Category Archives: Writing

Musings of a ‘Catholic Agnostic’

Chilton Williamson Jr writes about two of Grahame Greene’s most powerful titles in the genre of the Catholic novel

The novelist Graham Greene belonged to a grand era in English Catholicism that began with Newman and ended around 1960. According to the author, his many books fall into two general categories: those works of fiction he described as “entertainments,” and the others he called simply “novels.” The latter reflect the degree to which Greene—a convert and later a self-described “Catholic agnostic” with a disordered private life—was haunted by the Faith he neither could nor wished to abandon, while persisting in his idiosyncratic understanding of it.

This, of course, is the intellectual and spiritual condition of many modern Catholics. No one, however, has explored that condition more consistently, poignantly, and dramatically than Greene did. His friend and admirer Evelyn Waugh, in a lengthy review essay of The Heart of the Matter, observed that only a Catholic could have written the book, and only a Catholic could understand it. Greene chose aptly when he took for his epigraph several lines from Charles Péguy: “Le pécheur est au coeur même de chrétienté… Nul n’est aussi compétent que le pécheur en matière de chrétienté. Nul, si c’est le saint.” (“The sinner is at the heart of Christianity… No one is as competent as the sinner in matters concerning Christianity. No one, unless it is the saint.”)

Read on…

The Ghost of Dickens Past

By Cicero Bruce|February 6th, 2020

Dickens and the Social Order, by Myron Magnet (266 pages, ISI Books, 2004)

Critics have well acquainted us with Dickens the sentimentalist—lover of the oppressed, defender of childhood innocence, decrier of England’s industrial sweatshops. But seldom have they given readers a glimpse of the Dickens with whom Myron Magnet deals in his study of Britain’s preeminent fictionist, the Dickens who had an “almost fanatical devotion to the Metropolitan Police,” who reproved his government’s failure to punish sufficiently the hardened violators of its laws, supported Governor Eyre’s notoriously violent quelling of the 1864 Negro uprising in Jamaica, and called the proverbial noble savage and annoying “superstition” that “ought to be civilized off the face of the earth.” In short, critics have said far too little about the philosophical traditionalist reconsidered in Dickens and the Social Order.

Yes, Dickens was a reformer, a radical one at that, but his reforming spirit, as Dr. Magnet carefully reveals, was checked by the intrinsic conservatism by no means shared by his present-day enthusiasts, who, for the sake of validating generally liberal aims and assumptions, prefer to focus on the sanguine aspects of his achievement. True, Dickens may have been qualitatively liberal, at least by the standards of nineteenth-century English liberalism. But he was neither a liberal per se nor a conservative liberal of any sort. He was, to make an important semantic distinction, a liberal conservative.

Read on…

Deep revision and adjustment to Novels

I am carrying out a deep revision and adjustment to IN THIS VALE OF TEARS and THE CASTLE OF HEAVENLY BLISS (Books Two & Three of the Winterbine series) to bring them into line with the first book of the Winterbine series, TIMES OF DISTRESS, which will be finished in April 2020. The revised and adjusted texts for IN THIS VALE OF TEARS and THE CASTLE OF HEAVENLY BLISS will be ready in May 2020 and June 2020 respectively.

The National Book Foundation Defines Diversity Down

Kevin Mims, Quillette, 7 January 2020

Last month the Huffington Post published an essay by Claire Fallon entitled “Was this Decade the Beginning of the End of the Great White Male Writer?” Fallon celebrated the notion that white men are losing their prominence in contemporary American literature and that the best books being published in America today are being written by a wider variety of authors than ever before:

“What was once insular is now unifying,” National Book Foundation director Lisa Lucas told the crowd at the 2019 National Book Awards Gala, where the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry honors all went to writers of color. “What was once exclusive is now inclusive.”

Lucas took over the foundation in 2016, at a time when the high-profile awards had a somewhat checkered record with representation. Though historically the honorees had skewed heavily white and male, that began to change around 2010. (However, there had been some other recent embarrassments, like 2014 host Daniel Handler’s racist jokes following author Jacqueline Woodson’s win for “Brown Girl Dreaming.”) Lucas, the first woman and person of color to helm the foundation, made representation and inclusivity a focus of her messaging. When looking back at the past decade, she told HuffPost in an interview, a multipronged effort to build a more inclusive literary scene has indeed paid dividends.

