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The Critique Crypt => General writing chat => Topic started by: Ed on January 21, 2010, 02:07:40 PM



Title: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Ed on January 21, 2010, 02:07:40 PM
Susan Hill says amateur writers aren't as good as professional writers and ne'er the twain shall meet - http://www.spectator.co.uk/susanhill/5714598/no-amateurs-are-not-just-as-good-as.thtml - agree, or disagree?


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Woody on January 21, 2010, 04:55:30 PM
I will read the article, but unless she's stating that professional writers are a happenstance of birth then where do they come from? Even in Stephen King's book "On Writing" I recall him describing how he started and that certainly wasn't as an immediate professional.  :scratch:


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: delboy on January 21, 2010, 05:06:37 PM
I'm guessing this was a bit of troll on her behalf because it's clearly designed just to wind people up. Surely every professional was at one time an amateur. And those amateurs who eventually sell something (and thereby become professional) do they, at that point, automatically become one of Susan's elite?





Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Woody on January 21, 2010, 05:25:14 PM
Bloody hell, what a poorly constructed argument, if you could call it that. What's got her goat?  :scratch:

If I understand what she had posited she's ticked off because some one has suggested to her that anything she writes and submits will be displayed without her name attached. Surely it's the story that will enrapture and not the name.

Does she have BNP membership? I mean how many times does she equate asylum seekers to the lowest of the low?

And if she's soooo good with her 43 books why does she still have to be a columnist?

And how does
Quote
Names, you see, are invidious (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/invidious).
Relate to the sentence
Quote
They might indicate to people that the story was worth reading.
It's a bit arse about face for my understanding.

I do not know any writer that does not work towards becoming better through whatever means available to them. Is she really saying that if you do not have a degree in English then you are automatically shite?

50 years as a published writer - 50 years too long if you ask me.

Susan Hill, please retire now and do everyone a favour.  :cheers:


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: delph_ambi on January 21, 2010, 05:26:16 PM
I agreed profoundly with every word she said. About time someone stood up for standards. Her analogies with art and music are spot on.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Woody on January 21, 2010, 05:36:49 PM
I agreed profoundly with every word she said. About time someone stood up for standards. Her analogies with art and music are spot on.
I.e. You can't be an asylum seeker if you want to be a writer, you must have a degree in English (from the period she did her degree) and you have to be a professional from the off. REALLY!!  :pissed:

Lucky you, Delph, having the first piece you ever wrote published just like that - no rejections; just pushed out your mother's womb a professional writer. Come on.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: delph_ambi on January 21, 2010, 05:43:36 PM
That's not what she's saying at all, Woody. She is absolutely, categorically correct in everything she says IN MY OPINION. Not in yours, clearly...  :grin:


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: PaulH on January 21, 2010, 05:52:12 PM
I thought it was quite reasonable for a rant. Consider this - we have all worked hard to get to the level of writing we're at, no matter what that is. What this person seems to be saying is, would it be right for all of us to get into an anthology on merit, when other people get into it because of who they are rather than the quality of their writing? I'd be pretty pissed off if I thought the antho quality was dragged down because of some outside criteria that had nothing to do with quality of writing.

The point about having a name attached is that people tend to skip over names they don't know and look at the ones they do. If I'm in Waterstone's I'll always spot the books by authors I know and like, but my eye tends to wander over those that are unfamiliar to me. Is that the point the columnist is trying to make?

Also the columnist is saying that when she started, having a degree in English and working your way through newspapers and magazines was the accepted route into becoming a published author. She does say she doesn't care where you come from though, as long as the writing is quality. Couldn't agree more.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: JonP on January 21, 2010, 06:02:47 PM
Um ... I read this yesterday and it annoyed me for a number of reasons.

1) Define "professional". I think we had a thread a while back about how many people there are in the UK (or worldwide, even) who can support themselves solely by writing, and the answer was (I believe) in three figures. Most of these would presumably be non-literary writers such as Dan Brown, which would make for an interesting elite. For a time back in the late 90s, I made a fair percentage of my income from writing software books. Was I a professional then? I knew bugger all about writing, that's for sure.

2) "Asylum seekers" Puh-leeze. Even the Daily Mail don't use that shorthand any more.

