Nevil Shute: a Study in Impeccable Writing

RequiemForAWren

I read a lot of Nevil Shute as a youngster – growing up in New Zealand, it was natural that his books should be in the library. I enjoyed them; he writes a good yarn, with plenty of action and interesting storylines, and his characters are strong and memorable, particularly the women. But it’s decades since I last read him, and the one I’m reading now I have never read before.

Requiem for a Wren is an exemplar of Shute’s work, and in particular his skill in purveying vast amounts of background through a few terse sentences. He’s a master at providing information without the reader being at all conscious that he’s doing so.

In the first paragraph of Requiem nothing much is happening. The narrator is an airline passenger, and the plane is beginning to descend. But look at how much information he packs into the first two sentences.

There was a layer of cumulus, about seven-tenths, with tops at about five thousand feet as we came to Essenden airport; we broke out of it at two thousand and we were on the circuit downwind, with the aerodrome on our starboard wing. I sat with my eyes glued to the window looking out at Melbourne, because this was my home town and I had been away five years.

I don’t mean the obvious – cloud cover and all – but rather the great deal of information which is implied. We now know that our narrator is Australian, and that he is an airman (very likely a pilot, given the breadth and complexity of his observations). As the book was published in 1955, the ‘five years’ remark gives us a pretty big clue that he was away at war, so now we know what kind of airman he is.

[The stewardess} smiled and said quietly ‘Would you like any help down the gangway, sir?’

I shook my head. ‘I’ll wait till the others are off. I’m all right if I take my time’

So… an injury or disability bad enough for him to potentially need help, but she is circumspect and he determined to be independent. That makes me think straight away about wartime injuries – and it turns out that’s exactly right. He goes on to meet the foreman from his parents’ sheep station, and discovers that there has been a death at the farm, but even then he’s more interested in the changes in the landscape since the war.

It’s only on page 12 that we begin get a sense of his injury, and this too is in typical laconic style.

Horses were still used by the boundary riders, but … my father drove all over the property in a Land Rover instead of riding on a horse as he always had when I was young. That suited me, for artificial feet are something of a handicap upon a horse. There was a great deal for me to learn about the property before I could unload some of the work from my parents, and I was keen to make a start.

Shute’s style is one I favour, with long passages of narrative interspersed with briefer dialogue and conversation. It’s somewhat out of fashion these days, when we are all being told ‘do, don’t tell’ and ‘don’t infodump’, although in Shute’s case it’s more like info-infusion, and his laid-back style suits the subject. Our protagonist is reluctant to display his disability, or any of the other ways in which war has changed him, and it becomes increasingly clear that this same reticence applies to the other characters in the novel, including the dead girl, whose story rapidly takes centre stage. So much is conveyed in these sparse, careful sentences that by the time he reaches the revelation at the bottom of page 53, it comes with a sense of inevitability. It could only have been this way.

I’m not going to tell you the story. Not all of you will want to read the book, but you can read the first few pages online. Have a look, and see whether you have anything to learn from this master of understated prose.

Advertisements

Before it Begins, An Article by Author Yvonne Marjot

Susan Finlay Writes

I often hear from people who want to write a book but don’t know how or where to begin. Or from people who have already written a book that’s ready for publication but don’t know how to get it published. I recently began a new blog series, Writing and Publishing Tips From Authors Around the World, to help writers.

Yvonne Marjot

The nineteenth contributor is U.K. author Yvonne Marjot and she’s here to talk about what happens after you finish writing a novel.

Before it begins, or, what to do between finishing your novel and publishing it, by Yvonne Marjot

Writing’s wonderful, isn’t it? You love the moments when time flies past your flashing fingers on the keys, and a thousand words pours out of you onto the paper, and it’s just how you thought it would be. You hate the times when getting a sentence out is like wringing blood…

View original post 1,885 more words

POETRY & PROSE VOTING PAGE!!

My Valentine poem ‘Sunkissed’ is number 4 here. Pop over and vote for your favourite.

POETRY & PROSE VOTING PAGE!!.

Here is my interview with Yvonne Marjot

My blog interview with Fiona McVie. Thanks, Fiona.

authorsinterviews

Y Marjot author pic Aug 2014

Name Yvonne Marjot
Age 52
Where are you from? I was born in England but grew up in New Zealand. Now I live on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on an island off the West Coast of Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012 she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published in 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

She has worked in schools, libraries and…

View original post 3,347 more words

Indian Summer

It really has been the most gorgeous week on the beautiful Isle of Mull.

Indian summer

The leaves are falling, crisp underfoot,
and the hills shimmer in the heat.
I crave ice in my glass, breeze, shade;
my sandals are cool on my feet,
boots shoved back in the porch.
The sun’s a pendant in flaming brass,
hung on a cloth of dusty blue.
I’m melting. How long can this last?

…yeez’ll never guess… what do Crooked Cat Publishing, the Middle East, and Tobermory on the Isle of Mull have in common?…

…yeez’ll never guess… what do Crooked Cat Publishing, the Middle East, and Tobermory on the Isle of Mull have in common?….

A Musical Comedy of Errors (flash fiction prompt ‘the wrong end of the stick’)

It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t even realise the stick had two ends. They should have spelled it out better. Spelled it out. Pfft. Lol.

Let me explain. It all started at the audition for ‘Cats’. At least, the audition went pretty well. I got the part. All I had to do was make like a cat – you know, all that preening and pawing and making eyes at the Rum Tum Tugger. Well, that was no problem: Doug Airtson is dead easy on the eye. I could look at him all day long, in his skin-tight tights and his tabby-stripe stage makeup. That boy has definitely been working out.

