Tuesday, 30 December 2008
Thursday, 25 December 2008
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
So what does get me out of bed (on the days I am well enough)? Why do I go through the agonies of writing when I know the chances of publication (let alone fiscal security) are literally thousands to one against?
Agonies of writing? Well, yes. Writing is not easy. As an art and a discipline it takes years of practice to hone ones talent (and talent there must also be). As a fiscal enterprise it is one of the few jobs I know where the vast majority of practitioners are expected to spend a year or more of their life producing a work without any certain prospect of making money from it.
If you are lucky enough to be making some money from previously published books, you have a small degree of protection. But the market is such an uncertain beast (and much of what gets into the bookshops is dictated by people whose concern is sales, not the inherent merit of the work). If your current book does not sell or sells badly, the chances are you are finished – particularly if you write mass-market fiction.
Yet every day, tens of thousands of people sit down (often after a gruelling day at work) and spend hours working on their latest project. In my mid- to late-twenties, I did just that. Teaching all day, marking, and then writing, sometimes until two in the morning. It is debilitating and alienating. I suspect it contributed to my emotional burnout at the time and led me into a period of years when I did not write – something that set back my development as a writer. It is only recently that I have found a way back to where I left off. Twenty years gone that I won’t ever get back.
At least these days we have modern communications that make it possible for writers to huddle together and give each other emotional support. Before the Internet… There was support. Writers are notoriously generous people when it comes to supporting others of their ilk. In those early years I corresponded with a number of well known writers and that kept me going. For a while. Of course, what none of them could do was guarantee that I would get published and make a living from my writing (and a couple of them tried on my behalf).
For me, it is that sense of community that helps to keep me writing these days. There are always going to be the bitter-sweet moments when someone you know gains great success. Sweet because they have worked hard and deserve their success. Bitter because you know you have worked just as hard and fate has not smiled on you. But the sweetness always wins because you know you have played a part, no matter how small, toward that success. And should it ever be my fortune to gain the limelight with a work of fiction, I know I will not have achieved that on my own. The support of friends (the vast majority of whom I have never met and probably never will) has been invaluable – people who cheer you up by being silly, who offer moral support, point out those endless tuckin’ fypos, and who are just generally there to chat with (even if it is not about writing).
So, to all those folk who have been there for me in one way or another, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you all the perfect present; and that 2009 is your year.
Monday, 22 December 2008
Friday, 19 December 2008
Thursday, 18 December 2008
Friday, 5 December 2008
Thursday, 4 December 2008
I’m not good at life. Hey, I’m a writer; I’m supposed to be a mess of neuroses.
And right now… You know that bit in films when people are happily drifting in a boat and begin to realize that the noise they hear might just be a waterfall. When they try to start the motor, you just know it’s not going to work.
That’s how I feel, just now. Don’t know why. I’ve done all I can with Charlie and need to start sending samples out to agents. Ah. There’s your answer. Complete lack of confidence. Two years hard graft and 106,000 words of crap to show for it with absolutely no guarantee it is going to sell.
“In the current climate…” Blah, blah, blah.
The blah, blah, blah is me trying to start the motor. And the roar is getting louder.
Some days you wonder why you bothered crawling out from under the duvet.
:-) That is a brave smile. It’s the last thing you’ll see as the boat goes over the falls.
Monday, 1 December 2008
It is curious, although not altogether surprising, that such synchronicities occur. But that is not the purpose of this post. I simply wanted to draw attention to a passage from the interview that struck a chord with me and which I wanted to share here (just in case you didn’t want to read about Alan Moore’s thoughts on comic books/graphic novels and the diverse sources at work in/on his imagination – although I found it fascinating).
Here’s what he had to say that I particularly wanted to share:
You could end up as a writer's writer, and that would be a terrible fate. What that means is you'd be a writer where all the other writers would say: “God, I wish I was as brilliant as him, and I'm glad I'm not as penniless as him”. I've known a few borderline – Kathy Acker was nearly a writer's writer, other writers would say: “Jesus, how does she do this stuff, these sentences are fucking fantastic…the way they sort of self-destruct…”. But she was not easy and she was not popular. Iain Sinclair, I think – yeah, let's go out on a limb – the finest writer currently working in the English language – Downriver , one of his best books, took him five years to write and he got 2000 quid for it, how many it sold I don't know, but probably not a lot. Most writers, even the very best ones, especially the very best ones, don't often make a living from it. You go into any branch of Waterstone's and 90% of those books on the shelves, unless you're talking about Catherine Cookson, Stephen King, Jeffrey Archer – the ‘giants' as I like to think of them – unless you're talking about them you're talking about someone who is a teacher, or a social worker, or works in a bookshop, or works as a lorry driver, you're doing something to pay the rent and then working into the small hours while the wife and kids are asleep. There's levels, there's levels to being a writer, and I think the thing to decide is the level you're happiest at. If you're happy writing pulp adventure stories then for God's sake write pulp adventure stories, and if there comes a point when you're no longer happy writing pulp adventure stories, try something else.
Don't think that you have to write – just because literary critics decided some time in the 19 th century that Jane Austen's comedy of manners was the only form of literature that could really be considered literature. Basically it's because her novels were about the habits of the class that could afford to buy books. They were about the habits of the class of people who were criticising the books. They were flattering. It was holding a mirror up to a particular strata of society – which included the critics – and they said: “Yes, our ways, our vanities, our funny little intrigues, this is the stuff of legend, the only stuff of legend. For God's sake don't write anything in genre. Don't write detective stories, because they're low and vulgar”. Even if you are Raymond Chandler, even if you are an extraordinarily beautiful and gifted writer. If you're writing detective stories, forget it. Ghost and horror stories, well we'll just about allow Poe, but no, on second thoughts, and certainly don't even consider people like Lovecraft, who couldn't write . Who had a ‘clumsy prose style'. Apparently. Clark Ashton Smith. Gaudy. Forget about him. Arthur Knacken. You're not gonna find these people anywhere in Melvyn Smith's list of 100 novels you simply must read. You're not gonna find any genre. You're mainly gonna find novels of manners. You're not gonna find any science fiction, even if it's H.G. Wells or Olaf Stapleton, because science fiction is a lower art form than the novel of manners.
