The Write Stuff…

Yesterday was the first time in goodness knows how long that I actually read a book for pleasure, that book being Tim Lebbon’s The Thief of Broken Toys (ChiZine Publications). Apart from the actual pleasure derived from just the simple act of reading and not having to review it, it also did what all good stories should do: resonated with me on some deep level. I am not a father (although I do have a twenty-year-old stepson) and yet the story spoke to me eloquently about the strength of a parent’s love, and the relationship between their child(ren) and them. It also described perfectly the depth of grief that the death of a child can bring, and how it can affect the equilibrium of even the most level-headed of people. But it also carried a warning: that sometimes that grief can become a destroyer, and that it can usurp reason if we allow it to. I won’t say anything beyond that about the book, as I have yet to write the second part of my Top Reads 2010 post, and this is definitely going in there – now I am just waiting on Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land to arrive so I can read that (as I have been recommended to by numerous people) to see whether that’ll make it into my list.

But Tim’s novella did more than just get me onto thinking about the stuff of primal human emotion and instincts – it also made me wonder about what actually makes a good story, or rather what elevates a story or writer above the ordinary. As many of you know, I have aspirations of becoming a writer myself, and when reading other people’s work, especially those that connect with me in some manner, I try to look a little beyond the surface to determine what it is about that particular story that works. Not all stories and authors possess the same ability, and consequently I am deeply fascinated by how and why some writers are better than others. Simply put, I am trying to figure out, through reading the stories of others, what I can do to create magical, timeless and enduring tales of my own.

It’s not just about the way an author writes, although that is necessarily a great part of it – Tim writes in a very lean unfussy style that manages to capture emotion, feeling, character and place precisely. It’s a very direct type of storytelling, one that drives straight into the heart and mind of the reader – it certainly doesn’t hang around, but it is simultaneously neither prosaic nor unpoetic. It’s also not just about the subject matter, either – for instance, tales dealing with the aftermath of the loss of a child, told through the perspective of a grieving parent, have been written before, and will be again. Of course, there’s strength to Tim’s narrative as he is himself a parent, and one can only imagine what must have been going through his own mind as he wrote this, even if it was only the briefest of passing thoughts.

No, there’s something ‘other’ going on here, something which is above and beyond attempting to tell a good story. There’s ‘truth’ here, a species of truth that speaks to everyone, regardless of whether they’re a parent or not. The emotions delineated here are the most primal that any human can experience, and in many ways form the bedrock of what it is to be human. Even beyond that, however, is the manner of storytelling. Yes, The Thief of Broken Toys has its fantastical elements, but they enhance the story, not detract from it, and they’re integrated so seamlessly into the narrative that its hardly noticeable. The fantastical elements don’t obscure the essential truth of the tale – even in the midst of wonders we accept them as real, never even bothering to question.

This is what makes great storytelling, in whatever guise it clothes itself. It speaks directly and without having to ask us to suspend disbelief – we just do the latter instinctively and without thinking. Sometimes yes, I do want to read something less cerebral and more in your face or superficial, but when I want something more I expect something that happens naturally and that I don’t have to work at in order to discern meaning or intent. The matter of the story seeps into the skin in a process of literary osmosis and does so in an unobtrusive manner – you don’t even realise it’s happened until you close the book and put it down. And then it hits you.

More than that, however, writing like this is inspirational. It would be easy to say to myself “I’m never going to be able to write anything like that” but can I actually be sure I won’t? It’s easy to forget that these writers have been at their craft for years and someone like me has only got into it relatively recently. So no, I can never be sure that one day I won’t sit down and write something that will not only astound others but me as well. Furthermore, I’ll never find out whether I have the ability or not if I don’t sit down and write. Even if I don’t achieve similar results, I can have fun trying to get there (an essential prerequisite.

And that, to me, is what makes a good story and a good writer.

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One Response to “The Write Stuff…”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by netta50, Jason Michel and PaulDBrazill, Simon Marshall-Jones. Simon Marshall-Jones said: The Write Stuff…: http://wp.me/pW4jY-tK […]

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