DAVID SHAW MACKENZIE

Writer and Artist

Good Writing 1: Gordon Burn

 

A few words on writing from Gordon Burn (1948 – 2009) whose books I recommend highly. (‘Fullalove’ is a very fine novel.)

[Serious writing] ‘…should not divert. That is, it shouldn’t stop you thinking about yourself; it should make you think about yourself.’

 

Good Writing 2: Philip Larkin

 

Here’s something from Philip Larkin on the subject of good writing which I’ve found quite illuminating:

‘Personally, I found myself asking four questions about every book: Could I read it? If I could read it, did I believe it? If I believed it, did I care about it? And if I cared about it, what was the quality of my caring and would it last? I came to think that quite a number of novelists – and for that matter poets too – might do well to imagine a reader asking himself such questions about their work, because, to be honest, very few novels I read survived as far as question four. Far too many relied on the classic formula of a beginning, a muddle and an end.’

Philip Larkin, in his speech as chairman of the 1977 Booker Prize judging panel. Printed in Required Writing Miscellaneous Pieces 1955 – 1982. Faber, 1983.

 

Good Writing 3: David Foster Wallace

 

And here’s what David Foster Wallace had to say on the subject:

‘I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves.’

David Foster Wallace

Good Writing 4: Joseph Conrad

‘A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line.’ – Joseph Conrad

 

Five Great Stories

 

Here are five stories which are among the greatest ever written. In my opinion, anyway. Everyone has their own list and this is mine. There will probably be about fifteen in all with, later, some commentary. I’d be surprised if you don’t find at least one among them that you really like. Bear in mind that my reading has been arbitrary. I’ve never read Maupassant, for example. Also, these are in no particular order:

 

‘Lady with Lapdog’ by Anton Chekhov. (Also translated as ‘The Lady with the Little Dog’.)

 

‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield.

 

‘A Painful Case’ by James Joyce.

 

‘In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried’ by Amy Hempel.

 

‘Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka.