One of the most influential points in my world as a writer came when I read OCCUPATION: WRITER by the great author, Robert Graves. Graves is best known today for his novels, I, CLAUDIUS and CLAUDIUS THE GOD AND HIS WIFE, MESSILINA, and his memoir GOODBYE TO ALL THAT. I had read a number of his novels and was casting around for more of his work. In a used bookshop in Roanoke VA I stumbled upon an old paperback copy of OCCUPATION: WRITER.
|My copy of OCCUPATION: WRITER. Pure literary gold.|
This book is a collection of various pieces of his shorter works. Short stories, essays, articles, and plays. It was Graves' intention to showcase the fact that he was a professional writer and to indicate the breadth and reach of his abilities in various forms. I was attracted, of course, to the short stories. Two of the stories within this book hooked me like nothing I had ever read. From that moment on I looked at the creation of a short story in a different light and I don't recall ever allowing the influence of those two tales to fade away.
The stories were probably published as mainstream fiction in the 1920s when they first found the light of print, but they are both very definitely horror yarns of the first order. When I read "The Shout" I was impressed at the power of the work, and if there's a better lesson in how to slowly build tension and terror, I've yet to encounter it. In "Old Papa Johnson" he introduces the reader to a pair of soldiers recovering from severe wounds in a hospital. One--the Old Papa Johnson of the tale recounts an Antarctic adventure to the much younger soldier, referred to as Graveyspoons by the older man and who is obviously supposed to be Graves himself. I assume the yarn was inspired by something similar that happened when he really was in hospital during the First World War. As the story progresses as one of mainly historical interest and character humor, it slowly degrades into a very dark incident ending, at last, in an act of pure, cold-blooded monstrosity. I've yet to see any author equal it for power.
It's sad to think that in today's world of self-published garbage, sub-normal TV scripts, and the degradation we experience as the ebook fad, that we may now be looking upon the end of the days of the true professional writers. Gone are the skills and the powers of writers such as Robert Graves. Now we have a new normal of bad writing, self-publishing, and circle-jerks parading as literature. Alas.