Friday, June 18, 2010

70 years ago 2day Churchill's "finest hour" speech

Today, on June 18 1940, in the House of Commons, Churchill gave his "finest hour" speech. One of the greatest speeches ever delivered. Barely 6 weeks in office as Prime Minister, he faced the threat of invasion from Nazi-occupied France.

It lasted 36 minutes. And is credited with being the moment when Britain found the resolve to fight on after the fall of France and ultimately, with her American and Russian allies, to defeat the German armies.

Churchill's original typescript (23 pages) is currently on view in Cambridge and shows how heavily he edited. Red and blue scrawls of handwriting all over it. Drafted and redrafting. Amending. Adding. Deleting. Right to the last minute as he rose to deliver it and even on the fly as he spoke.

Aside from the obvious thing that strikes you (he wrote his own speeches), the other thing is: apparently, the last part of the speech is written out as if it's blank verse (5 line paragraphs set out in indented type). The scholars that know these things say it's influenced by the Psalms (which together with Shakespeare were the two great influences on his rhetorical style). Here's what one of them says (Mr Packwood to be exact): "Because it looks like poetry, it gave him, I think, a rhythm that brought life to his oratory. This was a man who raised the art of speechmaking to high literature."

Interesting how formatting text in that way helps you say it right. Reminds me of picture books. Which are like poetry that way. They are designed to be read aloud. And as the writer, you try to make them foolproof for reading aloud. Formatting and design are critical.

Anyway, doesn't it make you want to get on a plane and a train and get to Cambridge and see his typescript for yourself? Well. Almost. It does me. Especially if the airline prices come down...

The speech ends with these famous words: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour' "

Full transcript of the speech here

Audio clip here

via NYT

Monday, June 14, 2010

what should writers wear?

John Grisham said: "Writers can wear anything. I could go to a black-tie dinner in New York City with blue jeans on and boots and a cowboy hat and a bow tie, and people would just say, 'Oh, he's a writer.' "

One of the perks of being a writer.

(Of course you've never seen John Grisham wearing anything exactly outrageous, have you? so I guess you can afford to say this when you're already kind of put together.)

Posted via email from s@lly l-j

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