There are two things that will put me off reading a book very quickly: the writer taking their work too seriously, and the writer trying to sound as if they’re writing a book.

The first one is very simple. It’s ‘gritty’ writing. I like writing to be facetious, or at least have the capacity to be. If it would compromise a book’s atmosphere too much by being sincerely facetious, then I’m not interested.

The second one is a lot harder to define, and it’s usually more of an intuitive feeling. When people try to sound as if they’re writing a book they sound stilted and unnatural. A bit like a six-year-old child talking like a grown-up, or vice versa; it’s out of alignment somehow. The best demonstrable example of this kind of writing I can think of is the line “he/she swore under his/her breath”. It’s a phrase that only appears in books, and people only write it in their books because they’ve read it in other books. Generally this kind of writing seems amateurish, but for some reason tends to end up getting published a lot too.

The exact opposite of these two styles of writing is equally offputting, if not more so. If writing is too facetious, lacking in any kind of sentimentality or nostalgia or appreciation of beauty, then I feel like I’m reading a book that just doesn’t care. Books that fall into this category are usually parodies of other books, but there are other examples as well, books that read like vulgar comedy sketches lacking humanism. Books that lack any literary style or pretension at all come across as too shallow. I can’t think of an example of this. Actually I’m just guessing here.

So basically it’s a fine balance that not many people get right, though really I think it’s just because no one is really trying. For some perverse reason I think they’re actually trying to sound too gritty or too literary or too facetious, like trying to strike a balance and find a middle ground is a bit too much like compromise or uncertainty. The grey area between black and white, the danger zone of menace and fear.