I'd say to anyone aspiring to be a writer: write what you like. Write what you have genuine enthusiasm for. Don't write to get a Booker prize. Angela Carter, God bless her, always used to refer to ‘that sort of person' as ‘shortlist victims', and it's true. Michael Moorcock is never going to get a Booker Prize, but he's a better writer than 100% of writers who have won the Booker Prize over the last 20 years. But he's vulgar, he used to write comics, he used to write science-fantasy trilogies. In three weekends. On speed. He used to write the Talisman adventure libraries, he used to write Sexton Blake , along with Jack Trevor Story, another writer who will never be included in the canon of great British writers. Jack Trevor Story, one of our very best writers ever.
The full interview can be found here.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
But this is not what the discussion was about. Rather, it was about the function of the cover. Is it there to illustrate the content of the book? Is it there to make people buy? Of course, this isn’t really an either/or question. A good cover design should do both. It is, after all, the first thing you see when you pick up the book.
Yet, book buying habits are changing. And along with that, marketing strategies are changing as well. The discussion was prompted by a book that had been given a cover that illustrated the content. The book wasn’t selling well. The publishers changed to cover so that it more closely resembled those ‘chick lit’ (awful term) covers that are jaunty, pastel drawings reminiscent of the opening titles of the TV series Bewitched. It began to sell much better.
It didn’t entirely abandon an attempt to reflect the content, but one wonders what is at work and whether the book, once bought (and hooray to publisher and author for that), was actually read.
The big chain stores frequently (if not permanently) have 3 for 2 promotions. This is fine if you buy in bulk and if the titles you are interested in are included in such an offer. You can perhaps tell from the look that previous sentence exuded, that I don’t and they aren’t. But that is beside the point (I just thought I’d have a grumble). I assume the thinking behind cover design these days is to get a title shifted because the cover looks a bit like books that have been enjoyed previously. Which presupposes people are buying books as much (if not more) on the way they look. Content? Who cares if the tills are ringing and the royalty cheques are fat.
Now, as a writer, I cannot argue with that. I don’t actually make a living from my books. Not many authors do (and even that depends on your definition of ‘a living’). But I do wonder why we seem (and it is only a subjective grumble on my part, I haven’t looked at every cover produced over the last few years) to have abandoned the double approach – that is a cover that accurately reflects/interprets the content whilst also attracting the cash from readers’ pockets.
It seems (that word again) to me that covers are designed by genre rather than by individual book. Thus we have a ‘chick lit’ style, just as we have a ‘fantasy’ style or an ‘sf’ style, ‘crime’ style, and so on.
Or maybe I just don’t get out enough, these days.
Do you have any favourite covers (ancient or modern) that manage that balance of being attractive and accurately interpretive?
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
My ‘first’ draft of a piece of work is never quite that. I am able to suppress my inner editor sufficiently to get words on paper, but I do like a draft I can read and understand when I come back to it. So, as I write, I change things; knocking off some of the rougher edges as I go. Which means my first draft is never quite that. Bits of it are; other bits are second, third, or even fourth attempts to get the phrase, sentence, or paragraph into a viable state.
There is a balancing act here that I think many (if not most) writers find difficult, especially when they start. If you try to write perfect sentences as you go, you may never finish your work and you will probably have little or no concept of the overall shape of the piece. Beautiful sentences are fine. We all strive for that. But if, as a whole, they have no dynamic, if there is no sense of story, then they are a waste of time.
On the other hand, you want your 100,000 words (or whatever) to be sufficiently coherent and interesting to yourself to want to go back to them. Over and again.
I’m not sure people who don’t write quite appreciate this aspect of writing. The fact that a piece of work has to be drafted, re-drafted, read and re-read, altered, fine-tuned, all in the knowledge that the first person who reads it will probably point to a sentence on the first page and point out three errors.
This aspect requires a real passion for what you do. It also requires considerable skill.
Oh well, back to the drawing board.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
I mentioned in earlier post about coming across stuff and thinking, "Did I write that?" It works three ways.
1 - Wow, that's good, did I write that? (Disbelief)
2 - Wow, that's crap, did I write that? (Resignation)
3 - Wow, I don't remember writing this at all. (Old age?)
I had several of No 3 today. Whole sections I simply don't remember writing. It is an eerie feeling. I know no one else has had any part in writing this book (although a number of wonderful people have critiqued), so to come across passages of prose that fit perfectly with the whole text, but which I'm encountering for the first time puts me in the place of Charlie. No wonder she feels disorientated at times.
I'll stick to writing about temporal adventuring. Others are better equipped to walk those roads.
It does make me wonder, however, what state I was in when I wrote those passages. Being 'in the zone' is a much used phrase - losing all sense of self in one's work. I have been there. Sitting down after a meal, for example, looking at the clock and realising the whole afternoon has gone.
I have sometimes suggested that Charlie sits here and dictates her life story, lured to my den with the promise of hot, buttered crumpets (cos they don't make muffins like they used to) and strong tea. Perhaps, in a sense, that is exactly what happens. She is very real to me. I know what she looks like as an adult (go look at her blog for a picture). For goodness sake, she has her own blog. And why not.
I'm not sure if there is any point to this. I just hope she keeps visiting, because she has so much more to tell.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Friday, 17 October 2008
So here's one I made earlier, posted on someone else's blog (waves at Alison).
