The Common Touch

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Paul Whybrow

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I've been wondering about what makes a story a page-turner, about how readers become devotees of a particular author.

We've previously touched on this aspect of success in several threads, including this one. What prompted me to mull over readability this time, was a sticker on the cover of a crime paperback I borrowed from the library last week. Life Or Death by Michael Robotham has a sticker proclaiming LOVE IT OR YOUR MONEY BACK with a qualifier in small print around the edge advising To find out more and for T & Cs go to www.thecrimevault.com/exclusives/lifeordeath/

As a story, it's capably written, with a couple of mysterious hooks that drag the reader in to make them want to know more. I wondered how many readers claimed their money back, for the guarantee had a four-month time limit from the date of publication in 2015.

Robotham started as a journalist, before becoming a successful ghostwriter of celebrities' biographies. He shares traits in his writing style with other journalists whose crime novels I've read, mainly that he's masterful at concision, of getting the action onto the page without flowery excess, but it lacks the warmth of involvement in his characters' fates. It reads more like a film treatment—detailed notes for a script—rather than a story told by a writer with the common touch. Instead of sitting alongside me describing what happens, Robotham's voice sounds like the narrator of a True Crime documentary.

From the Cambridge Dictionary:

The Common Touch: the ability of an important or rich person to communicate well with and understand ordinary people.

When it comes to choosing a book to read, the author is an important person, if not rich! :rolleyes: Having the ability to communicate in a compelling way decides whether readers will like your story enough to read on. If you've touched them, they talk about your book and word of mouth promotion sells it in bestselling amounts.

They may forget what you said—but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Carl W. Buehner

As Alan Bennett said:

'The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.'

Such communicating with a reader is partly down to chance for a writer, but some authors have an amiability that is very attractive; I think, it's one of the reasons for J. K. Rowling's success.

We talk about influences on our writing, and for me, the main way that my style has been swayed is emulating the common touch of favourite authors such as Walter Mosley, Elmore Leonard, J. B. Priestley, Dennis Lehane, John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham and Guy De Maupassant. There's something about these authors where I feel like they're on the same level as me...not talking down to me.

Being a companion to our readers is a strange thing for us to think about, but it's the stance I consider when writing my Cornish Detective novels. I find it helps to imagine just one reader as I write, rather than attempting to appeal to the masses. Kurt Vonnegut put it well:

'Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.'

Joni Mitchell, in her song A Case Of You said:

"Love is touching souls"
Surely you touched mine 'cause
Part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time


Perhaps having the common touch means that an author touches souls.

Which authors move you?

How have they got the common touch?

3622.jpg
 
I've been wondering about what makes a story a page-turner, about how readers become devotees of a particular author.

We've previously touched on this aspect of success in several threads, including this one. What prompted me to mull over readability this time, was a sticker on the cover of a crime paperback I borrowed from the library last week. Life Or Death by Michael Robotham has a sticker proclaiming LOVE IT OR YOUR MONEY BACK with a qualifier in small print around the edge advising To find out more and for T & Cs go to www.thecrimevault.com/exclusives/lifeordeath/

As a story, it's capably written, with a couple of mysterious hooks that drag the reader in to make them want to know more. I wondered how many readers claimed their money back, for the guarantee had a four-month time limit from the date of publication in 2015.

Robotham started as a journalist, before becoming a successful ghostwriter of celebrities' biographies. He shares traits in his writing style with other journalists whose crime novels I've read, mainly that he's masterful at concision, of getting the action onto the page without flowery excess, but it lacks the warmth of involvement in his characters' fates. It reads more like a film treatment—detailed notes for a script—rather than a story told by a writer with the common touch. Instead of sitting alongside me describing what happens, Robotham's voice sounds like the narrator of a True Crime documentary.

From the Cambridge Dictionary:

The Common Touch: the ability of an important or rich person to communicate well with and understand ordinary people.

When it comes to choosing a book to read, the author is an important person, if not rich! :rolleyes: Having the ability to communicate in a compelling way decides whether readers will like your story enough to read on. If you've touched them, they talk about your book and word of mouth promotion sells it in bestselling amounts.

They may forget what you said—but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Carl W. Buehner

As Alan Bennett said:

'The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.'

Such communicating with a reader is partly down to chance for a writer, but some authors have an amiability that is very attractive; I think, it's one of the reasons for J. K. Rowling's success.

We talk about influences on our writing, and for me, the main way that my style has been swayed is emulating the common touch of favourite authors such as Walter Mosley, Elmore Leonard, J. B. Priestley, Dennis Lehane, John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham and Guy De Maupassant. There's something about these authors where I feel like they're on the same level as me...not talking down to me.

Being a companion to our readers is a strange thing for us to think about, but it's the stance I consider when writing my Cornish Detective novels. I find it helps to imagine just one reader as I write, rather than attempting to appeal to the masses. Kurt Vonnegut put it well:

'Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.'

Joni Mitchell, in her song A Case Of You said:

"Love is touching souls"
Surely you touched mine 'cause
Part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time


Perhaps having the common touch means that an author touches souls.

Which authors move you?

How have they got the common touch?

3622.jpg
Most inspiring- Your wealth of wisdom seems limitless... agreed, the common touch is powerful, but you need to take your gloves off first.
 
Winifred Foley did it in her book 'Child In The Forest.' It doesn't matter how many times I have read it. I will laugh every time, and cry every time.
Her grandfather, the dour, silent 'Grancher' upon the death of her father, a miner in the Forest of Dean, 'I shan't go (to the funeral) I can't stand to see that good boy go into the ground.'

Romain Gary took his gloves off like few others I can think off in 'Promise At Dawn'. That was a man of many names and faces, and he stands accused of many lies and hoaxes, but he wrote from the heart. You only have to read Promise At Dawn and you know you are in some kind of sacred territory, lies or no lies.

But the wretched fantasist said his mother's name was Nina when it was Mina. Gleeful shock. Horror.

And all the rest of it. Deserved? Maybe. Schadenfreude? It has that whiff.

However. Never, never so long as I do not lose my marbles, will I forget the wit, humour, compassion, rage and sorrow of that book, genre indefinable, or the account of 'the friendly mouse of Vilna', a gentle old neighbour of his childhood who was, so Gary said, later turned into soap by the Nazis.

Lies or truth? Inchworms measuring marigolds. They are legion and I hate them. What are their motives,actually? Establishing the vital statistics of the marigold of course, but we all know that's not the truth.

This, in my opinion, is a redeeming excerpt from this lengthy article Romain Gary: The greatest literary conman ever?

“I do not often indulge in lying, because, for me, a lie has a sickly flavour of impotence: it leaves me too far away from the mark.” Well, he would say that, yet his myriad falsehoods tend to express emotional truths of such undeniable clarity that fact checking feels grubby. And maybe this accounts for the renewed interest in his life and work. Yes, he was a sensualist whose attitudes sometimes scream political incorrectness, and no, his prose hasn’t aged all that gracefully. As Adam Gopnik put it in The New Yorker, “No good writer ever wrote less well.” But at the same time, he was possessed of a tolerant, humane, grown-up moral vision, and this is what drives his best work – fiction, non-fiction and everything in between. It also makes him the perfect antidote to our polarised, hysterical times, to safe spaces and trigger warnings and no-platform policies.
 
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