Professor Martin Sturrock was feeling stressed enough already, even before the phone call from Simon telling him Aunt Jessica had died.
Is this good writing? Jenny Diski doesn't think so. It is the opening sentence of the new book by Alastair Campbell, who was once spin-doctor-in-chief to ex-prime minister Tony Blair. (I heard him speaking on Radio 4 this morning, by the way, in the wake of Barack Obama's election, talking about what it was like 'when Tony and I came to power' - but that's by the by). Campbell famously suffered from mental health problems himself, so he should know what he is talking about. But, as Diski says in her very entertaining critique of Campbells' novel in this week's London Review of Books,
suffering and even observation don’t necessarily make a person think and write with more subtlety . . . Subtlety may not be an essential quality in a self-help book, but it goes a long way to making a good novel.
Which is good advice for any writer, I think. Diski goes on to say,
The craft of fiction is not working out a plan that looks balanced on a spreadsheet and then clothing it with words. The trick about writing a good novel is to be a good writer.
I think Sally Zigmond might agree with that sentiment.