3) She seems to be making an assumption that the remaining stories would not be chosen on merit in any way. I would imagine that the organisers of the event would be wanting to show the best work that they had available ( even if they were from the marginalised etc.), and the fact that it was to be displayed alongside a writer of Hill's quality and reputation would presumably ensure a high quality of entry. That is of course my assumption rather than hers, but nowhere in the article does it say either way.

Yes, standards do need to be upheld, but I think this was the wrong context for the argument.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Woody on January 21, 2010, 06:08:11 PM
Quote
I also have a good degree in English from the days when you had to read difficult writers to get one

Quote
there would also be stories by any old body who thinks they should be up there, nay probably has a human right to be up there,  and who has written a short short story - with special emphasis on those who have written them and who are marginalised, displaced, disadvantaged, bottom of the heap, discriminated against, asylum seekers.

Quote
But only if, not just because they have put one word in front of another, or because they’re asylum seekers

Quote
Every one of those others has just as much right to have their stories up there as I do, because, you see, they have written them – oh yes, and they’re disadvantaged. Maginalised [what no spellchecker; she's obviously too professional to use one!!]. Whatever.

How many quotes do you need? She's not written about standards she's written about the validity of the written word according to her because she surely believes she is the centre of the literary universe.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: PaulH on January 21, 2010, 06:14:36 PM
I think we're looking at the same article and reading our own interpretations into it. Can't see much point in arguing on and on when minds have been made up, especially not when I like being part of this site, so I'm not going to carry on.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: desertwomble on January 21, 2010, 06:18:29 PM
Quite frankly, what caught my eye more than anything else was the gratuitous mention (twice) of assylum seekers and the put downs of anyone outside of Susan Hill's traditional English society - the 'marginalised' as she sneeringly refers to them.

Nothing much else to add one way or the other.

DW :cheesy:


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Woody on January 21, 2010, 06:31:04 PM
The article as translated by Rose Tinted Glasses
232 words

One way or another I have been a published writer for 50 years. I also have a good degree in English. I studied and learned my craft because that’s how it works.

If someone writes a marvellous short story I don`t care where they come from – the sewer, the street, prison, a palace, a university…if the story is as good as one William Trevor can write, say, or Helen Simpson - or me - then good, let them go up there.
 
I said no to writing one by the way and not only because short stories, or even short short stories, don`t come to order. It has nothing whatsoever to do with money by the way, even if the labourer is worthy of her hire. Ask me to try and write a short story good enough to be put into an anthology alongside those of William Trevor and Helen Simpson and Alice Munro and…well, name your great contemporary story-writers - and I will try my best and hope my best will be good enough and if you don`t offer me a penny, fine, honour in the company I would be keeping is enough.

The highest standards really matter and I will defend them while I have breath. In my profession, as in music or painting or the top ranks of any sport, they are all that matters. If they don`t, we’re stuffed.


This is something I can agree with.



Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Geoff_N on January 21, 2010, 06:53:09 PM
Damn, I'd written a long reply here and I lost it. I'm sure that wouldn't have happened to a professional writer.

The gist of my response was that Susan Hill ruins her case to an extent by refusing to participate in a Fringe Festival flash wall. She could have demonstrated how brilliant her 50-year-training is. On the other hand I recall my first day in teaching. A wise old guy pointed at elderly teachers in a corner and whispered: sometimes 40 years in a career just means one year multiplied 40 times.

Hill is correct to say that most successful authors have degrees in English or similar, or have worked in journalism or publishing. However, this doesn't mean they are better writers - especially with regard to enjoyable reading - but they have the necessary network contacts to succeed in the business.

Geoff


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Pharosian on January 21, 2010, 10:48:06 PM
Bloody hell, what a poorly constructed argument, if you could call it that. What's got her goat?  :scratch:

If I understand what she had posited she's ticked off because some one has suggested to her that anything she writes and submits will be displayed without her name attached. Surely it's the story that will enrapture and not the name.

Does she have BNP membership? I mean how many times does she equate asylum seekers to the lowest of the low?

And if she's soooo good with her 43 books why does she still have to be a columnist?

And how does
Quote
Names, you see, are invidious (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/invidious).
Relate to the sentence
Quote
They might indicate to people that the story was worth reading.
It's a bit arse about face for my understanding.

