As I’ve said elsewhere (see, for example, here), I don’t really believe in innate talent, at least when it comes to writing. There’s nothing biologically natural, it seems to me, in written language: it’s all learnt. That’s why there are so few (any?) real prodigies, any Mozarts in literature – as opposed to music and mathematics, where the notion of innate talent is, maybe, a bit more convincing. After all, playing the piano at a certain level takes a physical skill. I’ve been obsessively practising for donkeys’ years, yet there’s a Chopin etude beyond which my too-slow fingers won’t go. With writing, the slowness of fingers is neither here nor there. The physical aspects of writing are of very limited importance (despite the fact that once or twice, when I’ve mentioned to people at parties that I teach ‘Creative Writing,’ they assume it’s a form of calligraphy). This is what makes literature so democratic, or at least potentially so: everyone can learn to write, everyone can learn to write really well, everyone can (I think) write a good novel – well, given donkeys’ years of obsessive-compulsive-to-the-point-of-lunacy-practice. It’s also why one should always be suspicious of words like ‘talent,’ or ‘genius,’ about the idea that you can’t teach or learn ‘Creative Writing,’ when writers or critics moan that there are ‘too many writers around these days’: such complaints are all attempts to close off the democracy of literature, to make writing an exclusive, elitist domain. Of course there aren’t too many writers in the world – too many politicians, maybe, too many capitalists, too many bankers. I’m with Shelley, who wanted a world of poets, of writers.
Three Books That Have Inspired Me:
- Blake Morrison, As If.
The words ‘brave’ and ‘important’ are awfully over-used in the literary world, but how else to describe Blake’s book about the Bolger case and our culture’s treatment of children? ‘To understand is to forgive’ is the ‘brave’ and ‘important’ message here.
- Thomas Mann, Death in Venice.
Some stories are so powerful – without being too Jungian about it, so archetypal – that, retrospectively, they seem like a kind of fable for their culture. Very few ‘fables’ haunt me, and, indeed, my writing like Mann’s – I sometimes find its fossil outline hidden in a story even after I’ve finished writing it.
- Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son.
What can I say? This is what novels should be: not ‘well-crafted’ or ‘polished’ or ‘unified,’ but crazy, grotesque, funny, horrific, poetic, comic, tragic, bathetic, silly, sublime ….
Three Books I Have Enjoyed Reading Recently:
- Louis De Bernières, Red Dog and Notwithstanding.
These are beautifully written stories which are, well, just fun to read. It’s easy for writers of so-called ‘literary fiction’ (and I dislike the term and categorisation) to forget that a writer’s job is, first and foremost, to entertain – and that’s exactly what these stories do.
- Jenn Ashworth, The Friday Gospels.
Which is wonderful for all the reasons and more I gave in my original review of the novel.
- Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia.
Sacks’s work is unfailingly remarkable, shocking, bizarre, and I’ve been deeply affected by it, on a personal as well as a literary level. If fiction writers are (by definition) people who are fascinated by ‘characters,’ this fascination can no longer be just a matter of psychology, but, in the twenty-first century, neurology as well. Writers, that is, need to engage with both the psychological and neurological bases of character.
Jonathan Taylor is a fiction-writer, memoirist, poet, critic, editor and lecturer. Author of the novel Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), the short story collection Kontakte and Other Stories (Roman Books, 2013), and the memoir Take Me Home: Parkinson’s, My Father, Myself (Granta, 2007). He is also editor of the anthology Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt, 2012), winner of the Saboteur Award for Best Fiction Anthology 2013. He is Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, and co-director of arts organization and small publisher, Crystal Clear Creators. Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, he now lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Rosalind and Miranda.
Visit Jonathan online at: www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk