Get to know… George Ayliffe

Often, we debate: do you prefer the film or the book? Recently, Frank Herbert’s Dune was given the cinematic treatment. A quick internet search gives you a taste for the discussion. A debate had in parallel between friends and family, at dinner, at school, work, Comicon convention — the world over. The sorts of replies you hear: ‘Well, it’s easier going than the book, and it has plenty of great action sequences…’ ‘I want to read the book first — otherwise, I won’t be interested in it after I’ve seen the film, as I’ll know the plot.’ And on it goes. In truth, films offer such a rich fusion of the arts, it seems impossible anyone could be content with a mere novel. Films are a coalition of artistic professions. A grand entente. You get narrative, music, cinematography, actor’s performances. Set design, costume etc etc. It’s an orchestra of the arts. How can one person’s (Frank Herbert’s) contribution hope to compete with all that?

This is a deep question and I won’t answer it here. But one titbit gives us a clue, at least to part of the answer. And helps us understand what exactly makes prose so special.

In short: prose captures the real ebb and flow of the human experience. And does so more seamlessly than any other art form. With free associative writing, novelists can drift from the actualities of plotline to the vagaries of thought. There is a wonderful scene in Ian McEwan’s Atonement when Briony is slashing nettles in the house grounds. She is on the cusp of an adult awareness which she does not yet fully understand. But she is brimming with frustration. An eagerness for something to happen in her life. To convey this McEwan drifts from actualities — nettle slashing, to Briony’s thoughts. She has been outside for a while and considers going indoors, but then she frustratedly asks herself — is that the only possibility for people, indoors or out? Isn’t there somewhere else for people to go?

Writing, done well, can give us these interior moments. And it’s in these passing flashes, sometimes funny, painful, heartfelt — that our lives reside. We’ve all experienced a character monologue in film or theatre, but it’s at best clunky, at worse dull. Only good prose offers a seamless drift from experience to thought and then back again — a replica of our lived experience. We are a narrative species. And only in written narratives are the wonderful quirks of our true selves well captured.

I’ve been developing my own writing for many years and have been fortunate enough to publish several stories in a variety of magazines, both online and in print. Feedback and support are very important to writers, and I’ve benefited hugely from being a member of the Leather Lane writing group, founded by Kit De Waal. Currently, I’m working on my debut novel, and hope to push it out to the wider world soon.

It was in the Spring of 2020 that I joined Kiare Ladner’s Novella Fever course, having attended her Short Story course six months prior to that. I can full heartedly recommend both. Kiare is a warm and thoughtful tutor, with plenty of experience: she has a creative writing PHD and has recently published her first novel Nightshift to widespread acclaim.

George Ayliffe (@AyliffeGeorge) / Twitter