Luckily I didn’t really need to be able to sing. It’s all kind-of tuneless yowling. I mean, I know Lord Whatsisname wrote some nice tunes for it, but us chorus types just have to hum along, you know. They didn’t really ask me to sing at the audition. That was a bit of a surprise, but after I’d got down on all fours in my skimpy leotard and arched my back and wiggled my perty kitty bottom, that seemed to be all they wanted to see. Nailed it, straight up.

The first rehearsals were a bit boring. I learned my cues straight away. No-one can accuse me of not being quick on the uptake. But when you’ve seen one bloke in tights you’ve seen ‘em all, and the Rum Tum Tugger might be a bit of a sex symbol in the script, but I can tell you for free in real life he’s a minger. Always got his hands where he shouldn’t, and frankly he could do with a wash. It’s amazing what an actor thinks he can get away with just because he has pecs to die for and can hit top C.

I got a promotion, toot sweet. Special assistant to Mr Mistoffeles. I didn’t have to do much, either. It was, like, totally not my fault that pretty little tortie kitty tripped coming off stage and broke her ankle in the lighting pit. I only meant to shake her up, after that mean comment in the dressing room about no amount of cold cream being enough to hide the signs of a common alley cat. I’ve always had faith in fate – if you act nasty, stuff will happen to you. Though fate sometimes needs a helping hand.

So, there I was in the wings, looking like butter wouldn’t melt and the director shouts ‘You! Get over here.” I look all around, like I think they mean someone else, though there’s no-one else there. Get in! Now who’s saying I can’t act? “Hold this. It’s Mr Mistoffeles’ dancing stick. You need to give it to him just before the end of the second chorus. Red end up. That’s very important, girl. Are you listening? Red end up, green end down.”

Am I listening? I was born listening! Anyway, it goes like a dream, the director says it’s perfect, he explains how on the night when Mr Mistoffeles bangs his staff on the ground a firework will shoot out the top – because he’s magic and all that. I don’t really listen – it’s all yadda yadda, and I’m too busy getting all dreamy over Mr M – he has the most gorgeous eyes underneath his cat-mask thingy. Dreamy. So I’ve got the part. I get tickets for my Mum, since it’s a big promotion, I’m not just any old yowly kit cat any longer, I’m a Cat. I’m Mr Mistoffeles assistant cat.

Opening night, and the director’s making his last minute checks. I’m in the wings holding the stick and he’s all like ‘red end up, green end down. Have you got it Kitty?’ Yes, I say, my eyes fixed on Mr M. They say he hasn’t got a girlfriend. If I play my cards right that situation might not last too much longer. The second chorus starts and I tiptoe out on my cute little kittycat feet. He holds his hand out without looking and takes the stick from me. The chorus ends and the saxophone wails out, drums are beating, cats are yowling, everybody in the audience is spell bound by the magic Mr M and he bangs his stick on the stage and all hell breaks loose. A firework shoots out the bottom of his staff, bounces off the stage and falls into the orchestra pit. Next minute there’s sparks flying up, the saxophone has gone squeaky and the audience are all screaming.

I mean to say, what a fuss. It was fine. The audience stopped having hysterics and were allowed to go out and have drinkies a bit early while it was all sorted out. The saxophonist had a wee lie down, and he was only burnt a little bit. The FX guys sorted out the stick and Mr M came back on and did it all perfectly. They wouldn’t let me be his assistant anymore, though, on account of having given him the stick green side up.

It’s not fair. One teeny weeny mistake and I’m out of a job. I should have stuck with the Rum Tum Tugger and his roaming hands. It’s all that director’s fault. He never even asked me if I was colour blind.

Saxophone

Today’s September 2014 poem-a-day. I’ve been listening to a new jazz recording a friend has given me.

The elegiac quality of saxophone
eases its way into my mind,
quietly asserting its charm,
sliding deftly into its place
in my aural memory,
as if it had never been away.

The Calgary Chessman book launch – all welcome

Ever fancied a visit to the Isle of Mull? This Saturday, 6th September would be a great time to go. Not only is the weather still warm, with the prospect of sunshine, but the local book (and fishing gear) shop, Tackle and Books, will be hosting the launch of my novel, The Calgary Chessman. 11am to 1pm. I’ll be reading excerpts, signing books and enjoying a glass of wine or two with friends and visitors alike. It’s going to be great!

Of course, if you can’t be there you can still soak up the atmosphere of Mull by buying the print or e-book version of the book. It’s available from Amazon, Smashwords and direct from the publisher, crookedcatbooks.com. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Calgary-Chessman-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook/dp/B00MLBQ6SG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409769634&sr=1-1&keywords=the+calgary+chessman

TCC first copy at Green Rooms Aug 2014

The Calgary Chessman – new book by Yvonne Marjot

Thanks, Angelika, for coming up with a really fun interview – and for hosting me on your blog.

Angelika Rust

Yvonne Marjot, the name rings a bell, doesn’t it? Right, over the past months, she contributed greatly to my little PublicTransport PoeTry project. Today, her book The Calgary Chessman was published. I’ll admit, I haven’t yet finished reading it, but I’ve read the first few chapters when it was still on authonomy, liked it a lot and thus was delighted when she asked me whether I’d be willing to bang a few drums for her.

So let’s move straight on to what she has to say.

WhoY Marjot author pic Aug 2014 are you?

My name is Yvonne Marjot, and that’s also the name under which I’m published. I did think about having a pseudonym, but my surname’s pretty unusual and I hope that means I stand out. Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to pronounce it – even my family aren’t entirely sure!

Until now, I thought it’d be with a j as…

View original post 2,217 more words

Previous Older Entries