Friday, 28 August 2009
TOO MUCH CRAFT?
In The Fix Marion Arnott reviews Issue 2 of The Yellow Room in which I have a story. She gives mini-reviews of all the stories in the issue. For my story ‘The Ouse’s Call’, she quotes a line and says it ‘whispered too much craft’. I read that, felt mildly irritated and wondered, of course, if it were true.
I took the comment to mean that the writing was too purple, too worked-on. ‘The Ouse’s Call’ is about Virginia Woolf’s last days and her death by drowning in the river Ouse. I originally wrote the story as a radio play featuring a disaffected woman who lived beside the river in which she planned to drown herself. I rewrote it as a story featuring Virginia, because I liked it and didn’t want to dump it when I decided it wasn’t working as a radio play.
The river is the star of the story, really, and the descriptions of it were based on the river Liffey, on top of which I grew up. The Liffey and other rivers feature strongly in my writing and I love describing river water and coming up with new ways of doing just that.
So, yes, I employed a lot of craft in the descriptions of the river in ‘The Ouse’s Call’. I didn’t labour over it and I didn’t work and re-work the wording as I wrote, most of it arrived fully formed and was edited many times, because that’s the way I work.
As a reader, I love crafted, ornate prose; prose that tells me the writer is in love with words and language. I adore the writing of Annie Proulx and John Banville who both employ rich, intricate language, and more recently Wells Tower’s staggeringly beautifully written stories. I enjoy their type of writing more than I like the spare, elegant prose of, say, Colm Tóibín or Jhumpa Lahiri. I like what the latter do but I love sparky, interesting prose more. Maybe it’s because I also love poetry and poets are the most playful of writers when it comes to words.
Is the writing ‘too crafted’ in my story about Virginia Woolf? Is it overdone? Maybe it is - it’s not for me to say. I just know that I always prefer unusual words to ordinary ones and the crafted writing of the Proulxs, Banvilles and Towers is what makes me, as a reader, gasp with delight.