James Holden: Roald Dahl’s Great Automatic Grammatiser

So, it seems to me that inmates frequently write about the process of writing. I realised this at the last meeting when we were looking at stories for the anthology we’re pulling together. The stories had originally been presented to the group at different times, though, and I find it quite interesting that we seem to have done this independently and without setting out to write around a specific theme. (I do have an idea about a writers group discussing how to pull an anthology they’re pulling together, but that’s another story).

Of course we’re not first people to write about writing. The protagonist of Michael Chabon’s brilliant and extremely funny Wonderboys is a novelist struggling to write his second novel whilst coping with crippling writers block. Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man by Joseph Heller also looks at the difficulties of finding inspration, although without the dead dogs and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia in Chabon’s novel.

Short story writers have also tackled the subject of the writing process. I can think of a couple of examples (including Flannery O’Connor’s The Crop), but my favourite is Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatiser, about a man who invents a machine that can write short stories with minimal human input. Like so much of his output it’s wonderfully absurd. But he also uses the logic of his absurd proposition to say something about inventiveness and originality in fiction, which still rings true when you look down bestseller lists. He’s also trying to make a point about how hard it is to craft a piece of fiction. (And maybe it’s a little bit prescient given the emergence memoirs and novels with celebrity names on the cover that are in fact ghostwritten.)

If you fancy reading it, you can find it on-line by clicking here.

This post was first published 14 February

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About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
This entry was posted in Bits and Pieces, James Holden. Bookmark the permalink.

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