I try to keep my inner editor gagged and tied to a chair in a different room; work right through a first draft. Well, that's the theory. The guy is a regular Houdini, turns up out of nowhere and starts pointing things out. Scares the hell out of me.
Revision. These have worked for me:
1. When you've finished, give it a few weeks before you back to it. Let your head settle. Go get some fresh air. Your subconscious mind will still be working on it.
2. A recent tip from a friend which did wonders. Set the text up on lulu.com and print yourself a private copy. Reading it as a book (rather than on screen or in manuscript form) is great for the ego and it helps you see things you might otherwise miss.
3. Read the whole thing as if it was a book, just to get the feel of the shape of the whole story. Make notes on major issues, but don't get into detail.
4. Get into detail. Correct typos, eliminate repetition, watch out for words and phrases you use a lot (paste the text in here: http://www.writewords.org.uk/word_count.asp and it will give you a word use frequency chart, compare the results with a list of the hundred most frequently used words, cut those from the list and see whether you use particular words a lot).
5. While you are doing the above, you will start to see if there are structural problems (which you may also have noted in 3). Note these down but don't try to fix.
6. When you have finished the superficial corrections, look at structure and make any changes you think are necessary.
7. Do step 3 again.
8. Really get into detail. Start with the assumption you can make your work leaner, fitter, and sharper. Go through sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph making sure every word and punctuation mark is pulling its weight. If it isn't necessary, cut it.
9. Read it out loud. You'll find awkward cadences that screw the rhythm. You'll hear repetition that the eye hasn't seen. Fix these as you go.
10. Put it away for a couple of weeks. Catch up with the real world.
11. Read it through. Fix minor glitches (but resist the temptation to overdo it). Print up. Start sending it to agents/publishers.
12. Prepare your Nobel acceptance speech.
Disregard any or all of the above. It's what works for me. You will find ways that better suit your approach to your work.
Thursday, 16 October 2008
My heartfelt condolences to his family.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
It took me a while to get ruthless with this rewrite. There seemed little to do with the first few chapters except correct typos. It took a while to get into my head that I had actually done work on these chapters already. One has been accepted by a magazine after discussions with the editor and some rewriting. Another has already been published (and was an assignment for my degree course). Once I got beyond that first section, the red pen began to fly.
This is a part of the work that I really enjoy. Well, I enjoy all of it, in a masochistic kind of way. Tearing words out of my head that accurately represent the pictures in there is especially difficult, but gratifying. It’s like putting down a heavy suitcase, knowing you don’t have to pick it up anymore. And it is certainly the most difficult part for me.
Unpacking the suitcase and deciding what to keep, where each item should go is much more fun. Finding the exact single adjective to replace the four I put down (they’re like notes to myself when I draft), spotting the repetitions, the labouring of points, mangled sentences… And then improving them.
It still astounds me that a dull, workaday sentence can be transformed cutting or changing a single word, altering the punctuation, or simply putting elsewhere in a paragraph. It still astounds me that using the same building kit available to every other writer; I can produce something unique.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
It is still raining. Heavily.
I have to edit GreenWay in time for the November deadline.
I have to do a heavy rewrite of Thin Reflections (and I want to do this fairly quickly as I want to get it out to agents).
And today is the first day of A363 (and I've just read one of the readings - which I sincerely hope is meant to be an example of how to write crap and still get into print).
Saturday, 20 September 2008
It will rest now for a couple of weeks (while I get up to speed with my final honours course), and then I will start the first re-write, along with the much more difficult drafting of a pitch to agents and/or publishers.
For now, I am going to have a lie down in a darkened room.
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
I’m not a big fan of Douglas Adams. I don’t find his writing especially humorous (there are far funnier sf writers), it is certainly highly derivative (no, he didn’t invent the paranoid android, or the zany space romp). He span out Hitchhikers because it seems to me he didn’t have many other ideas (or couldn’t be arsed to develop those he did have – preferring, instead, to keep rewriting the one book that made his name). But that’s not the issue. There is, after all, worse stuff in print.
What I am totally baffled by is that someone, somewhere along the line, thought it would be a good idea to get Eoin Colfer to write another. It can only be about the money, can’t it? There is no literary merit in this, no urgent need to ‘finish’ a series that had no overall plan.
As far as I can see it is going to consume vast amounts of time and money that could have been spent on developing new talent. Oh. No. Silly me. That would involve a bit of a risk. That would involve hard work on the part of an editorial and marketing team. That would involve highly paid people actually doing the job they get paid for (instead of farming it out to inexperienced undergrads on work placement).
So, I hereby suggest that the ‘final’ (yeah, right) volume of the Hitchhiker series be titled Cash Cow.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
Saturday, 23 August 2008
Well, the whole blog is, but this struck a particular chord with me as I have often wondered what happened to the great tradition of social novels and plays with which we were once blessed; the great satirical works.
It is true we do still get social commentary in novels, but on the whole we seem to be dished up a diet of white bread and circuses - and this is nowhere more apparent than on television. Circuses in which bullying seems to be the central tenet and in which we are subjected to the 21st century equivalent of entertaining ourselves by visiting Bedlam.
Thursday, 21 August 2008
There are really two stories here. The first is whether ‘twat’ is an appropriate word for a children’s book (and whether Jacqueline Wilson should get herself a more comprehensive dictionary and more observant editors). The second is just how has the publishing allowed itself to get to the point where a supermarket chain can, indirectly for the moment, dictate the content of a book.
Is ‘twat’ appropriate? Well, I suppose it depends on context. I know that it is a slang word for female genitalia, but it also means ‘obnoxious or contemptible’ when applied to a person. I would imagine the latter is derived from the former in much the same way you hear a person called a ‘silly c*nt’. Not exactly appropriate for nine-year-old children, even if it is already in the vocabulary of many and used in the playground or on the streets. I suggest, therefore, that JW treats herself to a better dictionary and a decent thesaurus; then goes round to her publisher and creates merry hell with whatever passes for an editorial team. Someone, somewhere along the line must have seen that word and wondered. If they didn’t, then what an earth are they doing being employed by a publisher?
