Category: Writers

Shaping the debate

The position of writers in society is one that is often taken for granted but because of their ability to view the past as well as the present with an empathy for characters of all classes they can have the power to influence the political debate.

The Independent reports that the points that Alexander Solzhenitsyn is making in a preface to an article he is republishing about the Russian revolution should make interesting reading in the Kremlin. He points out that the conditions that existed in the run up to the downfall of the Tsar are around now with a massive gap between rich and poor and a moral gap between rural and urbanised Russia. Of course the one ingredient missing is the First World War, and it is arguably the poor performance of the army and low troop morale that led to the Tsar’s abdication. That provided the power vacuum that led to the provisional then communist governments. But in terms of criticising the wealth gap Solzhenitsyn is making a valid point.

Shaping the debate

The position of writers in society is one that is often taken for granted but because of their ability to view the past as well as the present with an empathy for characters of all classes they can have the power to influence the political debate.

The Independent reports that the points that Alexander Solzhenitsyn is making in a preface to an article he is republishing about the Russian revolution should make interesting reading in the Kremlin. He points out that the conditions that existed in the run up to the downfall of the Tsar are around now with a massive gap between rich and poor and a moral gap between rural and urbanised Russia. Of course the one ingredient missing is the First World War, and it is arguably the poor performance of the army and low troop morale that led to the Tsar’s abdication. That provided the power vacuum that led to the provisional then communist governments. But in terms of criticising the wealth gap Solzhenitsyn is making a valid point.

Who is the greatest?

Creating coverage out of something it wrote itself has led The Guardian to devote its lead feature today to debating who is Britain’s greatest living author. What started the debate is a news story the paper produced last week that referred to Martin Amis as the person but no doubt this will run and run.

The problem with judging a living writer is that because they are continuing to produce work they still might have a War and Peace up their sleeve and it might be unwise to judge them just on the output up to date. Describing something as a ‘classic’ usually comes after the death of the writer and as a yardstick that seems a good guide. In terms of measuring greatness it’s so subjective that inevitably it will come down to either volume of sales or personal popularity.

Who is the greatest?

Creating coverage out of something it wrote itself has led The Guardian to devote its lead feature today to debating who is Britain’s greatest living author. What started the debate is a news story the paper produced last week that referred to Martin Amis as the person but no doubt this will run and run.

The problem with judging a living writer is that because they are continuing to produce work they still might have a War and Peace up their sleeve and it might be unwise to judge them just on the output up to date. Describing something as a ‘classic’ usually comes after the death of the writer and as a yardstick that seems a good guide. In terms of measuring greatness it’s so subjective that inevitably it will come down to either volume of sales or personal popularity.

The importance of being there

Comments made by Marcel Berlins in The Guardian echo about how he feels short-changed by writers, Stef Penney the Costa winner his reference point, who do not travel to the countries they set their stories in.

“As a reader, I feel short-changed and disappointed. When place plays an important part in a story, I expect the writer to have been there.”

His comments echoes thoughts I have already expressed about the concern you get when you read a book based in a foreign country and discover the writer has never set foot in it.

I think it matters because of the danger of basing your own vision of a place on someone else’s experiences. For many years I was desperate to go to Russia after having read so many books about it both fiction and non-fiction. But once I arrived there it was different not because the Hermitage looked any different from the pictures in books but because of the way being there made me feel. Bearing in mind that writers often put parts of themselves into characters by avoiding the assault ion the senses and preconceptions that comes from visiting in the flesh you miss that and it can only filter through to the text.

The importance of being there

Comments made by Marcel Berlins in The Guardian echo about how he feels short-changed by writers, Stef Penney the Costa winner his reference point, who do not travel to the countries they set their stories in.

“As a reader, I feel short-changed and disappointed. When place plays an important part in a story, I expect the writer to have been there.”

His comments echoes thoughts I have already expressed about the concern you get when you read a book based in a foreign country and discover the writer has never set foot in it.

I think it matters because of the danger of basing your own vision of a place on someone else’s experiences. For many years I was desperate to go to Russia after having read so many books about it both fiction and non-fiction. But once I arrived there it was different not because the Hermitage looked any different from the pictures in books but because of the way being there made me feel. Bearing in mind that writers often put parts of themselves into characters by avoiding the assault ion the senses and preconceptions that comes from visiting in the flesh you miss that and it can only filter through to the text.

Stay at home researcher

Congratulations to Stef Penney who won the Costa award last night with her book The Tenderness of Wolves set in northern canada in 1860. Apparently because of agoraphobia she never managed to get to Canada but did all of the research in the British Library. According to quotes in the Guardian she said that she felt the landscape might have been more vivid because she had not been there. Add her comments to those made by Martin Amis in an Independent interview earlier this year about the fact he didn’t feel the need to visit Russia to write about it, and you can either take the stay at home authors as inspirational – cutting out travel costs and the need to learn different languages – or as a sad demise of the old fashioned research that some novelists go in for. Bearing in mind my personal finances I am taking it as an inspiration if I ever get round to writing a book.