If I try to think of writers who have influenced me the most and try to select an exemplary passage of their writing, I don’t find the classics springing to mind. Oh, sure I’ve read plenty of books by the greats: Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Tolstoy, Tolkien et cetera, but when I think about who has really influenced me as a writer and as a person, it’s actually a team of comedy scriptwriters. A merry troupe who have the power to send my writerly heart jitterbugging across the metaphorical dancefloor.
Below is an excerpt from the Dead Parrot Sketch; performed by Monty Python’s Flying Circus (MPFS) and written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman:
‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
I used to think of myself as an iconoclastic writer until I began to read about literary style and realised that it had all been done before. Stream of consciousness? Woolfe, Joyce and Faulkner. Experimental fiction? Kafka and crew. Economical and understated? Hemingway. Drugs influenced? Dick, Huxley, Thompson, Sartre. Surreal comedy? Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
All aside from the last item on that list are people I was largely unaware of when I started to write in 2013. And so when I tried to write all that weird, self-reflecting, experimental, terse, tripping stuff that writers like me write, it was with no understanding of the fact that I was coming into the station several decades too late.
What I did understand, though, is that the surreal side to my writing nature came from MPFS. My style, if I can be said to have one at this early stage of my literary (haha) career (hahaha) has been heavily influenced by their work. It’s actually something I’m trying to shrug off, so don’t sue me if you can’t see it so much in this piece.
Take the passage above. Look at the way that the dialect is indicated by spelling and apostrophisation. More than a little reminiscent of Dickens I think. And yet, in these enlightened days, we are told that we should indicate regional accents a little more subtly. Perhaps just pick a few key words used by folks from that neck of the world. I find myself bent by the rules, but a part of me longs for the straight path that MPFS marked out.
Some things are still in vogue, though. For example repetition. The way that the same information is presented over and over, but in different words. Sheer poetry! This is present in my writing too.
Another aspect of style is the mounting of tension that happens over the length of the speech. This still happens, particularly in horror writing, where the emphasis is on showing emotions rising to a climax. I have used this to good effect in several stories recently.
I’m out of word count, but I’ve mostly covered what I wanted to say; aside from this: my brain huuuurts!