This week Kevin has chosen to share his thoughts.
is a bit of a personal gripe about the state of the British book publishing
industry, or more specifically about that section of the book buying public
that regards itself as being ‘literary’.
I recently decided to try my hand at some competition writing, just short
stories, anything from five hundred word flash fiction to five thousand word
stories. So I set about researching the competitions – reading pieces by
previous winners online where available and buying a few anthologies where they
weren’t. There was definitely a pattern – the more ‘literary’ the competition
regarded itself (usually equating to the amount of prize money being offered)
the less I enjoyed reading the submissions. Yes, they were all ‘short’ and
complied with the various word count requirements but somewhere along the way
the ‘story’ element seemed to have disappeared.
Now I’m not knocking our literary tradition, which is second to none in my
opinion, but all the great writers told a story. Shakespeare understood that
his job was to engage with his audience and entertain them. For all his focus
on poverty and his (by modern standards) wordiness so did Dickens – he gave us
David Copperfield and Little Nell and Oliver Twist. My argument gets a bit
shakier as we enter the twentieth century and more modern writers, but the ones
who remain popular all tell proper stories. What they don’t do is perform
linguistic acrobatics in the name of ‘literature’ at the expense of their story
(or, in the case of some of the pieces I read, to hide their lack of story
So I’ll say again, the writer’s job is to engage and entertain his or her
audience (and hopefully encourage them to part with their cash for the
privilege), not to obscure and obfuscate and try and impress with linguistic
pyrotechnics or gratuitous shock tactics. If I’m reading prose I want something
with a story, a point. I don’t want to have to have it explained to me. If I’ve
missed the message then it’s the author who has failed, not me.
End of rant :)
Oh, and some of the competition pieces I read were really good – the sad thing
was that it was only some of them…
Thanks Kevin for that insight into the competition world.