Monthly Archives: September 2013

Crime Writing

Since a friend of mine got me into Dorothy L. Sayers recently, I have been reading through her final novels which feature Harriet Vane. I have just finished Busman’s Honeymoon. I did enjoy the fact that Harriet and Peter were finally married – what an old romantic I am – and, goodness me, Sayers even writes about sex (fairly obliquely, but the narrative certainly doesn’t stop at the bedroom door).

The ending was powerful as the murderer is given the death sentence and we see what effect this has on Wimsey as he struggles with knowing that it was he who brought the perpetrator to justice. Interestingly his psychological state is revealed as fragile because of (what we would now term) PTSD from his service in WW1. All this was completely lost on me when I watched the TV adaptation in the 1970s (or perhaps such subtleties weren’t included?)

Another thing that struck me was Sayers’ use of accents. She really goes for it, especially with the ‘working class’ characters. It is sometimes a bit hard to roll on through, though I could certainly hear the voices in my head, I think she was accurate enough. It is my understanding that in modern novels writers fight shy of representing accents. There’s the concern about getting it right. And also the question about what is an accent? Is there something slightly patronising or disrespectful about representing, say, a Yorkshire accent with ‘t’s instead of ‘the’s while leaving all other characters to parley in ‘received English’? Sayers did make some effort to replicate the upper class talk of Wimsey et al. However, it is the speech of the country folk which definitely comes over as being of the ‘other’.

It has made me wonder, however, whether I could make more of speech patterns in my novel for my characters. Rather than just describing tone or pitch, consider more emphasis placement and the odd dropped letter?

The Poetics of Academic Writing

I recently facilitated a workshop on academic writing for a group of trainee psychotherapeutic counsellors. I saw it as part of the mission I have given myself to persuade people that academic writing need not be dull, un-engaging, complicated, obscure. Indeed, it needs to be the opposite to this, since, as with all writing, what value does it have if it does not communicate?

We did an exercise in essay writing and I had chosen the title ‘Explore the place of poetry in academic writing’, mainly because I had a number of resources readily available to take in with me. We started with a few bursts of ‘free writing’. I suggest this as a beginning point for any writing task as it frees up the writing hand and creative part of the brain, as well as uncovers (and gives value to) what we already know.

My free writing once again emphasised the similarities in my mind between poetry and academic writing. Both: intend to communicate; are interested in precise and specific language; are about discovery, revealing something. Both have something of the ‘dark arts’ about them. Poetry with its connection to charms and prayers. Academic writing with its connection to the sharpened knives of peer review, opinion and debate.

Scarborough Consequences

Earlier this year I facilitated a project at the 2013 Scarborough Literature Festival which invited festival goers to contribute to a story. People were encouraged to write ‘letters’ (emails, letters, tweets, texts) to and from a bunch of fictional characters I had devised and who were ‘stuck’ in a Scarborough hotel for various reasons over one weekend. I took the resulting missives and used them to construct a tale which I called Scarborough Consequences.

Scarborough Consequences has now been up-loaded to the Scarborough Literature site (click through twice to get the download.)