . .

After trawling for months through writings, both published and non, by present day authors, I begin to find stagnation setting in; from the very snazzy to the very humdrum, there is a common thread running through, a streak of sameness, which makes me wonder how much publishing and publishers actually influence modern writers by their perceived ‘demands’ or lists of do’s & don’t’s.

I pick up a Sheridan le Fanu, one I haven’t yet read, The Haunted Baronet, and am transported :– yes, it is another world, the past, yes, it is another universe, the paranormal – but so are many books written now. Yet his voice struck me as fresh and vital in a way that all those others writing now do not, or cannot. His imagery, however contrary to the guidelines (rules for some) laid out, down, upon us by would-be guru scribes, flashed images across my tired brain that the present day ones could not. He was not writing outside of his own contemporaries ; he was not resorting to gimmicks or games – he was writing well. And no, he is not staccato, Hemmingway-like,  nor vague and missing punctuation, Joyce-like (and many other examples, but this is not intended as a catalogue).

Reading a classic author from the past (from at least a hundred years ago, that is) gives us the opportunity to time travel. We get to see speech patterns, social customs, mores, attitudes, highs and lows, problems and solutions of the period in the flesh, so to speak. Any writer of historical fiction wants to read them, partly to get the vocabulary right (hardly anyone has ever really said gadzooks anywhere, it transpires) and surely to get the background, atmosphere and general feeling right. Any writer wanting to write sensational fiction will surely want to read Wilkie Collins as well as Bram Stoker, most writers wanting to bring in social commentary, both Dostoyevsky and Dickens,  and so on – and not necessarily only the top classics; even the very mediocre ones can teach us something , if only on how not to write it.

Where I felt so many of the texts I had been looking at were failing to make the mark lay perhaps in the authors trying so hard to avoid clichés that they often end up sounding exactly alike one another, sans ton, sans voix, sans anything very much – rather the literary equivalent of walking around a stage, trying desperately not to bump into the furniture. If writers don’t read (and I mean read books printed more than thirty or forty years ago  . . .) and in great quantity and variety, how can they develop a voice that is not inevitably resonant with comic book speech and so called ‘pithy’ language (because they think swearing gives them street cred) –  the inevitable drone of the uninventive, the uninspired and the uncreative ? How many more are there going to be, pounding out on keyboards simply because they can, enforcing the idea in the minds of new generations of readers that there is only one way of expressing oneself, when in fact there are many ?

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