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writing

Margery Allingham, according to the notes in old green Penguins, was the eldest child in a family "who regarded writing as the only reasonable way of passing the time, let alone earning a living." What's my excuse?
W/009

It's probably true to say that I have been reading as long as I can remember – fragile things were carefully stored too high for enquiring fingers to reach, but books started at floor-level and were arranged by size rather than suitability. We didn't have a television, so I grew up with radio and all the varieties of speech the (then) three stations offered. It seemed only natural to try my hand at marshalling words myself.

In the intervening decades, I have made writing my career; an indirect, oblique sort of writing, though, where I am concerned to put someone else's ideas across or help transmit other people's knowledge. Off the leash and away from work, I have written two or three embarrassingly incompetent, very short stories, a handful of reasonable poems, more letters, notes, postcards and e-mails than you can possibly imagine: and these pages. Longer than epigrams, shorter than chapters: I think I've found my distance.

Some people have said generous, encouraging or even admiring things about the way I write. Apart from surprising and pleasing me, this has led me to reflect on how I do what I do. There is only one deliberate, conscious technique involved: listening. Imagine hearing each sentence, imagine trying to say it out loud. If it's clumsy, do something about it. As the grandmother says in that delightful film Strictly Ballroom, "Listen to the rhythm." Use the same word repeatedly, or practise what Fowler calls 'elegant variation'; throw in a baroque profusion of adjectives or choose for unadorned severity; keep sentences short or permit yourself an organic abundance of clauses. Horses for courses, and you're placing the bet.

That's it.