This month there is another one of those long copy-writing competitions. Reading all the various manifestoes about the importance of long copy (and how it’s so not dead) it reminded me of an speech about the power of words, by the Godfather of Wordsmithery himself, Tom Stoppard. I’d temporarily forgotten this speech but seeing The Real Thing at The Old Vic a few months ago, the hair stood up on the back of my neck when it got to scene five.
Scene five is basically a discussion between Annie and her professional writer boyfriend Henry, about the power of good writing and the importance of authenticity in art.
I’ve cut up bits of the speech so you can hopefully get the idea… It’s enough to bowl you over when performed (forgive pun), but hopefully you can get a sense of that slightly on screen.
“HENRY: Shut up and listen. This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly… [He clucks his tongue to make the noise.]
…What we’re trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might … travel … [He clucks his tongue again and picks up the script.]
… Words… are innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos.
…I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are…. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little, or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.”
don’t think we’ll manage to enter the long copy competition this time – another much longer copy deadline (90,000 of novel to be precise) has got in the way. But it’s a great competition and I’m really looking forward to seeing the entries. I was somehow shortlisted for the Underground Writer one a few years ago – which is where I fell in love with this ad for Aga by Alun Howell. Good luck to anyone that has entered this year – hopefully there will be some bats in there.