The second issue raised by this story is how did the publishing industry get to this point. I know they have to sell books. I realize in this case that changing the word may be appropriate. But a precedent is being set (or reinforced). How far will publishers go in allowing retailers to dictate the content of the books they publish? Will manuscripts have to be vetted by supermarket chains before a contract is offered to an author? Will proposals have to be run past the hypermart commissioning editors? Will agents have to negotiate with retailers as well as publishers to tie up a deal? They seem logical steps if once publishers allow this kind of interference.
I doubt… well, I hope it will never become that extreme, but it does seem to me to be yet another symptom of the way in which large, mainstream publishers have lost their way. If, in this case, the publisher didn’t spot the potential problem to begin with, it is clearly failing in the editorial process. If it did spot the word and decided to go ahead with it in the book, it is craven (after so few complaints) that they should be reprinting with the offending word removed.
It is a development worth watching.
Monday, 18 August 2008
All this wet weather seems to have found its way into my bones (which is preferable to it finding its way into my shed, grrr, which in itself is nothing compared with the poor souls who find it running through their living rooms and kitches).
Energy is being saved for Charlie.
I will, no doubt, be back soon for a rant.
Stay safe. Stay dry.
Saturday, 2 August 2008
I have titles for the four Charlie books. All official.
They were chosen provisionally quite some time ago, but now I have permission to use them. Permission was necessary as they are from the lyrics of a song, one that has been key to my psyche since it was first released in 1971.
The song is by one of the truly great British singer/songwriters, Roy Harper. The song is ‘The Same Old Rock’ from the album Stormcock.
The four Charlie books will, therefore, be:
The Mirror That Is Made
All The Colours In A Shade
Once Upon A Chance
So woo hoo and Hats off to Harper.
Monday, 28 July 2008
It raises so many questions.
Why were such large advances (well, they weren’t that big compared with some, but they’d keep me warm and fed for a good few years) paid in the first place? These people didn’t need the money.
Why was there not a clause in their contracts stipulating that the advance would have to be repaid if a publishable manuscript was not delivered by a set time? Does this mean that the publisher caved in to these celebrities’ agents and gave them contracts that most writers could only dream of?
Why did these celebrities not finish their manuscripts? They entered into contractual agreements. Other writers manage. You know, proper writers. The majority of whom do not earn enough from their writing alone, despite being professional in their approach and experts at their craft. The majority of whom have to fit their writing in between their other commitments like bringing up the children, cleaning the house, laundry, and so on. And if these celebs could not manage because of other commitments why did they commit themselves to such an agreement? Why not pay a ghost to finish their work?
Why did this (or any other publisher) feel the need to produce books by people who are not writers? There are thousands of very good writers out there who never get a look in. I weep for them. They do not have agents or celebrity status. They cannot walk into a deal for which they care nothing, showing nothing but contempt for people work their hearts out to produce high quality books that never get read by anyone but the author’s mum.
It sickens me.
In the US and the UK, hundreds of thousands of books are published every year. People go into bookshops or go online and they buy them. You would think it was the ideal time to drive up the standards of the printed to word. There is no need for a badly written book ever to appear in print. Yet there they are. By the truck load. By the ton.
Yet, for some strange reason it is becoming more and more difficult to get into print, especially if you write fiction.
Authors are told they have to up their game. Write better books. Agents and publishers rush out their How To Get Published books which are snapped up by desperate authors. Those same agents and publishers ignore their own advice and buy up dreck and drool over celebrity deals so they can shift vast amounts of their garbage at Christmas.
One or two well known authors have joined this game, exhorting writers to produce better work. I have your names a list. You’ll be first against the wall.
To repeat a point I have made before, I am talking about good writing here. The content of a book doesn’t concern me – from the biography of a vacuous celebrity to a complex philosophical argument; from the latest western or hospital romance to high literature (via any and all genres, sub-genres, and anti-genres) – we should have all those. But there is no reason on earth why any one of those should get into print if it is badly written.
Dull books are borderline. Some people like to plod through a story. But writers who are semi-literate, whose bad writing screams a constant distraction from the story, who break all the rules agents and editors exhort us to keep because they do not know what those rules are, who re-write their favourite author’s work – they should not be getting into print. But they are.
Why? Why is this? Where did it all start to go so wrong? At what point did the commercial drive, the desire to line the pockets of shareholders, take over so completely that any old product would do as long as makes a big enough return on the investment. And why can this not be done by producing quality books by hard working authors. Sure, we’d all like to live in luxury, lie on our sofas and dictate a novel a week to our secretary – take the other eleven months of the year off. In reality, writers would be happy to earn a decent living for their hard work and not get kicked in the teeth on a regular basis by stories like this that demonstrate their livelihood is in the hands of idiots.
* I have never believed in a Golden Age of publishing. It has never been perfect. But it sure has been better.
** I’m not picking on these particular celebrities (before anyone accuses me of being sexist, racist, or a music lover).
Thursday, 24 July 2008
I’ll repeat that. Loudly.
Genre used to be a way of describing a book after the fact, a convenient way of giving the reading public a general idea of what kind of work they might expect. This was especially important in the days when authors didn’t get tied to a particular kind of work because that is what was expected of them. But even then, it was always a bit hit and miss.
And before that, you were lucky if you got past ‘tragedy’, ‘comedy’, and ‘history’.
Nowadays it seems as if genre has become a formula by which you must write a book in order for it to stand a chance in “today’s difficult market” (the current favourite rejection phrase). We even have editors and agents writing books telling authors how to do this.
