Like many people, I have been reading about the collapse of HMV and its departure from the high street, having failed to respond to the migration of consumers to online suppliers. I have already written on this blog about the challenges faced by bookshops and I am sure that this HMV news will only encourage the owners and managers of physical outlets for books to focus even more sharply upon their strategies for survival.
However, though I am obviously interested in the circumstances of the retail world and read this news avidly, it was the His Master’s Voice terrier logo, circulated for nostalgic reasons, which set me off on a train of thought quite unconnected with the story. The terrier is listening to the recorded voice with the characteristic comical cocked-head interest of my own dog, when strenuously trying to pick out the sounds of the words which mean that what he wants (walk and food, mostly!) will materialise.
The quality of word sounds is something that I have always enjoyed in literature (and not just in poetry, either) and I read prose with my ear cocked for the aural signals that a writer is not just thinking about meaning, but is also powerfully aware of the impact of sound upon the reader: patterns of hard and soft consonants, short and long vowels, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, rhythm, rhyme (yes, in prose!) and so on. Fortunately, I think, there is a growing practice of writing of prose for performance reading (such as Salt Publishing’s OVERHEARD, stories to read aloud, edited by Jonathan Taylor) and more and more places to go to listen to prose authors reading or performing their work (Rattletales in Brighton, for example). For me, crimewriters who create really effective atmosphere through sound as well as description have the edge on those who do not, for I love to listen to a book and hear an author in my head.