After all this time, I feel I may have cracked style. Well that’s a bit presumptuous. What I mean to say is that after a whole heap of soulsearching and questing into the darkness (or something at least half as dramatic as that) I can see my style fitting into place in front of me, and of course it’s been there all along.

Every project that I’ve really pursued with a passion (however shortly it burned) and every piece of my writing that’s moved me to tears or tore open something inside I wanted to get to, or just delicately, subtly brought that same thing out with honesty, all that writing has really been in one style: Highly personal, first person, thought-driven and self-aware.

I once wrote a blog which, while it lasted, did all of those things and was probably some of the best, most honest and insightful writing I’ve ever done. It was incredibly personal, but I found the perfect line to toe which never made it cringeworthy or oversharing, but kept it exactly how I want my writing to be – to the bone, so incredibly personal that it becomes utterly human and so resonates with the experiences of everyone who reads it.

Eventually I lost my footing on that knife’s edge and fell into what I always feared this blog would do – endlessly circulating the drain, neither exposing or exploring the depths of my problems or psyche but just going over the same ground again and again, a stalled quest with no progression that served only to make me feel lost and useless.

This hasn’t happened again, thankfully. But when it did before I kept on in this hopeless vein, not realising I was suffocating my own successful style, a style which would have helped ease the self-doubt which was the reason I was swirling around and around and around in emotional limbo. It took a long time for me to pull out of this self-perpetuating tailspin, and when I did I took the rash step of deleting the entire project. It was stained, ruined, and I couldn’t be proud of what had started so well but ended so pathetically.

Perhaps it was because of this recent failure, or just because I’ve always failed to keep up the style – because for the most part it was based on impotent, blazing anger at something I couldn’t pin down – but when I’ve attempted to write fiction I turned my back on this style and tried to fit in with the contemporary, the conventional. Abandoning a way of writing which I’ve arguably put more into and got more out of than any other.

But it’s been two very different books which have, really just this afternoon, forced me to take another look at what I’ve been doing all this time and, rather than running away from it, see the opportunities it presents me with. The Name of the Rose is a book by Umberto Eco, a fantastically verbose mystery set in C14th Italy, and Jane Eyre is of course by Charlotte Brontë, and chronicles the trials and tribulations of the titular Victorian girl.

There’s little similarity between the two aside from one exact point – the narrative style. Jane Eyre is the narrator of her own story, and the story is told in a way which often makes the reader aware of the fact it is being told as a story, and so breaking the fourth wall. The Name of the Rose does exactly the same thing, often explicitly reminding you that the book you hold (or the conceit at least) was written by an old monk, recounting one particularly interesting anecdote.

Actually, there’s three books that have made a big impact on me – the third is The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. This one especially so since it’s more modern than Brontë and less meandering than Eco, more like I’d like to write, exact and sharp and with a strong philosophical cord at its heart. These books are first person but they aren’t just narrated, they are told. I may not be there yet, but I can already see that this is right for me.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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