A la recherche de lovely, limpid prose

If I was Wendy I’d be right chuffed by Sophie Masson’s compliment about her “lovely, limpid” prose style (an evaluation which I share, for what it’s worth). Sophie should know, being no mean exponent of the art of lovely, limpid prose herself.

I find that immersion in turgid legal prose for most of the week makes it almost impossible to sustain an elegant prose style. It might be just an excuse for my own inadequacies, but I know my CDU Law School colleague Stephen Gray, who won The Australian/ Vogel Literary Award in 2000 for his novel The Artist is a Thief, has the same problem. He has to take substantial time away from reading and writing legal prose before he finds his fictional voice.

I wonder how John Mortimer managed to maintain such a prodigious fiction output while pursuing a long career at the Bar. In fact he observes (though on a slightly different point):

Much of the law, of course, is terribly tedious and Mortimer regrets having read it at Oxford University. “Knowing the law is not much help for an advocate. In fact, it’s a bit of a disadvantage, cramps your style.”

Finally, apropos of nothing in particular, here’s an interesting quote from a review of Stephen Gray’s novel:

It is ironic that such a self-conscious and sophisticated meditation upon appropriation and authenticity should win The Australian/ Vogel Literary Award. The inaugural award in 1980 was won by Paul Radley, who later revealed his books were mostly written by his uncle, and in 1993 it was won by Helen Demidenko, aka Darville, who had lied about her Ukrainian background and family history.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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2024 years ago

Thanks, Ken – yes I am chuffed, it’s lovely to have compliments from such quarters – I probably ought to say that Sophie’s a fellow Armidalian – a local treasure as you can imagine – & a friend (we met initially, not thru writing, but because her youngest & my eldest are good mates – funny old world!)

Thanks for your kind words too – they’re much appreciated. I’m feeling a bit raw & uncertain at the moment – I missed out on an Australia Council grant – and not by a narrow margin either – my literary worths running at a fairly embarrassing 63% I’m sorry to say. Ah well, we like lentils….

& I really don’t think you need worry about lawerly, turgid prose – yours certainly never is, but quite the opposite (but maybe reading your own writing’s a bit like hearing your voice on tape – it never sounds quite right, does it?) In fact I’m seriously concerned about the number of lawyers making inroads into the Aust. literary scene – Kerry Greenwood, Elliot Perlman, James Bradley, Stephen Gray … & who knows how many others out there – all managing to hold down a real job & write too – they’re giving the rest of us a bad name!