Spot the Writer!


Invisible writers make for engaged readers

 Caroline Ambrose, the Bath Novel Award founder, when asked to define what qualities often united the shortlisted entries, cited, among others, ‘The books where the writer hides themselves and their self-consciousness away leaving the characters to lift off the page and pull you inside their world.’ This chimed with a tweet I read this week, which also suggested invisible writers make for better novels.

It’s strange how things have changed. Back in the nineteenth century, Charlotte Bronte could famously write, ‘Reader I married him’ in Jane Eyre, or William Thackeray could refer to characters as puppets and the author as the puppet master. Caroline Ambrose points out that the omniscient narrator is not currently in fashion: writers want believable characters with whom they can identify.

It’s no accident that Ambrose also states: ‘The imbalance of narrative viewpoints on our combined shortlists is striking, with twice as many first person as third person narratives.’ In first person narrators, the author and the protagonist appear to be as one. If a writer constructs a convincing voice for his character, then he can indeed disappear.

Kazuo Ishiguro is a master at this: in The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro is the pompous, blinkered butler Stevens, yet by Never Let Me Go he’s become the friendly but naïve young carer Kathy. Ishiguro’s use of register, structure and style is so convincing that he is invisible.

Sometimes it’s tempting to ‘show off’ in our writing – to use complicated words and fancy imagery. But often that’s intrusive. If we become the characters whose stories we tell, we fade into the background. And that’s the best place for a writer.