If we all go down this road we are going to end up with nothing but formulaic garbage. It plays on the desperate urge of writers to get published. People spend years busting a gut, sweating blood, running up debts, and alienating all three of their friends to produce their novels. They want to do something out of the ordinary so it doesn’t conform to genre or any other marketing group. The language sparkles, it tackles difficult themes, has an unusual structure. And then, heartbroken, they go away with their rejection letters, and turn their well-crafted original work into pap in the hope that this time it will get published and they can afford to go and get the dog out of the pawn shop.
It’s already happened. Go to a bookshop. Look at all the clones. Armies of them. But as with photocopies of photocopies and as with cloned plants and animals, each generation is a degraded copy of the previous one. Even books that try to break out of it are given their own genre – slipstream, cross-genre… they have their own section now.
Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for a stonking good thriller or crime novel. Publishing a book that happens to be firmly within a genre is no sin. Rejecting a book because it doesn’t fit into that year’s marketing fad, rejecting a book because it isn’t the next Rowling, rejecting a book because it tries to be something original – those are sins. And they are sins that compound, because the more you take that attitude, the worse books will become. Sales will fall.
Publishing is not a science. It cannot be put in the hands of the marketing and finance department. It cannot be done to a formula. Yes. Books have to make money so that publishers can stay in business. But publishers have to learn to start taking risks again. They have to learn to start nurturing their authors again so they can develop and experiment. A publishing industry that doesn’t do this is cutting its own throat.
Saturday, 12 July 2008
There is another reason that I won't go into in detail as it is something of a legal minefield. Suffice it to say, if the naysayers are correct it seems to me that it would be illegal for any writer of fiction to have one of their characters talk about or refer to a book, film, or television programme, or a character in any of those, without getting copyright permission to do so. In other words, you cannot have your characters living in the real world (unless they only refer to things out of copyright). It would make an interesting test case. Which is why I'm going to ignore what I've been told and, when I'm well enough, plough ahead with the w-i-p exactly as I want to write it.
See you all in court.
Sunday, 29 June 2008
Mind you, there is still a great deal to do and plenty more research needs to be done. It's a hard life.
Saturday, 28 June 2008
Thank you Odeon cinemas for screwing that up. The volume was so loud, and the bass frequencies so intense, we didn't last beyond the third trailer. Six minutes to give me a migraine and induce a panic attack. For goodness sake people. That level of noise, those frequencies, are used as a means of torture. What makes you think we want to sit through a couple of hours of it on a voluntary basis? God knows what it does to kids' ears.
Then I discover today (shows how in touch I am with events) that Michael de Larrabeiti died on 18 April. How could I have missed that? The man was a genius, a unique voice, and author of three of the best kids books ever written. Bless you. They can't catch you now. Not ever.
Friday, 20 June 2008
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Thursday, 12 June 2008
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
Instead of ranting I have, with permission, copied the following from the lovely Clare, which expresses the whole thing succinctly and gives us all something we can do to make our feelings known.
"The suggestion has been made that bloggers could stand together and campaign over the issue of Amazon's dodgy commercial tactics. Scroll to the bottom of this post for things you might be able to do. Meanwhile here's an update on the Amazon thing (full details here: http://tinyurl.com/4gocsg).
Amazon have removed Pay Now and Pre-Order buttons from selected titles published by Hachette Livre, in an attempt to force the publisher to sell stock to Amazon at even lower rates than they already do. They've also removed HL stock from Recommended Reads lists and various other (obviously not as impartial as you might think) sections of the site.
Hachette Livre is a large umbrella organisation, which encompasses the following publishers:
Little, Brown Book Group (includes Abacus, Virago, Sphere, Piatkus, Orbit, Atom)
Orion Publishing Group (Orion, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Gollancz)
Headline Publishing Group
Hodder & Stoughton (includes Sceptre)
Hachette Children's Books (includes Franklin Watts, Orchard, Hodder, Wayland)
Hodder Education Group
Octopus Publishing Group (includes Bounty, Cassell, Conran Octopus, Hamlyn, Gaia, Mitchell Beazley, Miller, Philips)
They also have subsidiaries in India, Aus, NZ...
This isn't the first time Amazon has used this tactic. Earlier this year Amazon.com removed Buy buttons from selected books of publishers who refused to switch their Print-on-demand publishing to Amazon's newly bought POD company (see Bookseller story here: http://tinyurl.com/3efuy5). They really are bullies.
Amazon and the supermarkets have consistently been putting the squeeze on publishers in this way, making it harder and harder for independent publishers to operate, not to mention small bookshops (who don't have the same muscle and can't compete). The ultimate losers are the authors, who get a smaller and smaller slice of the pie. When books are sold at a discount, the author gets significantly less than that (percentages vary according to contract, but they're typically less than 10% of cover price).
Things you can do to help:
Contact Amazon (http://tinyurl.com/4skfzf)
Copy this post, or write your own, on your blog/website/via email
Boycott Amazon (alternative book sources: localbookshops.co.uk, abebooks.co.uk, bookdepository.co.uk, Waterstones.com, Play.com, actual physical bookshops, or where possible buy through authors' and publishers' own websites).
Write to newspapers
Contact the competition commission (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)"
Saturday, 7 June 2008
And where did such an idea come from? Who sat down and thought this one up? Who sold it to publishers? I really think we should be told. I would love to know the thinking behind it, because it has me stumped. I used to teach English. Got good marks at college and spent a lot of time working with children of all ages and abilities. Confident readers would pick up anything and try it. If they enjoyed it they would look for more like that. If not they would look elsewhere. Age banding would be wasted on them. Those with less confidence in their ability have a twofold problem. They need books that are suitable to their reading ability. They also need books with content relevant to their age and experience of life. These books exist (although probably not in enough numbers), but can you imagine giving a fifteen year old boy with a reading age of seven a book that is age-banded? It would be hard enough getting someone like that in the same room as a book in the first place. Add this stigma and you have lost them forever.