I do not know any writer that does not work towards becoming better through whatever means available to them. Is she really saying that if you do not have a degree in English then you are automatically shite?

50 years as a published writer - 50 years too long if you ask me.

Susan Hill, please retire now and do everyone a favour.  :cheers:


Oh, where to start?

I think it's worth noting that she didn't use the word "professional" anywhere in her rant. Ed used that word. She only used the word "amateur," which has two meanings. One is the person who engages in a pursuit or activity (such as writing) on an unpaid basis. The second is a person considered inept at a particular activity.

I don't know if she has BNP membership, and only being a stoopid Amurricun, I don't even know what that is, other than something to do with politics. I have a suspicion, however, that the reason she mentioned asylum seekers is twofold: one is that they don't tend to be native English-speakers. Some of them may barely speak English at all, and even if they do, their English composition skills may be lacking somewhat. The second reason is that if you read carefully, it seems that she was told that if she participated, her work would hang alongside that of some other well-known authors, as well as that of some people who were disadvantaged, marginalised, school children, and asylum seekers. It seems the organizers of the Fringe Fest wanted a real mix.

Regarding your next question, I have no information regarding how well or poorly her 43 books are selling (though it appears that 15 are currently offered for sale on her website), and I don't know whether she "has to" be a columnist or not. I assume she does it because she enjoys it, not because it pays the bills.

Moving on to the next item you were unable to puzzle out: the relationship between the two sentences is quite logical. First, you have to realize that she was being sarcastic, and the statement "Names, you see, are invidious" is an opinion she is attributing to the people who wanted to post all the stories anonymously. Susan Hill is saying that THEY think a famous person's name might make someone more likely to read one story over another, and therefore it is BAD to have names on stories. Because the whole point of these modern "democratisers" is to make everyone equal, one way or another. She's making a stand for standards, and saying no, everyone does not have equal ability.

And no, she didn't say anyone without an English degree is shite... Holy crap, do you have thin skin. All she said is that she got an English degree back in the days when it was required to read a lot of difficult writers to get one. I assume that means that these days one is able to get an English degree with a lot less effort and/or by reading authors whose work is far less challenging.

As far as I can tell, she wasn't sneering at those who are disadvantaged or marginalized or seeking asylum--OTHER THAN to the extent that people from those populations tend not to be fine writers for obvious reasons: They may have fine minds, but if they've been too busy just trying to stay alive to have spent any time getting an education, it's hard to see how they're going to have a collection of award-winning short stories in their suitcase.

I stand with delph_ambi and Susan Hill on this: There are standards of quality, and the highest standards really matter.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: elay2433 on January 22, 2010, 12:22:55 AM
Quote
And no, she didn't say anyone without an English degree is shite... Holy crap, do you have thin skin. All she said is that she got an English degree back in the days when it was required to read a lot of difficult writers to get one. I assume that means that these days one is able to get an English degree with a lot less effort and/or by reading authors whose work is far less challenging.

I read the rant, but I didn't really understand what she was complaining about. It seemed that whatever offended her to the point of posting her rant was omitted. I've seen how everyone's interpreted things, but who are these asylum seekers? And who fucking cares. Really?  :grin:

The quote above, where she talks about earning her degree and 'difficult' writers, sounds condescending, whatever the context. Like: 'I had to do it the hard way and now they just pass the fucking things out', kind of. Or a bit like Grampa's lament about how kids today have it so much easier with school buses and such, where, when he was growing up he had to walk five miles through the snow to get to school, and then five miles back. Uphill. Both ways.

Now that I've written this, I'm asking myself why the hell I bothered. I'm a bit buzzed though. So that's my excuse.  :smiley: (where's the tipsy emoticon when you need one?)


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Ed on January 22, 2010, 02:49:44 AM
I'll say the same as I did elsewhere. I kind of agree with what she says, in that 'affirmative action' in all its guises is at best misguided and at worst discriminatory, and at the same time arbitrary in nature. In another way, I disagree, because the appreciation of the written word is so very subjective. What she classes as a top notch story would likely bore the pants off me, whereas a story I love would likely be her idea of hell on paper.

