It's easy for writers to get carried away with what they themselves are capable of. I know I'm no Neil Gaiman, but I think I'm okay at what I do. Then there are those times when you're reminded just how far you need to go before you're anywhere near as proficient as you'd like to be. I'm having one of those moments tonight. Something myself and my girlfriend are very fond of is the series of TV monologues Alan Bennett is so well loved for, namely Talking Heads. The DVD box set we have contains both series and a third disc of Bennett's Telling Tales monologues.
Both in the fictional Talking Heads episodes and the true stories from his life in Telling Tales, the rhythms and elegance of his writing and delivery astound us every time. A particular favourite is the famous A Chip in the Sugar, which Bennett performs himself as the character of Graham. His ability to perfectly capture the way people of different generations speak to one another, coupled with the acknowledgement of both the dark and light sides of normal life, well, they humble us.
My girl and I are both writers for national publications, and we are both working on novels and other projects that are testing us and helping us progress in what we do, and to watch and listen to the work of Alan Bennett brings us back down to earth and reminds us we need to work hard to be better, so that we may develop far enough to one day have even the smallest amount of his grasp on characters and dialogue.
The first thing of his which I read was his book Untold Stories. I must confess I have only been awoken to his work in recent years, and that book of stories from throughout his busy and eventful (yet very normal) life was one of the most gripping pieces of writing I have ever read. Even now I dip into it and soak up the language, the worlds he conjours that are brought back to vivid life, and I marvel at them.
Everyday stories of everyday events, stories of him struggling with various issues throughout his life, all of them are played out in beautiful, lyrical detail upon the page. It makes me want to work harder at what I do, and be better than I am. It also makes me want to be more open about myself and the things I believe and deal with, and maybe one day I'll be able to put some of the things I've lived through into terms which are that beautifully arranged. Maybe. Until then I'll watch, listen and read those words and bask in days that were never mine, but feel so real.