The power to evoke another world

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.

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3 Responses to The power to evoke another world

  1. The only theory I can pose in regard to the desire for such stripped-down writing nowadays is this:

    People want to look busy. They don’t want to let others know they might actually have the tendency to luxuriate in lush, detailed prose because, well, that takes TIME. If they do stop to read a well-turned phrase which uses more words than strictly necessary, they’ll be viewed as incorrigible layabouts wasting the day and contributing nothing to it.

    For many of us now, it’s much more important to believe the world will stop without our contribution to it, to think that if we step outside the rush-rush of daily life, nothing will be done properly and it’ll be our fault.

    Meh. I’d rather take the time and read something which can pull me out of this hum-drum, hurry-up-and-wait existence. I need to find a place inside my head for a while, a place described so intricately I can smell and hear and feel it all as though I’m actually there. I’m willing to allow myself a bit of inner peace while I read something which permits me to feel as though I’m communing with everyone else who is reading and enjoying the same.

    Heaven knows, that space isn’t as crowded as it once was.

  2. I so agree with everything said about Of Honest Fame. I was reading it today and I though…”This is what writing is supposed to be about.” It’s exactly what I set out to do when I began writing, to bring back the beauty of prose, to bring art back into literature. I want to be entranced, not only by the plot, but by the words used to create it, like so many brushstrokes on a canvas. It isn’t just the vague outline of a woman in a Renoir that gets our attention, but how he rendered it, in a thousand hues applied in a hundred directions.

    But it isn’t just writing, it’s our entire commerce driven world that has been stripped down to minimalistic, disposable commodities. Yet most people know high quality furniture when they see it, or china, or linen. Everyone knows the difference between a real oil painting and a print, or even when that painting has been less than skillfully rendered. True art edifies and improves and most people, whether they realize it or not, understand the difference.

    I hope I’m seeing a change, and I hope that Bennetts is at the forefront of this. And I hope the demand for such works of extraordinary beauty and genius grows. Such a thing can only be beneficial, to readers, to writers, and to society. Call me idealistic, but it’s what I’ve been waiting a very long time to see.

  3. Paul House says:

    I agree with almost everything. The so-called ‘fast food’ option is almost always plot-based writing where there is no character development and no need of any. When a novel is character-based, where the characters react to situations and develop and change as the story develops, description and a certain insight into emotions and passions is absolutely necessary. Hemingway and Carver are two of the very few writers who manage to convey these feelings using very few words, and two writers who do manage to develop their characters and make us feel that they are really alive, that they are really living people. The importance of where they place their characters cannot be ignored here. If, as is the case with Of Honest Fame (and several other Diiarts novels), place and character are described with care and skill, the story will take care of itself.

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