You've only got to compare the best sellers list against the works of exemplary literary merit list to see that one is not synonymous with the other. And there again, I agree there are basic standards that really should not be ignored. I think this is the brunt of her argument - she sees a widespread lowering of standards, and identifies the bleeding heart liberals (the same ones that choke us with health and safety legislation) as the people who are responsible for it.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: delboy on January 22, 2010, 03:32:44 AM
Quote
I think it's worth noting that she didn't use the word "professional" anywhere in her rant. Ed used that word. She only used the word "amateur," which has two meanings. One is the person who engages in a pursuit or activity (such as writing) on an unpaid basis. The second is a person considered inept at a particular activity.

It's a good point, but I read the piece in the context that although she didn't mention the word 'professional' she clearly alluded to it in her title "No, amateurs are not 'Just as good as...'"

Now, I might never have been on Have I Got News For You and participated in the missing word round, but I'm betting that the missing word here is 'professionals'. I might be wrong. Maybe I should have spent more time considering the title. But I don't think the word is "Llamas" or "Gas-Fitters". I reckon it's "Professionals."

That's why I think there was a bit of a "design" behind the article, a troll, if you like, to generate discussions just like this one and get her name about.

Takings Pharo's two definitions of amateur, we see that Susan Hill's article has to be about people who go about something on an unpaid basis. To consider the article being about the second meaning of amateurs - ineptitude - would mean the author has written an entire piece to prove the premis "Inept writers aren't as good as, uh, good ones." Hmmm.

So it's about money. It's about for the love or writers not being as good as for the money writers. Or so the title would us believe. And I think that's a whole different ballgame to what she actually wrote about (which is why I think it's a troll). I don't think anyone here would argue that standards aren't important. God knows we all wasted enough hours on poor books, rubbish TV shows, awful movies, pop music, etc etc. Standards need to be maintained. No argument for me on that. But hand on heart, I've read stuff from you guys that is far better than stuff I've picked up from the best seller shelves. It might not happen often but it happens, and I'll argue until my dying breath that you amateurs have every right to strive long and hard to become a professional, and should have access to the markets, mediums, and public to help make this happen.

Derek



Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Rev. Austin on January 22, 2010, 07:10:35 AM
I agree with her, in that if you have a talent, you have talent; no amount of reading the right books or joining the right team or whatever will make you as good as a genuinely talented person (whatever the profession).  For instance, I have friends who studied English at uni and/or gained a Masters Degree, and though they know all the rules etc their actual writing is rather generic and clichéd (which, come to think of it, might also apply to Ms Hill ;) but I can't say as I have never heard of her before or read anything by her, or those authors she keeps namechecking).

However.  This is also depressingly true:

"The internet is actually as great a leveller as the publisher or the newspaper editor, because you can write what you like and post it up there but just as you cannot get a column in a newspaper just when you fancy one, so you cannot get a single reader if no reader chooses you"

It's her tone I don't like.  Sure, it's a rant, but she sounds awfully snooty  :grin:

And what's 'troll' mean?  Is it something designed to garner opinion/debate?  If so, I can see why her piece could be viewed as such a thing.  Zero half measures indeed! :D


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: delboy on January 22, 2010, 07:31:00 AM
Quote
And what's 'troll' mean?  Is it something designed to garner opinion/debate?  If so, I can see why her piece could be viewed as such a thing.

Yes, more or less. An inflamatory comment designed to garner opion and debate, but usually done in a subtle but directed way to get people's backs up or to wind them up. I have no issue with her argument that poor writers aren't as good as better writers. I could write a piece that proves that lower paid firemen don't earn as much as their higher paid colleagues. That's why I think it's designed to make people like us write threads like this. If she'd called it "I'd rather not have my professional standard work featured in certain forums, but that's just me, and here's why" then no-one would have bothered with it all.

Derek


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: desertwomble on January 22, 2010, 07:45:59 AM
Elay, for 'assylum seekers', you can read 'anyone not ethnically English'. It's a sort of a far-right shorthand.

DW :cheesy:


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Frank Menser on January 22, 2010, 06:46:29 PM
If Susan's name was attached to the work for all to see-or money was involved, I might have some sympathy to her plight, as there might be issues involving credit and reputation-though I doubt it . The cloak of anonymity shields any abasement to her prestige that might otherwise occur. Since there was little if any danger of her work even being discovered in the mix - no harm no foul.

