The first book was set in China and was competently written and mildly entertaining, but forgettable. Like most books, really. The second was by Le Carre, the modern-day master of the genre. The difference between them was like watching a program in normal definition and then watching another in UHD.
I often think on these things – because I’m a compulsive reader, and because I have a personal as well as general interest in the craft of writing.
If you were to compare the two plots in these novels, then you’d have to say that Le Carre’s was more sophisticated and finely attuned. In general terms, it’s the difference between a description of life and the lived experience of it – because life is full of moments and complexity. It’s made up of infinitude brush strokes, not broad swathes of colour.
That’s all very well, but many a fine story has been spoiled by average or lack-lustre writing. As I said, the first book was competently written – there were no great jarring moments, the words placed in the right order, it told the story effectively. But then there’s a vast difference between being competent and being talented.
There are books I’ve continued to read simply for the quality of the writing. A well-written book draws you on. I might reference someone like James Salter here, whose books – with exceptions – feel less than the sum of their parts, but are always gorgeous to read.
Not surprisingly, there’re very few writers who can compose a memorable storyline and render it with style and insight.
As an aspiring writer, that’s who I want to be, though, predictably, it’s no easy thing.
For mine, I reckon John Le Carre is one of the great contemporary novelists, regardless of genre. His stories are engaging and intelligent and, as I said, he writes in UHD. Once more, that’s exactly what I want from my writing – engaging and intelligent, and with deep insight.
I reckon I can write with style. I can write a sentence as good as most, and a paragraph to follow it up. Certainly, I think my prose is superior to the competent spy thriller I just read, if not yet up to Le Carre’s standard. I’m an astute learner, however. I read a lot, and I pay attention. And I’m sensitive to human nature, able to quickly read people and often to detect what’s unsaid, the meaning between the lines. It’s why I started to write I think, because that insight came naturally to me and led from one thing to another. I was sensitive to the world about me, not just people, but the physical world as well. There’s fascination in that, and wonder, and from it comes the need to understand and observe it. In time you seek to render it in your own words, to give your interpretation of it.
I’m passionate about this, but I think that’s true of many writers. You don’t necessarily choose to do it; it emerges from within you. I want to learn and get better. I have high expectations. I fully expect the day will come when I am close to being the writer I aspire to me. There’s some natural talent in that achievement, but a lot more is the burning intent to be better.