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The Craft of Raymond Chandler

Crafting and Recrafting the Creations of Raymond Chandler

If you suspect that you may be on the verge of a midlife crisis, having reached your forties and still not really found what you want to do with your life (or perhaps being overwhelmed with a feeling that you haven’t yet reached your full potential) then you can take heart from the story of Raymond Chandler. Chandler was working as an company executive until the Great Depression struck America and he found himself without a job: it was only at that point, and at the age of 44, that he made the decision to become a detective fiction writer instead. His fame now is testament to the fact that that career was, of course, an incredible success.

Raymond Chandler was famed for his direct and sparse prose, with many of his contemporary critics struggling to see his great works as important literature. However that is exactly what they are: Incredibly important works that were incredibly well written, and it is only as time progresses that the magnitude of his contributions are to be fully understood. The influence that Chandler’s works had on American popular literature really shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should the fact that without his contribution, it is unlikely that the genre of hard boiled detective drama would even exist.

The Craft of Writing

Despite starting his career writing what he himself believed to be ‘trash fiction’ in order to make a quick buck, Chandler was truly devoted to the craft of writing, and to honing that craft in order to become the best writer he could possibly be. Chandler worked hard at crafting and recrafting his work. His brutal and simplistic prose was no doubt the result of his meticulous reediting process, as he himself once wrote: “A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. I always regard the first draft as raw material. What seems to be alive in it is what belongs in the story.” Writing didn’t always come naturally to him, and when he found that he was suffering from writer’s block Chandler turned to drink, believing that it helped to cure his writers block and become a better writer: of course, this was far from true.

Whilst he was committed to crafting his works, Chandler didn’t write in a conventional way: there was never a draft, a plan, or even a plot line to follow, he simply started writing letting the characters and stories evolve themselves on the page. This risky writing strategy only worked so well because of Chandlers sheer determination to create, the write, to succeed. When pitching to an audience, Chandler came into his own: he made his creation process seem so effortless. His private letters reveal though that this was far from the case: that everything he crafted mattered to him deeply and he fought hard, within himself, to create.

The Art of Drinking

Whilst he was committed to recrafting his works, Chandler found that he was unable to recraft himself. Unfortunately, like many of the nation’s greatest writers, Chandler’s life was not untinged by tragedy and by trials and tribulations: namely, the author’s rampant alcoholism. With the support of friends, Chandler spent many years in and out of professional health facilities in order to receive treatment and rehabilitation for his alcoholism, however, although he had periods of sobriety, it was an illness that the writer never overcame. When his beloved wife died in 1954, Chandler was truly heartbroken, and it was at this point that his rampant alcoholism reached the point of no return. He began to really suffer with the clinical depression that had tinged much of his adult life, and in 1955 even attempted suicide, although this was seen as an obvious cry for help rather than a genuine attempt to end his life (given that he had called the police before the attempt so that they would be able to find him in time). Although he continued to keep writing throughout this difficult period of alcoholism, the works Chandler was producing at this time were markedly substandard when compared to his earlier novels. Chandler ultimately succumbed to illness (no doubt induced by his alcohol addiction) and died in 1959. In his best loved works however, Chandler lives on.

This article is by courtesy of Helen Salter

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