Marvellous Ways and marvellous words

When Hamlet tells Polonius he is reading ‘words, words, words,’ I think he is implying that each page is the same, that the words written there have no relevant meaning and go on and on for the reader with no real impact or benefit.

Sarah Winman’s novel ‘A Year of Marvellous Ways’ is a delight of words. She is in touch with her inner poet and each word is selected and combined to create impact and emotion, to evoke a picture or to deepen a character.

On my MA Professional Writing course, we were told to keep our writing clean and simple, a lesson I find invaluable now I write for a living.

Most literature does not benefit from being clogged with adverbs and packed with so many words that the meaning becomes muddled. Yet Sarah Winman’s ability with words is a gift and she uses language to involve and enthrall the reader from the first page to the final chapter.

I met Sarah at a book launch in a Waterstones. She is a modest, warm, intelligent woman who enjoys sharing her passion for words. Her protagonist, Marvellous Ways, is an older woman who is wise and solitary.

My own protagonist in my current novel, Evelyn Connolly, is involved in a journey of discovery, both physical and emotional, and I was interested that we had both picked a woman in her later years as a protagonist. The latin word for old woman is anus: it is a neuter noun, and most old female protagonists in television and plays  are witches, crones or grannies who have little individuality: they are past it, whatever ‘it’ happens to be.

Both Marvellous Ways and Evelyn Connolly are bursting with power and personality, and I asked Sarah if her motive for creating such a heroine was political. She agreed that when writers are of a certain age – and we are both baby boomers – we demand that our protagonists are meaningful and strike a chord with readers.

Marvellous Ways has lived and loved; she can heal; she has a story to tell and her story is both a parable and a poem. Sarah Winman’s language is insistent; she demands to write in a language rich in beautiful sounds and vital meaning. As an author, she has inspired me to be unafraid of the impact of words; they should be sonorous and strong, keeping character and action buoyant.

I recommend both of Sarah Winman’s novels absolutely; A Year of Marvellous Ways, the latest book,  is a heroine for generations of us who will live to be old and will refuse to lose our identity in old age. As writers we want our readers to be delighted by character and action, but we also want them to share a journey which has a meaning on a physical and allegorical level and to enjoy a character who has the strength to live on.

Marvellous Ways is an inspirational character; she is gutsy and sensitive; she never stops learning; she is a source of love and an enabler of others. She is a paragon for woman of all ages.


2 thoughts on “Marvellous Ways and marvellous words

  1. Emma Bradford (Ward)

    Hello Ms Leigh,
    It’s Emma aged 43 here. Owner of one of the greatest ever improvisations with Justin Thomas ever witnessed by you in your career 😊 (Or so you said at the time) Involving a budgie cage and a northern accent.
    Loving your musings on here. I have just bought “I know why the cage bird sings” to read…. Better late than never!


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