Will Self got me thinking. Again.

I spend a lot of time writing, reading other people’s work with a view to a constructive critique, editing, rewriting and examining the mechanics of the thing. All the time, there’s a question in my head – how can this be better?

Thus when reading for pleasure, my hand is still reaching for the red pen/glowing mouse to delete the ten unnecessary uses of the word ‘that’ on page five.

Books I sped through and loved, when younger, seem hackneyed and clumsy with the jaded eye of the relentless writer. From various conversations with people-who-write, I know I’m not alone in this.

Suspension of disbelief.

I’m reading three different books at the moment – Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto, The Donor by Helen FitzGerald, and Guilt by Association by Marcia Clarke. As much as I’m absorbed by the spare language, the dark wit, and expert detail respectively, half of my mind is taking notes on structure, dialogue, plot or use of adverbs.

I’m thinking back over last year’s reading and wondering which book made me switch off the inner analyst and just roll with the story. Was there one? Possibly A Visit From The Goon Squad.

For me, it comes down to voice. Certain writers drag you so far into a character’s head, you tune everything else out and follow that voice wherever it leads you. Yann Martell, Toni Morrison, Colm Tóibín, Ali Smith, JW Hicks and those two masters of switching stories while sustaining total absorption; David Mitchell and Jennifer Egan.

Will Self, interviewed by Clive James, claims he has the same problem with film. Strange. Film is a medium in which I can completely suspend all judgement and get carried away. Sometimes twice. Analysis comes later, often days later, unless I start ranting as soon as the credits roll.

Clive James and Will Self: it’s an interesting short video but the bit about creators of fiction comes around 2.30.