This is a crime. Nobody in the UK should be leaving primary education without have a reading age the same as their physical age. Bugger the fancy curriculum, the quart squeezed into the proverbial pint pot. They should be able to read fluently. Write cogently and creatively. Be numerate. Be able to converse in more than grunt and ‘yer-knows’. The rest is dressing, because without those the rest cannot be achieved.
Publishers should be assisting in this, producing quality books for all ages and abilities in cheap editions – trusting that teachers (and parents) will teach children to read but also enthuse them to explore the world of books. They shouldn’t be throwing vast sums of money away chasing the next big publishing phenomenon. They should be investing in their own future and the future of authors. They won’t do that but throwing up further barriers to reading for those who need most encouragement.
Age-banding does not make economic sense from a publishing point of view. Well, let us put it this way. It doesn’t make long term economic sense. But I suspect this has a lot to do with short term economics. That is, I believe it is driven by a relatively new market for books – supermarkets. There are already instances of supermarkets dictating to publishers, not just in terms of discount, but also in the design and content of books. I wonder if they have not also had a hand in this, suggesting that they want children’s books age-banded to make life easier for their customers. A bookshop will have a member of staff who can be asked about whether a book would be suitable for a particular child – although goodness alone knows why (a) any adults don’t do a bit of basic research and (b) why children aren’t being allowed to choose.
I hope it isn’t the case that the sticky fingerprints on this are those of the supermarkets. If they are, it is yet more craven behaviour by publishers. Either way, I hope that publishers have the sense to drop the idea, show a little backbone, and start taking back control of the market.
Thursday, 29 May 2008
I know there is good stuff in print. After all (NB – tongue is firmly in cheek here) I have had stuff published. I read good stuff every day. Not much of it is from mainstream publishers or represented by the big agencies, but that is as much to do with my taste as anything else. But there is bad stuff in print as well, driven not by literary merit (and I don’t mean ‘high’ literature, just good writing), but by how much money agents and publishers think they can make on the deal.
We have silly chases after the next J K Rowling (as if one wasn’t enough) with daft advances being made that could actually have been used to start a dozen or more new authors on their careers. We have celebrity titles still being poured onto the market like a poisonous slurry. We have the mainstream driven by profit and dividends to shareholders. We have an industry stuffed with people who, frankly, haven’t the faintest idea what they are doing.
Now I know all the arguments in favour of the things I think are wrong with publishing. Celebrity titles bring in the money to finance riskier projects. Except of course they don’t. They either bomb or the money goes to recouping the stupid advances, paying for the outrageously unnecessary marketing, and paying for yet more ‘branded products’ (did you hear me spit?). And money is necessary. Businesses have to make a profit. Well, duh, yes. But when people get books rejected on the sole grounds they wouldn’t make enough profit for the company, something has gone seriously wrong. And, yes, publishing is as much an art as it is a science; but let’s have artists who understand books and selling books, not piss artists.
Banjaxed? Probably. Caring about it? No. Because there are ways of seeing my work in print that don’t involve traditional publishing routes. I can get it peer reviewed, professionally edited, and into print without needing to go anywhere near London, anywhere near an agent or a publisher. I can do it without it costing me a fortune. And I get to keep all the proceeds. True, I am not likely to get big film deals, book signing tours, and fancy lunches. But I don’t want those things anyway. Nor do a lot of other writers that I know. They want to be able to write, improve their craft, see a reasonable return for their hard work, and go on doing that. And they are beginning to wake up to the fact that they can do this without the need for access to the traditional routes.
Gatekeepers, beware. If you don’t shape up and take note of what is happening, you could be out of a job.
Particularly nasty are those writers who are successful, yet who cannot resist the temptation to put the boot into other writers, especially those who have yet to make it or who are struggling on the fringes. I have nothing but contempt for such people and would not cross the road to piss on them even if they were on fire.
And the reason for this outburst? Well, it bubbles under the surface all the time. A few years ago, I was astounded when a best selling author of children’s fantasy, in his position as head of a large organisation, had the gall to criticise writers for not being inventive and adventurous enough. I suspect he actually meant he couldn’t understand why more people didn’t write like him. Well, it’s because a lot of writers aspire to good writing, not derivative polemic. But that is beside the point. His criticism was aimed at authors. Well, excuse me, but how the hell does he know what gets written? All he can judge by is what gets published. And stuff only gets published on the say so of agents and publishers. Now, if you want to know how good they are, go into any bookshop and look at all the drivel that gets into print.
Granted, a lot of good stuff gets into print as well. There are thousands of writers out there who work their creative fingers to the bone to improve what they do. They talk with other writers, they read other writers, they learn how to critique their own and other’s work. They bust a gut to find the money to put food on the table and then spend every last spare minute on their craft and their art. Some people even attend creative writing classes so they can learn in a structured way in an attempt to improve what they do. They are professionals and feel they have a duty to the public who buy their books as well as to the profession as a whole.
Only to have the following utterly charmless comment thrown at them: “writing courses, particularly when they have the word ‘creative’ in them, are the new mental hospitals”. This from a writer who has not only made it, but who also teaches on a writing course. This is this rank hypocrisy; it is to treat your students, and anyone else striving to improve their work, with total contempt. If I was a student at that institute, I would demand he be sacked immediately and that teachers who care about their students are hired in his place.
It is petty, small-minded, infantile, and the mark of a shrivelled intellect to behave in this way, not to mention showing further contempt for people with mental health issues. This same author also once said: “The job of the writer is to create argument and dissent… That’s one’s integrity and it’s an integrity that involves letting other people down.” That, Mr K., is a whole lot of shit. And now it is leaking out of you, I suggest you go and get yourself into a nappy before it gets over anyone else.
