Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Craft of Clarkson

For Malcolm, Hell, if it does exist, must involve Jeremy Clarkson in some form. Far worse than endless fire and brimstone: a continuous loop of Clarkson videos blasted away for all eternity... Now that is a more terrifying incentive to climb Jacob's ladder than any Jesuit or Alpha Course.

Except, he has a style, a way of writing, a sense of drama. Take the current issue of The Sunday Times (and, indeed, as much of it as possible, as fast as possible, and never bring it back.) Clarkson is reviewing the Rolls-Royce Phantom drophead:
The Phantom is a first cousin only to the God of silence, and manners, and breeding. It is an exquisite car and I would have one tomorrow if it weren’t so bloody expensive. That and the fact my wife has said she would divorce me. And then kill me with a knife.

And now comes the convertible and, oh deary me. When I came home to find it sitting in my drive, all huge and brilliant, I’m afraid I started to dribble....

And then my wife came home. “Jesus H Christ,” she said. “What is that monstrosity doing here?” An argument ensued. She said it was vulgar. I said she was from the Isle of Man so she’d know. Some doors slammed. And I went for a drive.
Now that simply works as a piece of writing. It's got the lot: balance and contrast; light and shade; 5W+H (Who? What? Why? When? Where? How?). It seems to tick a fair number of the seven levels of meaning, too: the literal, the metaphorical, the allegorical, the ... [Oh for crying out loud, Malcolm, give it a break!] And it's got a main and a sub-plot, for goodness sake.

Malcolm drools over writing like that. And he loathes cars of all kinds, but the bigger, shinier , and more opulent then the more gross, offensive and and tasteless.

A short while back, he was making a similar point that some of the best journalism is hidden away in the supplements and between the display advertising. Here the writers are often younger, hungrier, more innovative, less pressed to file several thousand words by bed-time. And so there is a higher quality quota.

It's not a matter of talent, or at least of talent alone. It is what distinguishes craftsmanship from getting-the-job-done. It's the recognition that the last ten-per-cent of the work takes ninety-per-cent of the time. Sphere: Related Content

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