Thursday, 6 June 2013
Why I like my romances short and sweet
In the library today I picked up a book that better remain nameless. Suffice to say it was well known and critically acclaimed, which was why I picked it up, to see what it was like.
The first line was about someone breaking wind. Further down the first page were two jarring and gratuitous swear words.
I put the book back on the shelf because, personally, I don’t want to spend my time in such distasteful company.
Why is that so many writers and readers feel that books, especially those with pretensions to be ‘literary,’ have to look down life’s drain when they could draw our attention to a beautiful blue sky and leave us feeling better about ourselves and the world around us?
The other thing that put me off the book was its size. It was as thick as a brick and made me wonder if it could possibly reward the sheer effort of ploughing through it. Why do people feel that a book has to be long to be taken seriously? Why can’t more writers make the effort to get their points across more pithily?
I recently forced myself through another brick-thick book by a hugely successful, much filmed horror writer. On a line-by-line basis, his writing is entertaining. He’s particularly good at conveying accents and speech patterns with a single phonetically spelt word - the hungry kid who wants his “breffus,” for example. Yet, padded out over however many hundreds of pages, the only horror the tome stirred in me was whether I’d ever get to the end - or, for that matter, the point - of the thing.
So what books do I like, you may be wondering?
If I had to choose my favourite book of all time, the one who’s writing early on set the bar for what I would like to write myself, it would be At the Height of the Moon by the late and sadly neglected Eric Malpass. One of a series of gentle comedies written about the Pentecost family, who live in a rambling farmhouse in an England of long summers and gentle meadows, the book is short, engaging and written with a beautifully light touch. But the lightness of the writing should not be confused with lightweight. By turns, the novel is laugh-out-loud funny, wistfully romantic, touching, emotionally right on the button and often poetic.
I wish I still had the shiny-covered paperback with its cartoonish drawings on the front and back; it must have been discarded in some house move when I momentarily lost sight of its value. But the truth is that thirty years or more after I first read it, I can still remember great chunks almost word for word and they still give me a warm glow to remember them.
Every writer finds their own voice and style and I hope mine is that: my own. But if someone were to read one of my books and say something about its spirit reminded them of Eric Malpass then I could think of no finer compliment.