Sunday, 25 May 2008
I promise to be more attentive when she has finished her tale (until the next one).
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
It is now Wednesday and the gap, as you may have guessed, is already filling up. I found a pristine second hand copy of Milton's English poems yesterday (which isn't strictly for the tbr pile as it a replacement for my ancient paperback). It's just that the postman will keep bringing me this brown cardboard packages.
The ones on top of the CD rack are either completely or partly read (as they are omnibuses and box sets).
Monday, 19 May 2008
When I become a bs author (may all the gods and goddesses forbid), I too will be able to afford someone to look after the kids and pets, someone to answer the phone and open the mail, someone to fix the leaky tap and help paint the shed. In the meantime, I will write alongside real life.
Of course, these same bs authors who were talking about putting their writing first actually went on to say you make time for your writing by getting up earlier, or re-arranging your day, or writing on the train. In other words, do what most writers do. Write along side real life.
This got me exercised (no difficult task), because it was being used to promote bs author’s book on how to write a best selling novel. Another one. One day, in the not too distant future, when you walk into a bookshop, it will be full of students on break from their writing degree, looking for the latest tranche of books on how to write. There won’t be any novels in there that aren’t written to some dull formula, produced by students of writing courses and guided into print by agents and publishers who, you guessed it, took the parallel degree in publishing.
This came floating into the ether at the same time as some drivel about the Booker of Bookers.
The last thing we need is the insufferable self-congratulation and earnestness that goes with celebrating such pompous, mediocre books.
We all do it differently.
Some need silence, a room of their own. Some can work at the kitchen table with the kids baking up a storm around them. Others go to the library, or a café. I drafted my first published book in a small shelter in the Botanic Gardens in Durham (mornings in one of the University libraries, lunch and afternoons at the Botanic Gardens – all very civilized).
The real point is that we each have to find our ideal working conditions. And when I say ideal, I mean the ones that work best taking into account the fact we might have kids/pets/spouses/rent to pay/day jobs/noisy neighbours. Any writer who tells you to lock yourself in your study and pound out three thou a day is basically telling you to write like them. And you can’t. You have to write like you. It might take some time to find what that is, and there is no harm in trying other people’s methods, but they’re not gospel.
Writers are lucky in that all they need is a decent notebook and a pen or pencil. Anywhere you can perch the notebook on your knee, you can write. It might be for an hour in the bathroom with the door locked; it might be on the train; it may even be in the luxury of a study. But wherever it is, the most important space is the one you make in your head.
I find that if I am in the right frame of mind, I can write anywhere. I haven’t been able to put that to the test in recent years as I rarely get out of the house, and I do confess to preferring my study with all my books around me. But I have written in all sorts of places. On beaches, trains, buses, in lectures, in bathrooms and bedrooms, attics and cellars, gardens and libraries, theatres and drama studios, in lighting boxes, stone circles, on hilltops, in a castle…
If there is any point to this, it is that if you cannot shut yourself away or re-arrange your life to put your writing in the centre (much as you would love to), don’t despair. Don’t think you are not or cannot be a writer because you don’t have a study. Make the space in your head and keep your notebook with you at all times. Take advantage of whatever time comes your way. Writing is a pure magic and can be conjured in any circumstance. Be a magician.
Thursday, 15 May 2008
Of course, this is just the ‘first’ draft. I put that in inverted commas because the first draft committed to paper/machine only gets there by a weird process in the strange space that is the inside of my head. I have walked through a scene with the actors until I can see it from all directions. In the process, I have knocked a lot of the really rough edges off, leaving it ready for detailed editing.
I used to look at editing as a necessary chore. I suspect that stems from the amount of non-fiction I’ve produced. While editing is necessary to achieve clarity, it is also necessary to remove all ambiguity and layering. These are the very things that, if used properly, make a piece of fiction interesting – to read and to write. I am really looking forward to getting my teeth into this.
At the moment the text is both text and a series of notes to myself. In trying to conjure up an atmosphere for example, I will pile on the adjectives in the first draft. They are there to guide me. When I come back, the challenge is to find a word or phrase that will encapsulate the section of thesaurus I have thrown at the canvas. The trick also is to keep all the links to other bits of text that will work on the reader at a subconscious level so that one scene will echo another through mood, scent, movement or whatever other device is appropriate.
I’m currently reading a master at this sort of thing - John Sladek. I’ll post a piece over on grumbooks when I’ve finished, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a text that makes such enormous leaps. It’s wonderful. What seems a throwaway line in one chapter emerges a few chapters down the line as significant. Things going on in the background suddenly flower elsewhere. And all told in a fresh and engaging style. Brilliant. Inspirational.
And the real beauty is that my own work has developed into a four book cycle. Hard as individual words and sentences sometimes are, I am still so excited with the project and so much looking forward to the other three books.
Friday, 2 May 2008
I also clearly have to get to grips with the ‘putting in of photos’ thingummy.
Or I could just go and play a few rounds of Age of Japan.
Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Strictly speaking, I wasn't writing a script, but used the opportunity to sort out some notes for a novel. Although I reached the target, the story is far from finished, so I will try to keep up the three page a day target until I have the whole plot sorted (with hefty chunks of dialogue thrown in for free).
I am, therefore, feeling a touch smug.
Saturday, 19 April 2008
I'm also adding seven things about me that you are unlikely to know and which will probably not be interesting enough to remember.
1 - I am right handed, but left footed.
2 - The first book I ever bought with my own money was the Observer Book of Astronomy.
3 – The first book I had published was written on an Amstrad PCW.
4 – The first book I wrote was handwritten in a foolscap pad. Which I lost on a train. Thank goodness. (I was 17, can you imagine how awful it was.)
5 – At Junior School I was a blackboard monitor.
6 – At Junior School I used to draw little spaceships and kept my pencil sharp so I could put in every single rivet.
