Frederick Forsyth: writer.

Daniel Hannan has been hosting a series of conferences under the title of Britain and the EU. Quite apart from the interesting viewpoints thus being promoted, I am enjoying watching speeches from people whose speaking I have hitherto not found online.

One such is Frederick Forsyth. He was speaking at Kent University on 4th December at one of these gatherings. I am always interested to see how well expert and successful writers speak. The techniques of each are far more different than most imagine. The commonest mistake made by writers is to write and read their speeches. Let us see –

At first glance he appears to be shooting from the hip, though that laptop on the desk has quite a lot of his attention. Could he have learnt his script, while keeping it visible as a backup?

You may wonder why this should bother me, and my reply is that if you are shackled in any way to a script there’s a very good chance that you will not perform as well as you could. Written English is different from spoken English, and when you speak the former it sounds stilted and unengaged. Also writers can use quite convoluted sentences because their readers can always go back and read them again, whereas a speech audience cannot. And there is yet another problem that we find here with the opening of this speech. Reading speed tends to be quite a lot faster than speaking speed. That is why, when speaking, you need to use broader brush strokes so that you cover the ground more quickly and keep up with your audience’s attention.

Listen to Forsyth’s opening section. What he says about the advantages of growing old would work excellently when written but comes across as rather laboured when spoken. Within a few seconds I conclude that he has written and learnt a script at least for this opening. It’s a pity, because if he’d trusted himself to speak spontaneously he would have knocked off the first two minutes in fifteen seconds, and lost no impact at all.

At 2:17 he moves into outlining three choices for Britain with respect to the EU, analysing as he goes. The three choices are –

  1. The status quo
  2. Stop messing around on the periphery and plunge into the heart of the EU
  3. Get out.

This section is much tighter, and is stronger for it.  To his credit he dismisses the first choice, making clear that a proper informed decision is long overdue because what we have now is the worst of all worlds. Furthermore, when he address the second option he actually does what I have heard no Europhile do – least of all the Prime Minister. He tells us – really tells us – what total immersion would mean. It is a scenario that I find ghastly, though others might not, but at least he is saying the previously unsayable. He is to be credited with that.

The speech is an important one, and valuable thoughts are imparted. I commend it, even if if he is a far better writer than speaker.

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