Friday, 25 February 2011

Typically American

Out of context, "uniquely American" doesn't mean anything. To say that John Cheever's writing is "uniquely American" doesn't really mean anything. Is his work solely American and completely untouched by any other influence? Is his work different to all other American work and therefore unique? Perhaps I'm being pedantic and becoming too preoccupied with the literal meaning of the words to understand the sentiment of them, but I can't agree or disagree that Cheever's writing is "uniquely American". Call it typically, stereotypically or even very American and we could debate it, but honestly, to me, "uniquely American" is nonsense. Just empty words.

Despite this, I think being identified with a particular culture can be very effective. If you're writing a non-fiction piece, or a fiction piece intended to highlight a particular aspect of a culture, then capturing the essence of said culture is crucial. I just don't think that Cheever's writing is "uniquely American". It sounds like the kind of thing someone puts in an obituary, when they don't know the person but have to say something nice about them.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Talking about gender and, more specifically, origins in class this week reminded me of an article I read last year about fathers in literature. A shortened version is available here:

It highlighted the fact that in most novels, (particularly those written for children) the father is dead, missing or in some other way "inadequate" as a parent. I'd never noticed this while reading, and was determined to prove the BBC wrong (because that's the kind of thing I enjoy doing), but I struggled to think of any books I'd read that had strong father figures in them. So I started looking back at things that I'd written myself. Of ten important characters, only two had two parents still alive and living together, one had both parents living but separated. Three had lost both parents years, sometimes decades previously, three had lost one parent at some point, and the tenth had witnessed his father murder his mother in his teenage years.

All of these decisions were made subconsciously, I suppose, since I'd never thought about the fact that hardly anybody had a traditional or stable family life. There was, in the original article, a suggestion that writers wrote about children with inadequate parents because they had inadequate parents themselves. It was implied that all writers had terrible childhoods, came from broken homes and that only with years of suffering behind them could someone write a great novel. I believe Charles Dickens was the writer's evidence for this. But I, and I'm definitely not saying I've written a great novel, come from a stable if not particularly exciting background. My parents have been married for 25 years, and, though I hated every moment of my childhood, looking back it probably wasn’t that bad. So why, then, if I come from the traditional 2.4 children family (we actually have three kids in our family, though I suspect my brother is the .4) would I write characters with bad families or troubled backgrounds? Is a normal, boring family just that? Can a great character honestly ever say that their childhood was "fine"? Do you have to have traumas in your past in order to write well?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Why I Write. Or Why I Think I Write.

I can't remember a time when I didn't write. I've read and loved books for as long as I can remember, and since the age of six-ish, I've wanted to be an author (except for a passing interest in being a geography teacher when I was about fourteen, before I discovered how deep my mutual hatreds of children and speaking in front of people ran). It sounds like a cliche, but I write because I have to. I wrote my first complete novel when I was fifteen, and since then, I have to be working on something, otherwise I go a bit stir crazy. Five years, seventeen novels and no major breakdowns later, here we are.

For me, reading has always been an escape, and writing just seemed like the natural progression of that. I probably read a book I didn't like and thought, "I could do better than that," or else a certain family member pushed me into actually writing something down, instead of just talking about ideas all the time. I don't currently have a project, I'm starting to put together the fragments of an idea that I have high hopes for. At the moment I have four linked strands all taking place in different decades, although my fear is that I'm doing something very similar to the current ITV drama Marchlands, which I honestly haven't watched, just seen adverts for. At the moment, my main dilemma is whether to tell the story in a traditional linear fashion, or have it jump around all over the place, which I think has come from the Chuck Palahniuk novels I've been reading recently, particularly "Invisible Monsters", which seems to follow no specific chronology, but the reader has no trouble placing the events, despite the constant changing of information, including names, genders, relationships.