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I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

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18 July 2016

AMBIVALENCE: the key to good writing

I listened the other day to a very interesting programme about the problem with modern banks. I inferred from it that the reduction in the "financialisation" of London, and therefore Britain, which one hopes will be a result of Brexit, is on balance a good thing.

The subject of the programme was John Lanchester, the ex-Hong Kong but now London-based author of a book about the terminology of finance, called "How to Speak Money". The interviewer was Michael Lewis, author of the wonderful book, "Liar's Poker", about his experiences on Wall Street in the 1980s.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the programme was not so much banks as the craft of writing. Both Lanchester and Lewis are, in their different ways, skeptical of the role of banks. Both see good sides and bad sides to them. And both are, it would seem, are good writers. (I have read only Lewis--his book and lots in Vanity Fair--but he admires Lanchester.) The important thing was that they agreed that you need to feel AMBIVALENT about your subject to write about it effectively.

This is a key insight. Books by total opponents of something (or someone) become tedious hatchet jobs, and books written sycophantically are equally tedious and usually uninformative. As with most things in life, it is important to keep a balance. The key to it in writing is ambivalence. I stress this as I see very sadly, day by day, that quality disappearing from civilised dialogue under the influence of the internet where people tend to shriek at each other, or the world. If you believe, as I do, that verbal violence can be a trigger for physical violence, then this is not only sad, boring, impolite and uncultured, it is also dangerous.

That apart, this is a very interesting programme which I highly recommend:

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