Article placeholder image


OK – short email this week. We have 40 kids in the garden on Sunday for a massive 4x kids birthday party. Highlights are (i) a castle to be assembled from cardboard boxes and (ii) a siege catapult to knock it down.

I was worried that my siege catapult might not have the chops to knock down a castle so I kept on adding power to my construction. It can now fling an apple 70 or 80 yards and at horrendous speed. There are alpacas in the field beyond the drive beyond our garden and we’ve had letters from them (written in pure Alpacaese) asking if we would please stop throwing apples at them.

Oh my, it’s fun, though.

Bowing in praise

I just wanted to kick off with a word of praise for Jackie Morris who absolutely nailed her Feedback Friday thingy last week.

Here’s her pitch:

Victorian collector + mythic creature + freakshow

Here’s her opening para:

The slip-slap of waves on a pebbled beach. A bleached white cuttlefish of a moon in a squid ink sky. Prick of starlight on my mother’s silver-scaled arms as she sniffed the air for prey.

I hope you can see that para does exactly what I’ve been yabbering on about for weeks now. Jackie’s found the essence of her book’s DNA and then that DNA makes its way – obliquely and beautifully – into that first para. I’m impressed by the mother’s silver-scaled arms, but I’m even more taken with that cuttlefish & squid second sentence. By turning the moon into a fish, she alludes to themes of mythical creatures and freakshows with the very lightest of touches. Wonderful. Do likewise.


The thought of the week is on Deepities, a term invented by philosopher, Daniel Dennett. He writes that a ‘deepity’ is:

a proposition that seems both important and true – and profound – but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial. The unwary listener picks up the glimmer of truth from the second reading, and the devastating importance from the first reading, and thinks, Wow! That’s a deepity.

The first example he gives is “love is just a word.” That has two possible meanings:

  1. The word, “love”, is just a word – TRUE, but a very boring, trivial statement.
  2. Love, the thing, is just a word – FALSE, it’s not; it’s a powerful and important emotion

OK: that’s a deepity. But Dennett gives a second example too. He says:

“Richard Dawkins recently alerted me to a fine deepity by Rowan Williams, the then archbishop of Canterbury, who described his faith as ‘a silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark’.”

Now, I’m not quite sure that is a deepity. What’s the true-but-trivial version of that phrase? I’m not sure.

But here’s what struck me. That phrase of Rowan Williams’s is PERFECT for literary fiction. It just sounds great. Suppose Williams had said this, “Faith is waiting for the truth to arrive, knowing that there’s a big question which needs answering.” That’s actually clearer, but much more boring. So dull, in fact, no one would think to quote it. (Indeed, is it even true? That sounds like a better description of how faith might be acquired than it is of faith itself.)

But by making the phrase more obscure, more metaphorical, more ambiguous, Williams makes it less explanatory … and miles better for literary fiction.

I think that kind of unclarity is where literary fiction gets a lot of its juice from. Readers think, “Gosh, I didn’t quite understand that, but it sounds really great, so the author must be really deep.” It’s as though the reader reads, in order to get some of the reflected lustre for him/herself.

My take?

Well, I mostly don’t write deepities. I tend to drive towards clarity in the way I write. 99% of the time that is, for sure, a better way to write.

But if you find a deepity in your work – well, heck, you should probably keep it. Readers love em. Agents love em. Editors love em. Even if the actual thing you’re saying collapses to nonsense if you analyse it closely, most people won’t analyse it closely. And if you’re writing literary fiction, then plenty of deepities is pretty much essential for the genre.

If all that puzzles you, I’ll just leave you sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark. Just mind it doesn’t hit you on the head when you stand up.

Feedback Friday

Assignment for this week:

Simple one this time. We’ve been on book DNA in recent weeks. Can we do the same for Main Characters, please? I don’t need you to write out a dirty pitch for your character. What I want instead is three things:

Name of character

Character intro: a line or so of introduction, so we know who we’re dealing with.

Description: An excerpt from your manuscript in which we get some kind of description of your character’s physical appearance. If you describe your character in one unitary paragraph, then let’s have that paragraph in full, please. If your character descriptions are more broken up and scattered, then let’s have several extracts enabling us to put this together.

That’s it. As always, I will look after Premium Members first and foremost, but everyone’s invited.

Not a Townhouse member? It’s free and easy to join. Info here.

Want to become a Premium Member? Join here and get 15% off a year’s Premium Membership with one of our discount codes:

  • Purchasing a whole year upfront? Use FRIDAY15
  • Purchasing for a whole year but paying monthly? Use: FRIDAY15x12

That’s it from me. Jobs for today: go and make peace with the alpacas. Either that, or build a really high garden wall.

Til soon.


Related Articles