This sounds like a hen squawking that her eggs are too good to be placed with the others in the market.

So for that reason, I think I would write off her comments as a rant and elitist crap - not worth the reading. Good work will stand out from the crowd; and - like a seed in planted in manure - it will sprout and stand alone in the sun. As to those who might read it, I think they could care less (again, since no names are attached) about anything except reading a good tale. I hardly think there is a danger of contamination by close proximity to a lesser work. 

Ultimately this has nothing to do with quality or standards and more to do with a cry for attention. 


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Caz on January 23, 2010, 07:29:50 AM
  I have to say I agree with her general point that standards are slipping. It used to be that the best man for the job got the job. Not anymore, not in any government paid jobs in England, which accounts for millions of workers. If someone can claim a disadvantage (pc crap) then they get a head start on those who show a genuine talent. If this kind of attitude is allowed to prevail then many terrible scenarios may come to pass. I may become eligible to run in the next Olympics, complete with beer hat and 60 meter head start on the rest of the 100 meter sprinters. Scary I know, not least for me as I’ll probably still lose. :fugly:
 
  Her point about all the hard work she put in to become a writer is also valid. Things are much easier now, thanks to word processors, than they were fifty years ago. Many people, myself included, can now write to a standard that would have been beyond them without the aid of a computer. But to say that only journalists and English degree holders make good writers is wrong. They may be proficient in the use of grammar, punctuation  and sentence structure but many of them lack the imagination to become story tellers. Having the talent to tell stories is what counts more than anything else. The rest of it is just fine tuning.

Anyways, as has been said by many previous posters, her rant is probably no more than a spot of self publicity. 
 


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: digitaldeath on January 28, 2010, 07:31:35 AM
As it has rained so much my boat, which is on  a hill is float I came into town on my quad down a river and forgot my glasses so everything is blurred, I have most replies but my eyes are too tired to read the rant.
As a professional photographer the market pllace is flooded with amateurs. THis is annoying as they undercharge but the point I want to make is the quality of work does not relate to a title. A professional is just someone who believes they can earn a living in that arena, some pro photogaphers are rubbish and even here a name helps. I know amateurs who are fantastic only they prefer to have a stable income in a diferent field.
I have been writing 40 yrs but not had a novel published, mainly because I don't push hard enough, three rejection slips are enough, maybe one sometimes.
However it does irk me that people are published for producing rubbish.
My autobiography by C.C. aged 17.
An unschooled youth from Tyne and wear had a book published because critic considered it remarkable that he had enough brain cells to us a pen. I was shown it by a friend in publishing. There was so much swearing it, no structure or story i was a laugh. As though he just wrote what he had said over a couple of days, needless to say I didn't ge far.
Life is a bowl of cherries, it is just a pity so many are rotten.
This message would self destruct if it was on tape.


Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: Cory Cramer on February 08, 2010, 07:00:24 PM
I'll say the same as I did elsewhere. I kind of agree with what she says, in that 'affirmative action' in all its guises is at best misguided and at worst discriminatory, and at the same time arbitrary in nature. In another way, I disagree, because the appreciation of the written word is so very subjective. What she classes as a top notch story would likely bore the pants off me, whereas a story I love would likely be her idea of hell on paper.

You've only got to compare the best sellers list against the works of exemplary literary merit list to see that one is not synonymous with the other. And there again, I agree there are basic standards that really should not be ignored. I think this is the brunt of her argument - she sees a widespread lowering of standards, and identifies the bleeding heart liberals (the same ones that choke us with health and safety legislation) as the people who are responsible for it.

That was exactly my feeling, but I can see how the political tone could tick people off.



Title: Re: Susan Hill's rant
Post by: fnord33 on March 04, 2010, 06:04:51 PM
I prefer Lance Carbuncle to John Grisham any day of the week. It's all just a matter of taste. It would be nice if every writer was a literary genius, but sometimes writing can be good despite it's execution. I think that there's a lot of good stuff out there in the punkish D.I.Y. arena. I like more of that than the more professional stuff that's coming out these days.   


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