A Brief Ramble

Somebody somewhere wrote recently (no really, I forget where, otherwise

I’d link to it) that creative writing courses concentrated too much on short stories and not on novels (you’d have a time finishing the assignments)

– and she (in my mind, it was she) considered this a bad thing, because (as she claimed) short stories are harder. (Better though, they ramble

incoherently for 600 pages?). – It is nonsense of course, though it’s said many times, that short stories are harder to write than novels: – possibly

a good short story is harder to write than a bad novel – but since no one does write good short stories anymore, this is a bit of a moot point; – but

a good short story harder to write than a good novel? – I don’t think so: and this, despite the fact that I hate writing short stories and am never

more comfortable than dealing with the longer narrative form. (I like something to sink my teeth into – though not today, as it happens, since I’ve

just been, once again, to the dentist). – But it set me thinking perhaps the reason so few of our literary novels are any good these days is precisely

that: because our writers are only taught how to write short stories and they just apply the same rules when it comes to writing novels – hence novels

become just elongated short stories, with that nice narrative arc and a wholly expected consequent lack of material that might be of interest to


Elsewhere, I encounted Sebastian Faulks’ list of the 40 books he couldn’t do without: – which…

well, I just don’t know why they don’t say favourite books, since there’d be no difference in meaning, except I could do without any of my

favourite books in truth – in fact most of them I probably don’t have a copy any more (they’re all safely formed in my head instead), so it seems I

could do without: – but what interested me was two things, namely: a) it isn’t so much that people like different books to us which we find

frustrating, since we can consider them inferior mortals anyhow and we know they have no taste; – no, what really frustrates is that people like, at

one and the same time, both books we ourselves like and books we dislike, which must call into question our own tastes somewhat, or the nature of

taste entirely: – how is it a man can reasonably judge a work on presumably the same criteria we have done ourselves and find in its favour, and then

put forward this completely crazy view about another work which is, of course, utter rubbish; – and then b) he put Yasunari Kawabata on his list,

which I find interesting for one of our contemporary literary writers (are we saying Faulks is literary? – he writes pretty traditional romances,

doesn’t he, in that fairly dull way of his?) since Kawabata (and I’ve read a few) has always struck me as a writer who long ago perfected precisely

the kind of writing which is so fashionable and admired now in this country – quiet, symbolic works in which not much happens in any sort of dramatic

way, clever and poised and really quite dull. – But still it was better than the other recent list in The Times about which books

best represent Britishness: which frankly induced some crazy answers (Carey’s is maybe ok, but Rod Liddle starts with Primo Levi’s If This Is A

Man?!) and some crazy reasoning from

Appleyard (precisely why is Freud out because he’s too universal, but the IKEA catalogue is in; – and …no, seriously, – pace the URL

of this website – modern Britain ain’t much like 1984). Frankly, the whole enterprise could’ve done with defining its terms a little better.


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