It Begins with the Sentence by Ian Sansom – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Ian Sansom will be awarding 3 free e-books to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

It Begins with the Sentence

The sentence is where it all begins. And where it ends. There is nothing else. A book is made up of sentences. A great book is made up of great sentences. That’s all.

The grammarian and the linguist may speak of the phoneme and the phrase and the parts of speech, but these things combine together only to make up the sentence, the basic and the ultimate unit of meaning and of style.

We might think of the sentence therefore not merely as the foundations, and the bricks, and the planks, the pantiles and the timber frame of the house of fiction, but also as the pelmets, the architraves, the knick knacks and the soft furnishings . Without the sentence not only would there be no house; there would be no home.

It is by the sentence that the writer stands or falls. Or, indeed, crawls, or wanders, or runs. ‘First I write one sentence: then I write another. That’s how I write. But I have a feeling writing ought to be like running through a field.’ (Lytton Strachey, quoted by Virginia Woolf in A Writer’s Diary, 1 November 1938).

A sentence can fizz, or swish, or gabble. It can be solemn. It can be heroic. It may be hollow. When we admire a writer what we are admiring are their sentences. And a beautiful sentence will be as different as are all beautiful things. It may be graceful, or gorgeous, or comely. It may even be – in the parlance of the property developer and the estate agent – ‘stunning’.
Here is a sentence, from Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds (1939): ‘When a dog barks late at night and then retires again to bed, he punctuates and gives majesty to the serial enigma of the dark, laying it more evenly and heavily upon the fabric of the mind.’

You may – and of course you should – read a book – many books! – about grammar to learn about the importance of priority, and proximity and position in the balanced sentence, but you should also view good sentences in situ, at home.

This is the secret of all writing, that no writer likes to reveal. You write one sentence. And then you write another. And that’s it. That’s all.

mediakit_bookcover_westmorland-aloneWelcome to Westmorland. Perhaps the most scenic county in England! Home of the poets! Land of the great artists! District of the Great lakes! And the scene of a mysterious crime…

Swanton Morley, the People’s Professor, once again sets off in his Lagonda to continue his history of England, The County Guides.

Stranded in the market town of Appleby after a tragic rail crash, Morley, his daughter Miriam and his assistant, Stephen Sefton, find themselves drawn into a world of country fairs, gypsy lore and Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling. When a woman’s body is discovered at an archaeological dig, for Morley there’s only one possible question: could it be murder?

Join Morley, Miriam and Sefton as they journey along the Great North road and the Settle-Carlisle Line into the dark heart of 1930s England.

Enjoy an Excerpt:

Delaney’s places were famous for their wide range of entertainments and refreshments, and for the clientele. It used to be said that to meet everyone in England who really mattered one had only to stand for long enough at the foot of the stairs of the Athenaeum on Pall Mall: the same might just as truly be said of Delaney’s basement bars and bottle parties. Poets, artists, lawyers, politicians, doctors, bishops and blackmailers, safebreakers and swindlers: in the end, everyone ended up at Delaney’s.

I’d started out drinking champagne with one of Delaney’s very friendly hostesses, a petite redhead with warm hands, cold blue eyes, sheer stockings and silk knickers, who seemed very keen for us to get to know one another better –but then they always do. She told me her name was Athena, which I rather doubted. Sitting on my lap, and several drinks in, she persuaded me into a card game where I soon found myself out of my depth and drinking a very particular kind of gin fizz, with a very particular kind of kick – a speciality of the house. My head was swimming, the room was thick with the scent of perfumes, smoke and powders, I had spent every penny of the money that Morley had paid me for our Devon adventure, I was in for money I didn’t have – and Athena, needless to say, had disappeared. My old Brigade chums Gleason and MacDonald were watching me closely.

Even through the haze I realised that if I didn’t act soon I was going to be in serious trouble: Delaney was renowned for calling in his debts with terrible persuasion. I excused myself and wandered through to the tiny courtyard out back. There were men and women in dark corners doing what men and women do in dark corners, while several of the hostesses stood around listlessly smoking and chatting, including Athena, who glanced coolly in my direction and ignored me. She was off-duty. Out here, there was no need to pretend.

About the Author: Ian Sansom is the author of the Mobile Library Mystery Series. As of 2016, he has written three books in a series that will comprise a projected forty-four novels.

He is a frequent contributor to, and critic for, The Guardian and the London Review of Books.

He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, where he was a fellow of Emmanuel College. He is a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick and teaches in its Writing Program.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for hosting!

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