Wednesday 21 November 2001

Today at the Vicarage The

Today at the Vicarage : The Betsy.

A toe back in the world of the diary. I had intended to write about the current terrifying absence of music in my life, which might explain my absence from these pages – but that will have to wait.

Today belongs to James Frey and his provocatively entitled little book "How to write a damn good novel", which arrived in my mail box courtesy of, ably assisted by the Royal Mail. Samantha Tiffany has recommended this fine work, as she clearly hopes that Punk will benefit from Mr Frey's obvious expertise.

The following thoughts should probably contain a "rant warning" or RW (with apologies to Robbie). For, while I, too, agree that Punk has much to learn, I am wary about allowing Frey's thinking to scramble Punk's visionary writing. Frey's entire book, while very readable and easily guzzled within a couple of hours, hangs on a central premise - that every dramatic novel is founded upon the principle of "transformation of character through conflict leading to conclusion". In essence, we read books because we identify with the leading characters and are interested in the way that they are changed by the central conflict.

Seems sensible. But NO, I say. That is not the only reason we read novels. We read Moby Dick because it offers a fascinating insight into whaling, we read Madame Bovary because it offers a particular perspective on a slice of French society. And what of ideas. I enjoyed Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry, but because of the power of his intellect and sheer filth of the writer, not for the characters, many of whom are so similar as to be virtually identical. What of Sartre and Camus. Is it not possible that we might read Punk's writings because we are interested in the music industry?

There is clearly huge snobbery in the literary world. Twice Frey offers a "poor piece of dialogue", and describes it as "totally boring, the sort of thing you would find in a TV sitcom or detective series" (I misquote, but you get the gist). In a novel, he advises, dialogue must be heightened so that it is "in conflict, indirect, clever and colorful".

Why? , I wonder – particularly if TV sitcoms , such as Friends, for example, do not feel the same need. Friends is more popular, has more followers, and, most importantly is "re watched" more often than people re read a novel. John Stuart Mills would therefore argue that its dialogue is "better".

There was once a music industry that believed that albums had to be expensive, beautifully made, expertly played, beautifully sung, preferably with great depth of meaning……and then along came punk rock. Thank God.