Sunday 25 April 2010

Talking Heads

Alan Bennett has never, so far as I know, ventured into writing crime fiction. When I listened recently to the audio version of his acclaimed dramatic monologues, Talking Heads, however, I thought several times how well his skills would be suited to the genre, should he ever decide to give it a go.

Although Talking Heads dates back to the 1980s, I never saw the original TV version, and I have to admit that I’ve never paid much attention to Bennett’s work. What a treat I have been missing, if this is anything to go by. He has a gift for writing material that is both funny and poignant, and he has a knack of revealing character artfully, bit by bit, much as a crime writer may spring a sequence of surprises upon the reader.

Bennett was born in Armley, Leeds, and so was my late mother; as a result, I recognised many of the turns of phrase characteristic of Yorkshire people of a certain age that he uses to such good effect. Writing really good dialogue is a skill that is often under-estimated (and it’s a skill that I think is very important for any crime writer). Bennett has an absolute flair for dialogue.

A word about the actors who performed the monologues to such good effect. They were consistently excellent, but a special mention for Anna Massey as the alcoholic vicar’s wife, Julie Walters as the actress in a soft porn movie, and Thora Hird as the elderly Doris. Splendid performances which made the most of terrific scripts. Listening to these tapes really was a joy.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Sounds wonderful! I'm so glad the monologues lived up to your expectations. I hadn't realized Anna Massey had one of the roles - quite a talent.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for this, Martin. Have you read Jim Murdoch's review on Bennett's work? You might find it interesting. See:

Heartbeatoz said...

What a great idea Alan Bennett would make a brilliant crime writer as he really gets under the skin of his Characters so well, and getting off subject have you read Keith Waterhouse's "City Lights: A Street Life" it's another book that really picks up on the speech of the Leeds Area I was born in Armley raised in Hunslet and brought up in Australia and this is one book that takes me home to Leeds in the 60's.

Cheers from a Reader in OZ

Paul Beech said...

Hi Martin,

Like you, I hadn’t bothered much with Alan Bennett until recently. Then a friend (an amateur actress), responding to one of my thousand-word emails, said I wrote like him. Well, I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. So on my next library visit I withdrew Bennett’s ‘Untold Stories,’ a pretty hefty volume. I returned it a week later only quarter-read, not because I wasn’t enjoying it but because, to my surprise, I was captivated and had decided this was a book I must buy so I could read and re-read and savour it at leisure. Such a beautifully observed and uplifting work with the authentic tang of Yorkshire in the dialogue.

I’m still not sure how my friend could compare my own paltry efforts to Bennett, though!



Martin Edwards said...

Margot and Elisabeth - many thanks. I hadn't read the review before.

Martin Edwards said...

Greetings, Heartbeatoz.
By a very strange coincidence, my mother, who sadly died in January, was also born in Armley, and she later taught round there. She too loved City Lights, and I now have her copy, though I haven't read it yet.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks, Martin. Sounds interesting!

I agree with you on the importance of good dialogue. I LOVE reading it...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Mike Gerrard said...

I've been a big fan of Alan Bennett since long before Talking Heads, but it had never occurred to me what kind of crime writer he would make. Thanks for that suggestion. There's probably a good parody waiting to be written, of Alan Bennett doing Raymond Chandler.

You're now in for a treat, Martin. Read (or listen to) his diaries, and non-fiction like Untold Stories. If you like the combination of poignancy with comedy, his account of his mother suffering from Alzheimer's is almost unbearable - and brilliant.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.
Paul - I'm impressed!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Mike. That combination of poignancy with comedy is very powerful, and I shall definitely be reading more Alan Bennett.

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