A Life Of fiction CVIII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.


I wish that I had written that: Now I find that when I read novels that I cannot do so without appreciating the art of the other novelist. I look for distinctive and imaginative turns of phrase. I cannot divorce myself from an appreciation of the art.

For example, recently I began reading the novel Haunted, by James Herbert. I had picked it up after watching the film version on the Horror Channel. I wanted to see what the novel was like.

I had only read a couple of James Herbert novels in the past: The Rats and The Fog. I read those back when I was a teenager, long before I had any ambitions to become a gas-lamp fantasy novelist. In my callow youth I simply enjoyed the horror. They were good reads, and that was as far as my critiquing of them would have gone, if anybody had asked me. I had no idea what a well-written sentence was.

Now, though, on reading Haunted I was struck by what a good writer James Herbert was. Genre authors are looked down on by the literary establishment, as though none of them have the ability to write. Some people can get very snooty about such things. They look at horror novels in the same way that they look at dog mess which they have to scrape off the bottom of their shoes. And I will admit that not every horror novel is well-written. But there are also some beauties out there.

I’m not going to go too far into describing the novel, because I hope that people will check it out for themselves, and I don’t want to feature any spoilers. But I will have a brief extract here.

First of all, though, I should state that Haunted is © James Herbert 1998, and this extract is only for the purpose of illuminating what a good writer he is.

The fields were wearied by the season. Leaves, once crispy-brown now rain-soaked and dulled, were beginning to gather beneath the trees, leprous things discarded by their hosts. Here and there a house or cluster of buildings nestled against a hillside, a brief intrusion on the landscape with no prevalence at all over their surroundings. The late-autumn sky appeared as greyly substantial as the land it glowered over, a solid force whose lowest reaches softened hilltops.

   I wish that I had written that. I don’t think that I would change a single word in that paragraph. You would not want to add to it; you would not want to take anything away.

The above is just one example of a paragraph which I wish that I had written. I could fill a hundred posts with such paragraphs, taken from my favourite novels, and from my favourite authors; but, most of all, from my favourite poems.

I have mentioned lines such as Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, by Alexander Pope, several times in past posts on this website, so I will not duplicate those words here, otherwise I would ramble on over far too many pages. The same goes for William Blake and Edgar Allen Poe.

One opening to a poem which I really wish I had written, though, is the first four lines of Tithonus by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and reproduced below:

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,

The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,

Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,

And after many a summer dies the swan.

   Perfect. I wish that I had written that; or that my poetry might one day come close to the wonderful sadness of those words. But I suppose that I am drawn to the dark side of poetry. That opening begins with decay and death; the purposelessness of our endeavours, because death will claim us all in the end.

I have tried, in the past, to get some of the cadences of poetry into my novels. But it is very hard to keep up something like that for an entire book.


In the same way that I appreciate a well-turned phrase, dull writing or grammatical errors tend to turn me off. Because I have written so much I tend to spot things like that. They stick out like sore thumbs (maybe I should try for a job as an editor somewhere). I have been put off several novels by very famous writers because I spotted some little error which was missed. I can’t help this. I am very pedantic.

Yet those little errors should not have been there. There are such things as editors, after all, and they should all have been picked up, and corrected, when the manuscript was proofread. But perhaps I am being overly picky here.

I don’t actually do multiple drafts of my novels. I try to get things right the first time. The most drafts I have done of anything are three and a half, and that is of my first novel, The Absinthe Club. So I spend a lot of time sitting around, waiting for the words to come. I hope that, one day, all of my paragraphs will be as good as the James Herbert example featured above.


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