Returning from a visit to see my mother today, we decided to put on a tape of Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind In The Willows’. (It’s the only way to get my car radio to stay tuned into the traffic news without having to listen to the radio). I read the book as a kid, enthusiastically encouraged by my mother, and I was always in two minds about it. I quite enjoyed it, and the pictures were fun, but I never re-read it like I did some of the other classics, such as Black Beauty and Treasure Island.
As we listened, I was totally captivated by the poetry of Grahame’s writing. It’s lyrical, evocative and enchanting. It’s also quite funny. As a child, all this passed me by. For me, it was just a story about woodland animals, not unlike ‘Tales From The Riverbank’, a children’s TV programme from the ’60s narrated by Johnny Morris. In fact the two got muddled up in my 7 or 8 year old brain.
As an adult, I find myself appreciating and enjoying it as a piece of well-written literature, although the fact that Kenneth Williams is reading it probably helps!
It got me thinking though, about how fabulous it is to read and hear beautiful prose. While I’m not convinced that business writing has to be lyrical, I do think it has to be evocative: to evoke the organisation and what it stands for in the mind of the reader, just as Kenneth Grahame’s writing evokes the world of these small furry animals, and creates such clear mental pictures of each one. And it helps enormously if the text sounds right when you read it out loud.
Then I found myself wondering whether my prose style evokes what I want it to. Is this my voice, or have I borrowed it from someone else? It’s easy enough to speak in your own voice in a blog post, but what about the rest of the site? Ho hum, better go take another look: this is the downside of helping people create good website copy – you have to keep checking your own is up to scratch.
Of course, all this pondering is the fault of the Dark Angels course I went on in October. The notion that you can be creative with your business writing, and allow space for poetry and linguistic flexibility is a powerful one. It feels to me as if the language becomes malleable, like a piece of clay (or even plasticine) that you can mould into shape, breathing life into it, and taking it out of the dull, dead form that characterises so much business writing online and offline.