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Wednesday, 16 May 2007

More Naipauliana

It's nearly a month since V.S. Naipaul left Trinidad, but his high profile, high-controversy visit is still a topic of avid conversation (and disagreement). Just yesterday, the Trinidad Guardian published a letter from Ferdie Ferreira headlined "Much contempt from Naipauls", arguing that "in spite of our love and obsession with Sir Vidia, there is no reciprocity".

In the May issue of the online magazine Caribbean Writing Today, editor Wayne Brown writes a note on "Naipaul in Trinidad". Naipaul's largely friendly reception, Brown says, is thanks to "the Trinidadian’s peculiar and exceptional capacity for irony and the tolerance it enables". He also reproduces two detailed reports of Naipaul's main public events by an anonymous CWT reader.

At the so-called "Evening of Appreciation" organised by VSN's UWI hosts, the great man was asked by a member of the audience what advice he'd give to young writers. He neatly deflected the question on that occasion, but at least once in the past he was more obliging. On one of my bookshelves is a fascinating little book called The Humour and the Pity: Essays on V.S. Naipaul, edited by Amitava Kumar and published in 2002. These essays are mostly by Indian writers, though Caryl Phillips and J.M. Coetzee are also included. In his introduction, Kumar recalls visiting the offices of the Indian weekly newspaper Tehelka--Naipaul is a trustee and a vocal supporter of the paper, and a friend of its editor, Tarun Tejpal. Kumar writes:

It was while I was being shown round that I saw on the wall, high above someone's computer, a sheet of paper that said "V.S. Naipaul's Rules for Beginners". These were rules for writing. It was explained to me that Naipaul had been asked by the Tehelka writers if he could give them some basic suggestions for improving their writing. Naipaul had come up with some rules. He had fussed over their formulation, corrected them, and then faxed back the corrections.

So here, dear readers, are "V.S. Naipaul's Rules for Beginners":

1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.

2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it's training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.


Now: before you complain about these prescriptions, dear readers, please read at random any article from any of the English-speaking Caribbean's leading newspapers. Perhaps you'll be inclined to post a copy of the rules to the relevant newsroom instead.

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