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One key to writing better is to read critically. I attempt to do so, often noting down excerpts from books as I read. Here are three examples.
Read, enjoy, and – if you are a writer – learn from the great authors below.
See my February 2017 blog for a full review of this frightening book
Comedy: P G Wodehouse
‘Oh, I’m not complaining,’ said Chuffy, looking rather like Saint Sebastian on receipt of about the fifteenth arrow. ‘You have a perfect right to love who you like.’
Thank you, Jeeves – PG Wodehouse
Thriller: Lee Child
You’re going to Mississippi. They’ll think you’re queer. They’ll beat you to death.’
‘I doubt it,’ I said.
Lee Child – The Affair. Unusually, “The Affair” is narrated in the first person by Jack Reacher, Child’s indestructible yet – on a good day – ironic hero. My review of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels is positive.
Diary: Alan Clark
“This morning I bathed, before breakfast, in the loch just opposite the targets. I don’t know what the temperature is, a tiny trace of Gulf Stream perhaps, but not much. One feels incredible afterwards – like an instant double whisky, but clear-headed. Perhaps a ‘line’ of coke does this also. Lithe, vigorous, energetic. Anything seems possible.”
Alan Clark, The Diaries
For earlier posts of “selected quotations from master writers”, see Carols, the perfect Martini and love: three quotations; Short story technique from the master: 3 quotations; or Two-and-a-half literary quotes.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, feel free to like or follow my Facebook page or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button). You can explore the range of writing on this site via my five pleasure paths.
For a taste of what my readings are like, see the video below by Sibylle Trost, a film producer in Berlin.
If you live in Vienna, you may wish to note that Blood Summit is available from English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna:
‘I only finished the first volume,’ my friend says. ‘It was so badly written. And boring.’
‘I disagree,’ I say. ‘I think the writing is brilliant. It hits every target for a best-seller. I read all three volumes. But I ended up hating it.’
What to make of 50 Shades of Grey? Last time I looked, it had sold 150 million copies in 52 languages and spawned a hit movie series. The book has 85,000 reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4*, and a further 21,500 on Amazon.co.uk – also averaging 4*. A lot of people love it. Why?
The following review contains spoilers. Links in bold italics are to other blog posts on this site.
Each volume of “50 Shades” is substantial
Here are 5 things I found brilliant about the 50 Shades trilogy:
(i) everything is big. In her book “How to write a blockbuster“, Sarah Harrison says a bestseller must have glamour in the sense of absolute, undeniable, gobsmacking allure… with all the maidenly restraint of Joan Collins on speed. It’s got to be BIG, she says. Everything about 50 Shades is big – Christian Grey is not just rich, he’s mega-rich. He isn’t just talented; he is a concert-quality pianist and outstanding skier and linguist who excels at martial arts. He’s not only a good person: he wants to help poor people around the world. He’s not just handsome – every woman he passes is entranced by his charisma. As Ana sums him up:
A writer compares turnips and sex. Is he wise, or daft? Can we use his wisdom – if any – to make ourselves happier?
I have written often about happiness on this blog. You can find a summary in my piece The one with the links to happiness.
W Somerset Maugham considers happiness and the meaning of life in his essay The Summing Up, written in 1938. Perhaps writers – and others – can learn from him. Try not to be put off by the old-fashioned way in which he often refers to “men” when he means “people”
W Somerset Maugham is most famous for his short stories
In The Summing Up, Maugham asks whether writing itself is enough for a happy life…
From time to time I have asked myself whether I should have been a better writer if I had devoted my whole life to literature.
… and concludes:
Somewhat early, but at what age I cannot remember, I made up my mind that, having but one life, I should like to get the most I could out of it. It did not seem to me enough merely to write. (more…)
Ahead, in the kitchen, everyone seems to be laughing. As I approach, the noise swells. I push the door open to find ten people sitting around a long wooden table, drinking tea and eating lemon drizzle cake. In an instant, the din dies down as everyone turns to look at the newcomer.
What have I left myself in for?
The prospect of attending a writing course holds both fascination and dread for would-be authors. I recently attended the Arvon Foundation’s “Editing Fiction: Turning First Drafts into Publishable Books” at The Hurst in Shropshire. So what actually happens on a writing course? Do they help your writing? And what if you don’t get on with the other participants?
I long to sit longer on this bench in the grounds of the Hurst
The Arvon course I attended, in November 2018, lasted from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning. It consisted of morning workshops, followed by afternoons free for writing, walking, or attending 1:1 seminars with the tutors. Workshops included sessions on how to edit a novel (including the advice “enjoy a moment (more…)
I recently attended an outstanding Arvon Foundation writing course in Shropshire. I will write a blog about that shortly.
In researching, I found this piece, commissioned long ago by The Boston Globe but never published, about a writing course on the Greek island of Skyros. It follows the rules on structure set out in my piece The 4 elements of the perfect article: Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers.
Dancing for New Orleans
Ten would-be writers sit on a terrace high above the Aegean. We’re lapping up the bright sun, the cool breeze, and advice on how to get our books published. Suddenly we’re interrupted: up the hill, participants in another course are venting their emotions in a cacophony of eerie howling. In response, a donkey brays: a shocking, raucous noise. Everyone laughs.
The entrance to the Skyros Centre is low key
There’s a huge amount of laughter on a Skyros holiday. That’s the idea: by combining holistic holidays, writers’ courses and a Greek island, operator Skyros holds out the promise of both self-improvement and self-discovery in an idyllic setting. But how well do the different elements fit together? The answer is: better than you’d think.
You sense the island of Skyros is something special before the ferry from the Greek mainland even moors. As ship nears shore, music floats across the sea. A cafe on the waterfront is playing “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. (more…)
I sit down at my desk in Vienna to continue writing my current novel, code-named The Boyfriend. Outside, birds sing in the trees; all is well in the world.
When I start to write, do I reach for my computer? Or for my pen and paper?
Many authors write first drafts direct on their computers, or always write on paper, without thinking too much about which works best. Here are a few things you might want think about.
In 1986 my then-employer acquired its first computer. I was thrilled by the idea that I could move words around on a screen, and only print them out when I was happy with them. It seemed to make the creative process less daunting. I started to write my first novel, Biotime, on that computer the same year – after work, of course.
In this pic I am writing the first draft of a blog direct on an iPad in Austria
In 1987 I bought my first home computer, an Amstrad PCW. Later I bought PCs; then Macs. But over the years, I stopped writing fiction on the screen. I write all my short stories and novels in long-hand.
How do I do that? And why?
How: I like to use a ring-bound A4 pad, (more…)