I’ve decided to stop referring to myself as someone who is learning to become a writer and, instead, to label myself as one who is working on becoming a better writer. After all, I can write, as in I can put pen to paper and produce readable fiction and non-fiction. What I am aiming for is to become a good writer and, hopefully, one who will eventually become published.
So, as an improving writer, I am going to publish reviews of books which I feel are of particular use to an improving writer. Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington definitely falls into this category.
I loved this book: it is witty, warm and wise and eminently capable as is its protagonist, Mrs Hawkins. Spark’s prose hums along nicely. She reminds me a little of Austen in that she presents her reader with a seemingly cosy comedy of manners and then sneaks in some truly horrifying characters who represent the dark side of life.
However, the real benefit of this book to any one wishing to improve their writing lies in two key areas: one being that as you read, you take on a subliminal lesson of the joy to the reader of a lightness of touch such as Spark’s; the other being the advice given ‘free of charge’ by the capable Mrs Hawkins to aspiring writers. I include them both below.
“You are writing a letter to a friend…this is a dear and close friend, real – ore better – invented in your mind like a fixation. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it was never going to be published, so that your true friend will read it over and over, and then want more enchanting letters from you.”
“some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work,…the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.”
My advice is simple, if you haven’t read this book, do so immediately.