The Wight Fair Writers & Artists Circle

A Place for Isle of Wight Authors, Writers and Artists

Members Musings April 2018


By Jonathan Dodd

Jonathan Dodd

Where’s the camera?

I’m reading a wonderful book at the moment. It’s called ‘Daemon Voices’, and it’s by the miraculous Philip Pullman. I first encountered him when somebody asked me this innocent question – “Have you read ‘Northern Lights’? It’s really good”. Sometimes I can be a little put off by these invitations, especially when they go on and on. I remember once going to visit some friends from work for a meal. After the food, they asked me this – “Do you like Frasier?” I said I’d never seen it, and they became suspiciously delighted. How do you tell people that you don’t want to do something when their hearts are set on it, and you’d rather spend time with them talking, or go home, or chew your leg?

They promised that they’d only put on one or two of their favourite episodes, and I had to sit through three, with them looking up several times, to tell me how good it was, and then ask me whether I was enjoying it or not. Funny how people sometimes tell you how good something is before they ask you if you think it’s good. I made polite noises, and vowed: 1) never to go there again: 2) Never to accept weird invitations from weirdos to watch their favourite TV sitcoms, and: 3) never to watch that awful boring unfunny Frasier ever ever again.

Of course, I was completely influenced by my mood at the time, and Frasier is probably quite good,

However, sometimes a book or programme or film is recommended to me and I understand that it must be good, because they don’t make a song and dance up about it. They present it, in the spirit that your cat might present you with a dead mouse, as an offering of something precious, and I’m incline d to try it on that basis. His Dark Materials, of which Northern Lights is the first of three books, is undoubtedly a huge work of great significance, and one of the best stories ever. It went straight to my top five favourite books, and to the top of my best-written list.

I recently read La Belle Sauvage, the first book of Mr Pullman’s second trilogy about the same world, a sort of prequel to the original, and I’m frustrated that I have to wait years for the next two books. I also recently watched a TV programme about him and his life, and I found him to be a lovely man, who I could have listened to for ever.

Anyway. Back to Daemon Voices, whose title refers to the central conceit of the world of His Dark Materials, which is an alternative universe not totally dissimilar to ours, in which all humans are accompanied by a daemon, in the form of an animal that represents part of themselves. It’s a strange idea, but you get used to it, and it’s charming and magical and wonderful. Children’s daemons change shape all the time, but at adolescence they settle into one form, and that often seems to be in harmony with the type of person they become as adults.

Daemon Voices ids a set of essays and speeches and forewords that Mr Pullman has written over the yeas for various events or volumes of stories or other books, and hey contain his thoughts and ideas about writing and story. I’m absolutely loving it. I particularly like his dry, calm exposition of every sentence. He knows what he wants to say, and how to say it, and that’s exactly what he does. You feel, as a reader, completely in his hands, safe and in good company. There’s much to learn and appreciate. He’s very keen on using proper English, and being clear about who the characters are in each scene, and particularly, where the writer should place himself, as if he’s a camera making a film.

This is known as Point of View, or POV for short, and it’s important because each of us as writers need to be aware not only of what we’re writing, but of what we’re telling or showing our readers and what we’re not revealing. If the murderer is in front of us, that tells us one thing. If the murderer is out of sight, that’s something else entirely. The same event occurs, but the reader is given different information about it. He talks a lot about film directors, who all talk about ‘story’ and ‘plot’, far more than writers do. Because of this, and the need to produce images, they spend a lot of time framing each scene to produce the effect and response they want for the audience. David Mamet, one of the greatest film writers, always thinks about where you would put the camera before finishing every scene or chapter, whether it’s a book or a film.

I rather like this idea, and I’m going to think about it from now on.

And I’m going to ask you this question – “Have you read ‘Northern Lights’? It’s really good”.

posted under Members Musings

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