Is the best writing a chain of inevitabilities?


Season’s greetings, gentle reader. In this Christmas day post, I want to celebrate a fictional conversation that took place three decades ago today (kind of, in a fictitious way). It’s all about what makes for great writing – a subject which will never cease to fascinate me. Is the best writing a chain of inevitabilities?

For nearly two decades, the Scottish novelist Alan Warner has been one of my favourite writers.

I was hooked right from the opening pages of Warner’s debut, Morvern Callar. Taciturn Scottish supermarket checkout girl Morvern discovers her boyfriend’s post-suicide body, his suicide note instructing her to send his recently finished novel to a London publisher. This she does, stopping only to change his name on the title page to hers.

Despite the macabre set-up for the above book, Warner’s writing is light, funny, individual and unpredictable. He wrings transportingly poetic descriptions of the world around from the perceptions of often introverted characters who barely say a word.

He is also incredibly funny. Their Lips Talk of Mischief, his latest novel, is his funniest yet. It describes the mishaps in 1980s London of a broke, drunken Scot and a penniless, drunken Welshman who share literary ambitions but very little inclination actually to write.

Reading this book over my own Christmas 2014 break has been a huge pleasure. In particular, the description of our drunken aspiring novelists’ reactions to being commissioned to write the text for the perhaps-not-so-very-literary Cat Captions 1986 calendar made me weep with laughter.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I like literary anniversaries. So I was delighted to come across a wonderful exchange in Warner’s latest between our two heroes – who are, to put it politely, in their cups – about perfection in writing. An exchange which takes place exactly 30 years ago today, on Christmas day 1984. Regard:

“I want to express nothing other than the inevitability of the book’s own style. […] From the first word to the last, the book must be inevitable.”

“Novels where you can’t imagine a word changed?”

“It’s almost more to do with conception, style meeting subject, so each sentence is its own inevitability.Then you move on to another, until you have a chain of inevitabilities. […] It’s what’s inside you that makes what’s on the page, boyo.”

I love the concept of the best writing as “a chain of inevitabilities.” I love more than anything to read words with just this quality. This image also perfectly captures what it’s like when writing is going swimmingly – those moments when the words flow out in an inevitable chain.

Gentle reader, thank you for reading this far. I hope Warner’s words have proven of interest, and that you might even consider giving one of his books a try, if you’ve not already.

May this Christmas be exceptional to you. And may 2015 prove your best year yet.

Peace out.

Three brilliant books from Alan Warner

Xmas-ful image via Wikimedia Commons.

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