yes-reply #07


Last night I picked up a book and began to read it, it appeared to be an experimental and the prose cut into micro-chapters. I put it down after page two, too advanced for the relaxing read I wanted. I picked up a young adult novel, and after page three of being told exactly what the character was thinking, I also put it down. I finally reached for Stella winner The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood and happily read along.

What is notable about all of that, is I didn’t run away from the labour of reading a book into the warm hold of my phone! This is an achievement for me, the dumbphone I mentioned last fortnight is serving me well. But I won’t bore you with the details, I’d much rather talk about the frustratingly addicting slow writing of Ian McEwan’s Atonement I have read since I last wrote to you.

The cover of Atonement, a despondent young girl sitting on old stairs pondering

One of the fundamentals I believe about being a writer today is you must compete with television and TikTok. A book, stageplay, or poem doesn’t need to be an immediate dopamine hit like a YouTube vlog - but if you don’t acknowledge you’re writing into an attention economy you will write yourself into irrelevancy. I would happily remove the first 20% of most stories that are published, without stakes established and needless exposition about a character’s family I don’t give a damn about.

So imagine my surprise, when I read a tension-less 60 page opening in Atonement and my instinct isn’t immediately to rip those pointless pages out. Because, I suppose, they’re not pointless. It is true that nothing meaningful happens for a long time, but the painting he creates though slow and considered prose is so masterful that when the image of the perfect family begins to fall apart I immediately understand the gravity of the moment.

Colour me surprised, this pale stale male wasn’t blabbing for the pleasure of hearing his own voice. Maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to rip out the first 100 pages of every novel. Perhaps my own writing can slow down a tad.

Nah, sounds boring.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Gillanders

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