Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to write

I had forgotten this story but Simon Hoggart in his Television column in this week’s Spectator (3 September issue – will be online next week) reminds us about Raymond Chandler’s technique for writing a novel:
Chandler used to slice A4 sheets of paper into four, horizontally, allowing him to type roughly 25 double-spaced words before changing the sheet. If he hadn’t introduced a new character, a plot development or a brilliant turn of phrase, he’d rip it out and start again.
YouTube has a four-part set of clips of a half-hour interview Ian Fleming did with Chandler in 1958 for the BBC’s Third Programme, on the topic of English and American thrillers. Chandler was 66, Fleming 50. It is possible that both had had a drink or three beforehand. It starts here:

According to Frank McShane, who wrote The Life of Raymond Chandler and was editor of the Selected Letters (both excellent books), this is the only recording in existence of Chandler’s voice. He is as funny as you’d hope – he talked as well as he wrote. Seven months later he was dead.

The weird thing is that Fleming sounds exactly like Peter Cook parodying a certain sort of Englishman.


Chad Taylor said...

Great find.

Re: the short pages – Don DeLillo writes the same way, working the same paragraph / section until he's happy with it. The opposite to Kerouac feeding a roll of printer's paper into the typewriter.

Chris Bell said...

Great. I'm visualising Peter Cook now, not Fleming...

What can I say about Chandler? The Philip Marlowe novels are the most enjoyable books I've read, by which I mean I actively enjoyed the reading, not only what he was able to do with language. Cosy - and I mean that as a compliment.

Wouldn't it have been US letter paper rather than A4 he cut into four, though?

Old Geezer said...

I think you're right - in the 1950s we mostly used foolscap or quarto.

Quarter of a quarto would be hard to wind onto a Remington, so my money's on foolscap.

A4 is a Johnny-come-lately size.

Phil said...

Chandler sounds a bit like a pissed Garrison Keillor