Last week’s launch of M.M. Bennetts’s Of Honest Fame was introduced by poet Paul Bavister. He made an interesting point which got me thinking.
He pointed out a trend in recent years towards a stripped-down, functional style of writing, where plot is all-important, and other aspects of the writer’s craft, such as description and characterisation, are dismissed. Of Honest Fame, he said, is a welcome exception to this trend and one which he had found quite inspiring.
It’s quite true. There are those who, like Hemingway, can conjure up a world of place and character and emotion with the very sparsest of writing. However, there’s plenty of other writing out there – bestselling writing, some of it – that is, quite frankly, perfunctory. It narrates events, but that’s about it. We buy it; we read it once; we move on. It’s like fast food.
The strange thing is that we don’t stand for that kind of lazy writing in children’s books. We expect a children’s writer to create a whole world for their readers – a fascinating, absorbing place, where our children can lose themselves in the mazes and the knot-gardens of an author’s imagination. We recognise that one of the greatest gifts an author can give our children is the ability to set their imaginations free. And when an author does that – when they create that world in which our children can be magicians or save the planet or leap over tall buildings, or simply walk taller and go about their lives without fear of bullying – whether it’s Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling, we celebrate it.
Yet we seem to have such different standards for so much adult fiction. Time and time again, we settle for the ‘fast food’ option – strong on plot, maybe, but merely utilitarian, and lacking any subtlety of flavour or texture.
Why is that?
That’s not a whinge, by the way. It’s a genuine question, and we’re interested in your answers. Is it because we’re compulsive multi-taskers, and can’t bear to turn off the Blackberry for long enough to read a novel? Is it because we’re constantly ingesting information, to the point where we are only capable of absorbing a précis or a summary or a headline? Is it because we’ve forgotten how to imagine? Answers, please, on a virtual postcard.
Of Honest Fame is no children’s book. Yes, it’s a thumping good read – on one level, a spy thriller that takes its readers from London across Napoleonic Europe and back again; on another, a powerful and poignant memorial to the civilian victims of Napoleon’s atrocities. But for us, the reason we’re so excited to have published it, the reason we’re so pleased that Paul Bavister said what he did last Thursday, is that Of Honest Fame does exploit the phenomenal power of the English language to evoke the complex world of early nineteenth century Britain and Europe – a world that readers will find both familiar and surprising. It does draw its readers inexorably into this world and let them feel it, touch it, smell it.
We think this is a book that strikes back at perfunctory writing. Read it; judge for yourself.
Paul Bavister’s website is at www.paulbavister.co.uk. Of Honest Fame can be ordered online from The Book Depository with 15% discount and free worldwide shipping. M.M. Bennetts will be signing copies of Of Honest Fame at Waterstones, 262-267 High Holborn, London WC1 on Thursday 21st October from 5.30 pm – click here for more details.