Enough Is Too Much Already

Enough Is Too Much Already was a cycle of short stories, published in trade paperback by the Bodley Head in 1988, with a Red Fox paperback following in 1990.

From an interview in the Australian magazine Magpies, March 1989

I loved doing them. In fact, I have had to stop, they come so easily. They pop out almost. That’s what I’m good at, talking. I do find it easy. It is dangerous, I have done seven stories with those three now and I have to say goodbye to them. I’m going to miss them. They have been around for a long time.

They weren’t all written at once. I wrote the first one for Feet. It was a make-weight because that collection was too heavy, and the editor told me I had to take one out or write another. It was quite obvious this was blackmail. They wanted another story, and that became the first one, about the railway trip. And then Aidan Chambers asked me for a story. He always has me in his anthologies. I used Nazzer, I had him telling a story. It was not really like writing a sequel.

From an interview in Living Writers: Novelists by Mick Gowar and Dennis Hamley, Nelson, 1992.

One of the reasons I chose to write the stories in Enough Is Too Much Already in dialogue is that I’d much rather have my characters talking than write long passages describing what they’re like what their interests are, how they get (or don’t get) along with other people. I believe that writers have to be able to prove that they are right about their characters. It’s no good just describing how a character might behave in a certain situation, you have to be able to see them do it.

So, over the seven stories, the reader gradually gets to know the three characters better through what they say and how they say it. And there’s no authorial narrative at all. That means there’s no disembodied author’s voice telling the stories, there is just Nazzer, Nina and Maurice and, each time, one of them is trying to tell a story while the other two keep interrupting. But eventually the story gets told, whether it’s about playing snooker with hard-boiled eggs, or cycling around Norwich all Saturday morning with a dead hamster in a paper bag.

Still, writing good fictional dialogue is not simply a matter of reproducing the way people speak. Critics sometimes talk about writers having a ‘good ear’ for dialogue; but I don’t think it’s a question of ‘ear’. If I wrote exactly the way people speak, it would be incoherent and unreadable. What we call ‘realistic dialogue’ is in fact an invented language all writers use, which looks like the way people talk but isn’t. It’s a technique; one of the ‘craft skills’ of writing.

I put a lot of work into researching my books, but I don’t write about anything that I don’t already have an interest in, or at any rate know something about. I’ll do research as it’s necessary. So, for Handles, I had to find out about motorbikes; for Thunder and Lightnings it was aircraft; and for Trouble Half-Way it was long-distance lorry-driving.

But ‘research’ doesn’t just mean reading up on a subject in a library; it’s whatever I need to find out about for a story or a novel. In Enough Is Too Much Already, there’s a story in which one of the three main characters cons two American students into believing that snooker was first played with hard-boiled eggs. The stories in that book are extremely realistic, so I had to find out if it could be done. It was no good just fantasising; if you couldn’t play snooker like that, the story wasn’t going to be any good. So I hard-boiled some eggs, got a long garden cane, and tried out snooker shots on the kitchen table. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Once I’d done that, I knew that I could use that story.