Give yourself a pat on the back

1 08 2011

I have a theory which I suspect it will be of great interest to budding writers. I’m no mindreader. Nor am I adept in the art of suggestion and mental manipulation, but still, I believe it is possible for authors to write their own reviews through the hands of others.

You heard me right. I believe it is possible to embed within your work subliminal messages which will find their way onto the pages of the broadsheets. All you need to do is place within your work a witty, well-crafted, single sentence, which accurately sums up the entire piece, and which you would happily see at the top of a review.

There’s quite an art to it. It needs to be long enough into the work for the reviewer to have formed at least some basic conclusions, but not so far in that their minds are set already. It needs to be amusing and gripping; a fun, funny, or poignant aphorism that is so memorable that every reviewer will wish they had penned it.

Typically this phenomenon exhibits itself in negative ways; an angry reviewer picks up on a critical or deeply ironic phrase with which to lambast its author. For example, Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, which opened to mixed reviews. Some loved it, many more hated it. They felt it was abstruse, convoluted and monotonous. And many reviewers found in the mouth of Estragon the perfect line with which to begin their scathing reviews:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”

I wonder if Beckett knew that line would be used against him. I suspect not, otherwise he might have said:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s deep!”

Just the other week I went to see a new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. I dislike Chekhov intensely, and am not overly keen on Andrew Upton’s translations either (he has lulled me to sleep in public on two occasions now), so I was amused to spot the standout line which summed it up for me, when Ranyevskaya declares boldly:

“Don’t waste your time watching plays – I bet it wasn’t funny at all”

Correct. And I needn’t give any more of my time to reviewing it…

Next time you go to the theatre, watch a film, or read a book, ask yourself the question “If I had to extract one line which accurately summarises the whole, what would it be?” It will produce some surprising, profound or at least very amusing results.

My theory is this: If it works on a negative level, why should it not work on a positive one? Why should an author not be able to implant a positive statement, a glowing report, a witticism so clever and flattering that it sways the opinions of the reviewer and makes it into print?

I shall put this theory to test and report back to you after the publication of my forthcoming book Five Stars and a Well Deserved Booker Prize.

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Serpents and Strawberries

24 06 2011

I have been a little slack at updating this thing, for which I apologise… but I haven’t been entirely lazy and unproductive. My efforts have been focussed elsewhere. So if, for some inexplicable reason, you miss my musings and would like to read something else I’ve written, you are in luck. Today two of my articles have gone live on other sites, so feel free to check them out:

The Seed, the Serpent and Chekhov’s Rifle (whatyouthinkmatters.org)

Amazon, Google and the Strawberry-Cycle (everythingconference.org)





Good Friday: The Seed, the Serpent and Chekhov’s Rifle

22 04 2011

Russian Playwright Anton Chekov famously wrote:

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

The author of Scripture knew this well, and He never hung rifles He was not planning to fire…

Act I

‘Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD had made…  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
(Genesis 3:1, 13-15)

Act II

‘And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.’
(Numbers 21:5-9)

Act III

‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’
(John 3:14-15)