Read on…

A brief remark on style

While I agree in principle that fiction writers should avoid the passive voice and choose a strong verb in instead of resorting to adverbs, the passive voice and adverbs are functional part of the English language, and I use them when required by the shade of the narrative. I take my example from Evelyn Waugh who, it was said, never wrote a bad sentence. Take this sentence in Decline and Fall (chapter 9 about sports day). There were accusations of cheating:

No one spoke of the race, but outraged sportsmanship glinted perilously in every eye.

Would Waugh’s meaning be the same – have the same force – if one removed ‘perilously’ ? Or what verb could replace the already descriptive ‘glinted’ and convey the same meaning?

Publishing falls to the left

Ideologues Captured the Canadian Publishing Industry

In 2016, when I enrolled in the Master of Publishing program at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver, B.C. campus, I had expected to find an industry of like-minded professionals who shared my love of the written word. And I did indeed meet many such colleagues. But I also got a glimpse into an industry that has become politicized to an extent that I scarcely could have imagined.

Publishing is not a career one chooses for the money. Nearly all areas of the industry are suffering economically. But since embarking on this course of study, I’ve found myself confronting challenges that have nothing to do with money. Regular Quillette readers will be aware that political and ideological forces have constrained the range of acceptable content in artistically and academically rarified fields such as creative writing (including poetry), media studiesmusic and performance art. What might be less appreciated is the manner by which these same forces are exerting pressure on the more mainstream area of publishing…

Read on…

Enid Blyton: The writer’s 10 finest children’s books

Enid Blyton, the popular children’s writer, died 50 years ago this week.

Astonishingly prolific, the author composed some 700 books between 1922, when she published her poetry collection Child Whispers, and her death in Hampstead on 28 November 1968, often rattling out 6,000 words a day at the typewriter.

She has sold more than 600 million books, which have never gone out of print, been translated into 90 languages and enjoyed a loyal following among young readers for generations, her characters from the Famous Five to Noddy capturing the imagination and inspiring a taste for adventure.

But Blyton has also been heavily criticised. The BBC refused to dramatise her output during her lifetime on the grounds she was a “second-rater”, while she has been derided for the patriarchal assumptions, snobbery and xenophobia evident in her novels and mocked as a conservative relic of a Britain that no longer exists. Read on…

Enid Blyton: 50 years after her death

Enid Blyton and her writing went through a bad period when the left had almost full control of the media. They dismissed her as a untalented purveyor of the West’s oppressive bourgeois capitalist society. It’s gratifying to see in recent times just tribute being paid to one of the greatest of children’s storytellers in English. 

Enid Blyton, the popular children’s writer, died 50 years ago this week.

Astonishingly prolific, the author composed some 700 books between 1922, when she published her poetry collection Child Whispers, and her death in Hampstead on 28 November 1968, often rattling out 6,000 words a day at the typewriter.

She has sold more than 600 million books, which have never gone out of print, been translated into 90 languages and enjoyed a loyal following among young readers for generations, her characters from the Famous Five to Noddy capturing the imagination and inspiring a taste for adventure.  Read on...

Writers are a boring bunch

In today’s Australian, Jack the Insider, entertains with an amusing swipe at those self-adsorbed people who call themselves writers.

I’ve always said I’d never go to writers’ festivals and true to my word, I never have. The mere thought of sitting in a room filled with writers fills me with a deep sense of anguish…

I’ll let you into a little secret. Writers, like actors, are sometimes vaguely interesting, often horrendously boring but always hopelessly, relentlessly self-absorbed. I have seen scribblers lapse into speaking of themselves in the third person, weighing up their remarks with extravagant gravity and no apparent sense of self-consciousness of the arses they are making of themselves.

Perhaps this why the Melbourne Writers Festival turned into a dog-and-pony show this year, featuring a bunch of non-literary mad escapades. Anything to avoid the ugliness of writers talking about themselves.

We’re an odd breed, to be honest. I like the company of people, don’t get me wrong, but I am just as happy on my own. Writing is a solitary affair with long hours strapped to a keyboard. Like most jobs it is often a chore and only occasionally joyful. Even the pleasure of a near perfect paragraph is one that goes unshared at least for the time being.    Read on…