Writers are no longer alone, though I suppose none of us are ever alone anymore. Those grey skinned days lit by dim screens are over. The voices in our head are joined by voices on the i-pad. We have direct access to each other, to our readers, the reluctant and viciously unwilling alike, and we are speaking up. One of the things we are most vocal about is our heroes and villains.
I confess I have neither. I have opinion and I question everything. In the literary community I sometimes feel this makes me odd.
I may love the wry voice and gentle social commentary of Austen. The picnic on Box Hill is to this day one of the greatest scenes I have ever read; I, having read quite a lot, would wager that it is one of the greatest scenes in literature. Yet much as I love it and Austen, I still have to adjust to her style and there is a little part of me, the minimalist modern part of me, thinking ‘get to the point woman..’ There is a certain obtuseness to her convolutions. Although if purists are thinking that is harsh, it really is nothing to what I think every time I venture another pass at Dicken’s pompous, look-at-me prose.
Joyce, I confess, I feel a strange fondness for. Without knowing the man or having studied anything concerning his life, sometimes reading his works I feel as though I understand what he was attempting to do. Problem is, I think he failed. I sincerely hope that he didn’t feel he did; that would not be a good way to end. And I do realise for many these words are sacrilegious.
A divide exists – most of us who cannot read him lie on one side, a few who adore him on the other. And on the back of him come many others making deliberate stylistic choices such as omitting speech marks. A trying and now repetitive trick. And just as it did with him, it fails to add to the text, indeed takes away from it. Infinite Jest could be said to be his closest successor, even the foreword shows it to be a textual easter egg designed to be solved by the reader – yet – can anyone tell me what the story was?
Then there are the villains: The Browns, the Meyers, the 50 Shaders, the grammar slayers and clunky prose purveyors – okay now I am just getting carried away.. sorry. Their sin is success and poor punctuation, but each one, in their own way, offered something new.
The all too worrying reality is that focused as they are, my fellow wanna-be-prosayers (sorry.. again..), on the semi colons and the dangling participles, the repetitious I’s and the confounded clauses, I am often left wondering if they forgot one vital aspect – originality?
I can claim nothing with surety about my words, except they are mine. Some say there is no such thing as originality. Everything is a rehash. Well, this is most decidedly my rehash. No one has uttered this particular drivel in this particular configuration except me.. I have encountered a great deal of advice concerning avoiding cliché, but while we are all busy finding new ways to say old things, is anyone worrying about what they are saying?
And if with every word I am focused on saying something, something not yet defined, not laid down by any who have gone before, how might it be anything else? No one worries what a sum once solved reveals, yet surely the greatest joy of words is what they say?
If you hold up Joyce shining upon the hill, even if you succeed the very best you can be is second.
So I ask, is it necessary for a writer to slay their heroes to find their own voice? Is it in the gaps between what we hate and what we love, the unfilled spaces where we wish others might have taken us, where the thoughts not yet said lie, that we will find ourselves?