A writer occasionally knows their prose is straight, keen and true; often knows it isn’t quite, but without being sure what the missing element is, or the false note.

I like Williamson’s demands on himself particularly as his book, ‘facts, you know’, is a man’s eye view of being an otter, based on a man’s careful observations of otters and their world.  Pure fiction in other words, but nothing could feel more real. At least to another human – we will never know what an otter would make of it.  Elsewhere he uses a bright metaphor for such authentic writing.

‘I knew the prose was straight, keen and true – facts, you know. It is all here in Devon, if you just happen to see or hear or smell it.’

For other Key Penmanship Indicators see the following inspired by quotations of Molly PeacockHarold Bloom, Anthony Burgess, and Adam Nicolson’s kind reaction to this website.  And similarly, a Key Performance Indicator that could be applied as much to writing as to any other art, a response to Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico.


Source: Henry Williamson, Tarka the Otter: His joyful water-life and death in the two rivers, illus. C.F. Tunnicliffe (Harmondsworth: Puffin Books, 1976 (1927)), p. 11

Photo credit: Annie Spratt at unsplash.com


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