How to Write Fiction

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In any other year I would have been rooting for Andy Miller, an esteemed former colleague of mine, to get the Booker prize for "Snowdrops"--but since that was not to be, it was good to see the great Julian Barnes win, finally.

It's beyond ridiculous that the judges denied him so long. They cheated him in 1984 ("Flaubert's Parrot"), 1998 ("England, England"), and 2005 ("Arthur and George"), short-listing his books each time but giving the prize to conspicuously inferior efforts. In 1984 the winner was Anita Brookner. (You perhaps hadn't realized that "Hotel du Lac" is better than "Flaubert's Parrot". That year's short-list, by the way, also included J.G. Ballard's "Empire of the Sun" and David Lodge's "Small World"; so obviously the prize went to Anita Brookner). In 1998 it was the much over-rated Ian McEwan (for "Amsterdam", which even disappointed his fans). And in 2005 it was the barely readable John Banville ("The Sea"). My favorite Barnes novels--"Talking It Over" and its sequel "Love, Etc"--weren't short-listed. Quite a record, and it makes me worry that Barnes's winning novel, "The Sense of an Ending", which I haven't yet got around to, might be a rare dud. We'll see.

Speaking of novels, I'm a fan of Geoff Dyer, ("Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi") as you may recall. I recommend this short article of his on how to write fiction.

The satisfactions of writing are indistinguishable from its challenges and difficulties. It is constantly testing all your faculties and skills (of expression, concentration, memory, imagination and empathy) on the smallest scale (sentences, words, commas) and the largest (the overall design, structure and purpose of the book) simultaneously. It brings you absolutely and always up against your limitations. That's why people keep at it - and why it's far easier to give advice about writing than it is to do it.

(Thanks, Clif.)

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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