Kill Your Darlings #26 July 2016

A little over one hundred years ago, in 1914 on a summer’s day in January, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch* gave a lecture at Cambridge University entitled On Style in an attempt to rail against superfluous ornamentation in literary works. The transcript was included in chapter 12 of his 1916 volume On the Art of Writing, in which he wrote,

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

In other words, be prepared to delete your most cherished bit for the greater good of the whole work. Be subjective! Be ruthless!

William Faulkner, in a letter, misremembered the quote and wrote, ‘kill your darlings’ which was repeated by Stephen King in his On Writing (2000), “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” and so it is this version of the quote that is the name of this handsome Australian literary journal about ‘culture, commentary, politics and society’. As you can see the covers are very distinctive: cleverly and beautifully illustrated and designed by Guy Shield.

It was founded in Melbourne, Australia, in 2010 and its editors, Rebecca Starford and Hannah Kent, should be very proud of their creation, which looks more like a paperback than a magazine. Rebecca Starford is the author of the very well received memoir, Bad Behaviour (2015), and Hannah Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites (2013) was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

A highlight in this volume, #26, is Lian Low’s account of growing up and not coming out in Malaysia: The Famous Five in Kuala Lumpur. Low has a wonderful twist on language and coming across one of her little verbal gems is like finding a lolly in the bottom of a packet you thought was empty. She made me laugh.

Have you heard of slow reading? which, apparently, is taking the world by (a slow) storm. Jerath Head writes amusingly, The Space of Hours, about a reading group diligently reading collectively in Brisbane’s Avid Reader Bookshop and Café, James Joyce’s terrifyingly difficult Finnegans Wake; his last. The Wakeans meet regularly and labour over two or three pages of Joyce for two hours and predict that they will finish the book in 2039. Red wine and conviviality ease the pain and bring out the joy. I loved this piece.

KYD’s interview editor, Gerard Elson, prints a transcript of a delightful interview with Anna Goldstein, the continuing translator of the latest literary and publicity-shy sensation, Elena Ferrante. The interview gives no clues to the writer’s true identity, if there is one, but Anna’s own story is well worth writing and reading about. However, towards the end of it I craved more of Goldstein and less of the interviewer.

There are fascinating articles on the joys of paper books and bookshops; academic forays into the psychology of the fangirl phenomenon; and a feminist take on the symbolism and sexism of Little Red Riding Hood.

Ashley Kalagian Blunt’s dispatch Postcards from North Korea was however a little disappointing. My expectations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are probably cliché ridden but I didn’t expect to have my expectations confirmed: you shouldn’t need to resort to gray writing to write about a gray place; quite the opposite is needed.

David Sornig’s short fiction, Sounds Like Low is a beguiling and sad story of a child’s innocence and misunderstanding leading to tragedy. However I had to get over a few editing bloopers in the first two pages. There is a difference between creative writing and bad grammar. Such mistakes, little though they may be, undermine a writer’s authority and good editing should not let that happen. “The men had watched as their car passed.” The possessive pronoun, ‘their’ doesn’t refer to the subject of the sentence but to the subject of the previous sentence. It makes you stop, “What? That doesn’t make sense.” A quick re-read will identify the error and discover the correct meaning. It’s a small thing but a reader shouldn’t have to stop and untie a knot: it should be clear.

Kill Your Darlings and its value-packed website are well worth investigating and apart from a few minor lapses of editorial diligence I highly recommend this journal. It’s encouraging that this publication has avoided the recent Australian government’s attacks on arts funding.


*Arthur Thomas Quiller Couch (1863-1944), [pseudonym “Q”], English author, poet, anthologist, and literary critic. He wrote many popular novels and essays and was a noted lecturer at Cambridge University. His legacy lives on in the grammar school system of Cornwall. With his vast number of short stories, Q has a dynamic range of style and creativity with tales of the supernatural, of Vikings, satires, historical fiction, romantic adventures, tales of heroic swashbuckling, mystery and crime fiction, and sea-going adventures; as well as books of literary reference, The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (1900), The Oxford Book Of Ballads (1911), On the Art of Writing (1916), On the Art of Reading (1920), and The Oxford Book of English Prose (1923). You can find most of his short and long form fiction here, where you can download them for free.