Thursday, 28 June 2012

Favourite Author

It was Author Day recently, because every day seems to be something-a-rather day, my favourite being

Writers especially seem to have all sorts of days, weeks and months dedicated to reading and writing, as if they need an excuse.

Anyway, people were merrily tweeting their favourite authors.  And I realised something.  When someone asks

I don’t have an answer. 

This is perverse.

It reminds me of a guy at the creative writing workshop I briefly ran. 

First of all, the CAST OF CHARACTERS:

who shared one poem to be workshopped, spent months rewriting it and when he shared it again, hadn’t changed a single word or punctuation mark. 

who shared what was probably perfectly workable dark fantasy. 

who shared lyrics without music, which are hard to discuss as pieces of writing on their own merit. 

who never shared anything and so easily appeared to be the smartest member of the group.

But the relevant guy, the guy who said something incredibly, naively stupid, was this one:

The irony was that the thing he was doing to keep his work fresh was the thing that was spoiling it.

It was like expecting to be able to drive without ever touching a car.  As a writer, the more you read, the more you understand about how to write.  Even reading ‘bad’ writing is beneficial, because it’s experience and you get to learn from someone else’s mistakes.  And above all that, it’s polite.  If you expect someone to read you, then you must read others.  And it’s fun too. 

So I’m afraid as a writer who can’t name a favourite author, I’m going to sound just that stupid/naive/arrogant.

Of course I read.  I love reading.  I never did anything else when I was a child. 

But in some ways I don’t think I’ve progressed much since then.  Most of my favourite books have been so for over a decade.  The lack of a favourite author concerns me.  I think it means that I have not read enough.  And I do not want to end up like that lot above.  I can name many (several) books I like, but I couldn’t readily name more than one book by any one author that I deeply like.  How many books do you have to read and like by one writer to fairly name them a favourite author?  One?  Three?  50% percent of however much they’ve written?  Any amount so long as you 100% loved what you did read?

My love of fiction has always been entirely character based.  This is strikingly apparent with several very famous films that wash straight over me, because they don’t connect with the characters.  But with books, characters are far more alive because the reader is nestled safely inside the characters’ minds and sees and feels and understands just as they do.  Coupled with my magnificent ability to obsessively latch on to any character in which I see a glint of wit, cunning or the pathetic, I can usually find something to like even in the worst book.  Though that will often lead me to despise the book for not relying on the characters I felt had the most potential

as if every author should pander personally to my whims.  Being character-fixated also leads me to quickly forgetting everything that worked about certain action-packed stories once I shut the cover, even if I was enjoying the story while I was reading it, because the characters were nothing more than observers there to facilitate events.  And it also irritates me when all the characters in a book sound exactly the same as each other.

Okay, so character is my main thing, we’ve established that.  But that’s not enough.  I don’t like stories where nothing happens

and I can’t stand a bland tone or an undeveloped authorial voice.  But (generally) I find that a good book either has a very good story or a fantastic writing style, and never both as good as each other at the same time.

Now something like Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre I like the story.  There’re parts of the writing style that bug me.  I don’t like Brontë’s direct addresses to the audience, I don’t like the metaphorical stuff about fairies and it can ramble on a bit.  But the story; it’s on fire.  I adore it. 
uh, this is a good thing, apparently

Conversely, with something like Damon Runyon’s Guys And Dolls And Other Stories, it’s the writing style that gets me, not the stories.  They’re all the same.  The narrator potters about Broadway trying to avoid trouble, a hoodlum joins him and either drags him on an adventure or flashbacks one he’s just been on, which always ends with a twist character reversal and a criminal with a heart of gold, probably marrying some broad.  You can predict the outcome with 100% accuracy from the first paragraph.  But his writing, it’s beautiful.  I could marry it.  It’s so fast and smart.  The first time I read one of his stories was revolutionary.  I have never seen that much personality in narration.

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Runyon’s stories, or appreciate Brontë’s writing.  I do.  I’d have to to compliment them at all.  Before I can get anywhere with a piece of fiction, I have to connect with the characters, and both of them succeed there.  I’m just saying that with Runyon, his greater strength is in his writing style and with Brontë it’s in her storytelling.  So does that make them The Favourite Authors or not?  Do I just go with it and say yes, because I liked one book by each of them and even though I was heavily aware of flaws, I loved other angles so much that I don’t care?  Or do I hold out hope that there’re authors out there who have written compelling, exciting stories that I really care about, in a sharp style with an authorial voice that makes me salivate, held together with witty, cunning, sympathetic characters whose brains I like to hibernate in?

Uh, the hibernation line is because when I wrote ‘the reader is nestled safely inside the characters’ minds’ up there, I got this image lodged in my mind and haven’t been able to shake it since.

Yes, I have written this entire post while thinking about fluffy little dormice

As compulsive readers of The Blog will know (so, no one) I have been reading all The Books on The Bookcase in a startling move to actually have read the things I own.  The Intention was uh—pointless overused metaphor alert—to separate the wheat from the chaff.  This has been happening.  But each line of books is starting to lean over and collapse as large gaps appear, while the cosy corners occupied by books that made the grade (mixing metaphors?) don’t seem to be growing very much at all.  And when the books fall over, they knock the models I’ve idiotically placed in front of them on to the floor, locking the toys and books in a battle for space. 

Anyway, in tribute to the books that have made it, The Next Few Posts will (probably) be about some of the actual great and worth-reading-more-than-once books I have read. 

Hopefully by the time I have worked my way through The Shelves, a favourite author will emerge, and from there I will be able to discover even more authors, maybe some who are still alive.

And then I can be confident of not appearing to be a stupid writer.
this happened while typing this post


  1. There is a fundamental problem with the word favourite. It does not scale.

    I mean, you can have good - better - best.

    But you can't have favourite - favouriter - favouritest.

    Which is probably a good thing, because I have several favourite books and favourite authors, and no single one can rule them all. In fact, my list of "favourite" authors is quite long -

    So, perhaps, when asked, "who is your favourite author?" what you should reply with is:

    "Your grammar is wrong. Ask me who my favourite authors ARE - plural - and I'll happily start a list..."

    (My own definition of a "favourite" author is quite generous: usually, anyone who has written two books I really enjoyed, or even just one book I absolutely loved)

    1. I agree that a list, or at least a clutch, of favourites makes more sense than just one, especially with authors as they have different styles and genres and stuff to bring to their work. But I still don't know who I'd put in that list. If you say someone who has written two books that you really enjoyed becomes a favourite, what happens if they write a third that you don't like? Do they have to do a fourth that you enjoy to balance it out, or once there's one bad one, does that strike them from the list for good?


I look forward to your enthusiastic and loving comment.