Friday, 22 January 2010

In defence of writers

This is not the first piece I've read from Susan Hill setting out her stall as a proper writer and firmly pushing others out of her self-determined charmed circle of the real thing. The real thing being limited to William Trevor, Helen Simpson, Alice Munro and, umm, herself.
Why does she waste her breath and her callused writers finger on telling us to step aside and get out of her way, that she and a few others are the Queen Bees of writing and that drones are beneath contempt?
What, exactly, is she so worried about? She is a published writer with, let me just check, yes, she tells us, 43 books to her name. Why can't she be gracious and enjoy the fact that people are writing, they are playing with words, creating stories, shaping ideas, articulating thoughts, having fun with words, working hard with words, and most importantly getting better at using words? Surely she can't be worried that without her name attached to a piece of writing that Jo and Joanna Public might not realise (they haven't received the training) it is of worth?
Her language is so full-on, so angry, and the article is self-labelled as a rant, but I can't see what's being threatened that should cause such an outpouring of venom. It seems so contrary to sense. Does she also want to restrict reading to those who are professional readers? It seems on a par, in terms of bonkersness and pomposity. Do we have a saturation point for reading and is Hill concerned that if we fill up on Big Macs (tweets, blogs, amateur stuff) we won't have room for Chateaubriand (Susan Hill)?
Hill comes out of this like a devilish anti-children's laureate, wanting to curtail self-expression, and deny a platform to any who have not trained or worked hard at writing for fifty years (at least), and her flip attitude to disadvantage does her no favours either. For anyone who's worked in the arts as I have for over twenty years (those are MY credentials) and has seen the amazingly positive impact art can have on individuals and communities when they are encouraged to participate and use their imaginations, Hill's opinions are unpalateable nonsense.
Got that off my chest then. Get writing everyone.

11 comments:

Winchester whisperer said...

I haven't read any of her books although I loved seeing The Woman in Black on stage. Are they good?

garfer said...

I had a letter published in 'The Dandy' when I was 9. It was great, and everybody told me so.

I am consequently a great writer. There's me, Martin Amis, and your man with the big nose who turns up on Late Review and The TLS using obscure words which he knows nobody else will know. Will something.

The rest of them are shite.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Susan Hill said
"If someone writes a marvellous short story I don`t care where they come from – the sewer, the street, prison, a palace, a university…if the story is as good as one William Trevor can write, say, or Helen Simpson - or me - then good, let them go up there."
Isn't there a sense in which such a position is the opposite of elitism?

P.S. I love Susan's chunky pink beads. Very sexy.

Scriptor Senex said...

I'd rather read most of my fellow bloggers than Susan Hill. So perhaps she needs to protest after all...

(As for Yorkshire Pudding's comment it should be noted that Susan Hill's views seem to vary according to her audience. Mmmm...)

tpals said...

I'd never even heard of Susan Hill, which probably means I don't really exist.

Bernie Gudgeon said...

Drat, another woman author I’ve never heard of, and will doubtless be expected to read.

mountainear said...

Hadn't realised that writing was such an exclusive club. Words belong to all of us and we can string them along to suit ourselves.

Robynn's Ravings said...

Thank you for defending those of us who have the hubris to believe our words, strung together, might actually say something. I had no idea I should simply muzzle myself due to lack of pedigree. Perhaps I should inform my readers that I have been shamed into retirement. But how will I attempt the feat without the words I am unqualified to publish? I'll try to ponder this silently. I'll fail no doubt.

W.V.? Herinsin. Now THAT's saying something. I think it may be completely correct!

Mopsa said...

OOoerr - I caused a mini storm in a literary tea cup. I used to read Susan Hill, and have a book or two, but I won't be reaching for her again anytime soon - life's too short and too many books are shouting "read me, read me" without spending my time indulging someone who looks done their nose and chokes on vitriol.

Swearing Mother said...

Better out than in, Mopsa!!

Writing doesn't have to be "good" to be readable (as anyone who has ever read my blog will testify), as long as it engages with the reader and gets the point across, that's all I care about.

Obviously, it's a bonus if a writer manages to come up with something great, but unless there are enforcible guidelines issued to say who is a great writer and who isn't, I guess we're just going to have to bumble along and read whatever appeals to us.

Susan Hill would be well advised to think before she speaks, or maybe we might all say that if someone hasn't got a point of view worth listening to, they should shut up.

Minnie said...

Lovely, passionate post - thank you for standing up for those who are too often denied a voice and/or put off by the kind of patronising protectionism you identify here. I, too, was disturbed by SH's monomaniacal diatribe. So I read on, & that's er, what she does - and all she does - on her blog. Could be due to the context: The Speccie's a political mag above all so SH might feel obliged to try & position herself as a polemicist, which is a bad move as polemicists need wit, intellect & a love of argument for its own sake to succeed (eg G Greer, The Hitch).SH's response to nay-sayers is more-or-less 'I'm right; you're wrong'! It's also journalism of the worst kind, as there are no verifiable case-studies/facts/figures/references.
Doubtless the old girl will shut up when she finds herself losing readers ... ;-)