Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: WRITE AWAY

Title: Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life
Author: Elizabeth George
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 288
My GoodReads Rating: 

I have read only one novel by Elizabeth George, and that was the 20th in her famous Inspector Lynley series, The Punishment She Deserves. I came away from it deeply charmed by Inspector Lynley and Barbara Havers. The book had convinced me that the author was British. She does such a fabulous job of invoking the British flavour. It was on reading Write Away that I learned that she is American.

In Write Away, a book she wrote publishing the first 12 Lynley books (talk about expertise proven without a doubt), the author describes her approach to writing. The key to writing, she says, is character, not story.

The book is divided into 5 parts. Part I is An Overview of the Craft, Part II is Basics, Part III is Technique, Part IV is Process, Part V is Examples and Guides.

The book is peppered with extracts from good books. Here I’m listing them all, as a sort of Recommended Books List. The list includes Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich’s The Crown of Columbus, T Jefferson Parker’s Laguna Heat, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, Martin Cruz Smith’s Rose as well as Havana Bay, Michael Dorris’ A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Robert Ferrigno’s The Horse Latitudes, PD James’ A Taste for Death, Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca, Ernest Hemingway’s Indian Camp, Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, Alice Hoffman’s Second Nature, Susan Isaacs’ Shining Through, Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, William Faulkner’s Light in August, EM Forster’s A Passage to India, Jim Harrison’s Revenge, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

She also references Stephen King’s Misery, The Shining and Cujo, Evan Connell’s Mrs Bridge, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom!, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, Frank Herbert’s Dune, John le Carre’s Singer and Singer, James Clavell’s Shogun and King Rat, Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Janette Turner Hospital’s Oyster, Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, even Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Craig Lesley’s The Sky Fisherman, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, Dorothy L Sayers’ Five Red Herrings, Frederick Forsyth’s The Fourth Protocol, Dean Koontz’s Twilight Eyes, Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, and naturally her own novels as well.

Her own books also find rich mention here. She quotes from For the sake of Elena, Well-schooled in murder, A great deliverance, A traitor to memory, Payment in Blood, In the presence of the enemy, Deception on his mind, and references Missing Joseph, Playing for the Ashes, Remember, I’ll always love you, In pursuit of the proper sinner and A suitable vengeance.

There are spoilers with reference to Missing Joseph and For the Sake of Elena.

Each chapter begins with a quote from her Journal of a Novel from 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001.

At first, I thought these were published books. A Google search brought up John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel, which he wrote while writing East of Eden. It was only in Chapter 5 that I figured out that this was her own Journal of a Novel, a practice she began with the third in her Inspector Lynley series. Since then she has been writing the Journal concurrently with every novel she embarks on. 

The author shares the step outline that she developed for her novel, A Place of Hiding and the running plot outline of In the presence of the enemy.

In an attempt to prove her point that anyone can write, provided they have a tight handle on the art and craft, and can string sentences together for maximum effect, she gives us a run-down on basic grammar as well. This includes a brief lesson on simple, compound and complex sentences, and other variations, complex-compound, deliberately fragmented and deliberately run-on. 

This section was unnecessary and seemed too patronising.

The highlight for me was how she took us through her entire process from the moment she has an idea to the expansion of that idea and then to the writing and editing. She gives us a taste of her writing journey, how she gravitated to books, how she began writing, and how her love for books and writing grew.

She also answers a few of the questions that she is often asked by agents and readers alike. These relate to how she got her first agent, to who her favourite authors are, what her schedule looks like, her opinion about writing critique groups and the big one, why she writes British novels.

This one is a good addition to all the literature on the art and craft of writing.

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