Thursday, 18 October 2012

In Defence Of Quiet Writing

Landscape of the Four Seasons, Muromachi period, early 16th century

Is there anybody out there who does not need bloodshed in the first paragraph, a body in the second, and a threat to national security if not an outright national disaster before the end of chapter one? There is an argument that new media has shortened our attention span, that we need to be excited constantly, and hence the success of Facebook and Twitter. Even old-fashioned email delivers up new developments in our personal and professional lives twenty-four hours a day, should we wish to check it.

Is this not all the more reason why we should also carve out a reflective space for ourselves, slow ourselves down? Is it not a case for understated prose which explores subtleties of character, which insists on being read slowly and reflected upon, which does not pander to the impatience that fractured modern living engenders (the kind I like to read)? Yet, agents and publishers, albeit with regret, tend to pass on novels they deem 'too quiet' for the market.

Genres that are loud and fast are an easier sell. After all, our lifestyle has us already primed to want them. They lend themselves to the soundbite, the text, the tweet. And they deliver. Car-chases, corpses, and multiple-copulations sell by the truckload. But what about William Trevor, Alice Munro, Anne Tyler? Is the publishing industry telling us that writers like these, in whose books the copulations and corpses do not insist on declaring themselves on the first page, are dinosaurs, past their sell-by date? And that once they are extinct, they will not be replaced?

Is the drama of being human simply not profitable enough any more?


  1. yes agree, we've become insatiable consumers of the throwaway soundbite. perfect image for this post. thought provoking. (love all three of the writers you mentioned)

  2. Thanks Niamh. We have, and while we can't argue with 'the market', we can make the occasional (quiet) plea for balance.