7 – I have lost my obsession with rivets.
Fascinating stuff, eh?
Sunday, 13 April 2008
Sunday, 6 April 2008
Because I have ME I rested all day (after a bad night last night). After my weekly treat of watching people dig holes in a field, I evicted one of the cats from my chair, prepared my notes, got everything organised, and waited for the phone to ring.
At two minutes past the programme’s start time, I began to suspect it was not going to go according to plan. I logged into the radio station and listened to the person who was meant to be interviewing me talking with someone else.
I was (a) disappointed; (b) annoyed; (c) and felt just a bit humiliated. I had told people I was going to be interviewed on radio. They tuned in. I wasn’t there. I was sitting looking at a telephone and it wasn’t ringing.
Now, I’m fairly easy going about most things, but if I make arrangements that involve others, I keep to them. It is my responsibility to do so. It is one of the tenets of my faith that I have that responsibility. Of course, I cannot now discuss that on radio, because people didn’t keep their end of the bargain.
They have been told, politely, what to do with their interview.
I shall get back to writing.
Friday, 4 April 2008
After too long away from Charlie, I have started a new chapter and, because I am some sort of idiot, I am signed up for Script Frenzy as well.
Watch this space. You will either see news of a completed chapter and an increase in the word count or a message about a man's head imploding.
Wednesday, 5 March 2008
Friday, 22 February 2008
The weather doesn’t help. I just know that the second I finish the editing, the pleasant early spring weather will disappear and the village will be plunged into a scene out of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. I will have to pile on the layers and sit in a sleeping bag, feet wobbling on hot water bottle. Have you tried writing when icy blasts slice up through the carpet and sleet slides down the window through which gelid air leaks?
It could be worse. At least there are floorboards and a sleeping bag and hot water to put in that bottle. At least the sleet does have a window to slide down. And whoopee, the government has taken a sudden interest in the ‘creative industries’ (whatever they are), just like it took a sudden interest in ‘culture’. I suppose it makes for good headlines. But it has all the echoes of ‘Cool Britannia’ (and how uncool that was with all those sad arse ‘pop stars’ swanking around 10 Downing Street), and I bet little or no money finds its way to writers.
The whole thing is a con. It has nothing to do with nurturing creativity (otherwise schools would be properly funded and staffed and those actually being creative whether in the arts or the sciences would find support instead of being labelled scroungers along with the sick and disabled). It has nothing to do with culture (oh yes, that sound is me reaching for that much quoted gun). The government found that money was being made and wanted to get in on the act. But to be honest, politicians are people who couldn’t empty a full bucket of water if you explained to them in words of one syllable that the instructions were printed on the underside in big letters. They are like a pestilence. Everything they touch becomes diseased, covered in slime.
The opera and other centres of excellence (who decides?) will take on their apprentices (who decides?), there will be a photo opportunity, and then the money will slowly dry up. Besides, how many creative talents have been turned out through specific programmes of formal training or education? And please don’t go all gooey eyed and breathless as you mention UEA. It was good for a couple of years and has done nothing but turn out clones whose work is duller than the proverbial and less edifying than a copy of the Beano.
Creative talent needs a society in which their talent is appreciated (even if the work they produce is not always much understood); it needs a society that is far less obsessed with cults of personality, with celebrity, and all the endless tittle-tattle about people who are, basically, a waste of space. You cannot create this society by setting up a few apprenticeships and making crass statements about ‘culture’. The very fact that politicians have to talk about this makes it very clear they have not the first idea what they are talking about.
Thursday, 7 February 2008
The disbelief came from the fact it was a truly shite piece of writing. I don’t mean dire in an angsty-teenage-nobody-loves-me-paint-the-walls-of-my-bedroom-black kind of way. Awful as the finished product may be, such writing does have psychological merit for the writer (and their psychiatrist if they need one). This was shite in a way that was stunning. The piece lacked pace, the characters were… well who cares about them? The story was poorly constructed and full of false sentimentality. And the sentences were dull, dull, dull. If this had been handed me by a student I would have handed it back and asked them what they thought they were playing at.
And if it wasn’t bad enough that this was turned out by a BIG name, the other implications are terrifying. To begin with, the editor of a well known magazine thought it was suitable for publication. Perhaps the editor was out to lunch. Perhaps the editor was so pissed when they got back from lunch… Who knows what they were thinking, other than the fact that this was a BIG name and would help with sales figures. It is certainly happening in literary magazines. Where newcomers once stood a chance of having their work considered and showcased, they are being squeezed out whilst editors stick in any old garbage as long the author is well known.
Now, I know I am no literary genius, but I wouldn’t turn in a piece of work like that or expect an agent or editor to do anything with it except chuck it in the bin if I did.
So think about this for a moment. Authors and editors, agents and publishing houses, anyone who allows this sort of rubbish into print is sticking two fingers up at the reading public. Whether it is out of malice or, more likely, out of cowardice, I don’t know, but it is time it stopped. There are thousands of good writers out there, producing high quality work – short stories, poems, novels, novellas, screenplays, teleplays, radio plays, stage plays. And what happens? The shite gets into print because the gatekeepers (the agents and editors) have lost their bottle.
I know these people have to earn a living, I know publishing houses have to make a profit, but why are they trying to do it by flooding the market with sewage? The good books that do get into print (and there are many) are swamped, the good writers who are ‘unknown’ don’t stand a chance, the reading public are being insulted.
There are times when experimental, cutting edge work fails and we have to allow that. Anyone forging a new way of working, a new way of writing is bound, at the beginning to miss the mark. But their work deserves to be in print because such experiments help other writers to gain new perspectives and a new understanding of their own work. The work I saw today failed because it was lazy and contemptuous of its readers. And when that sort of work gets printed and nominated for awards, we know it is time for a revolution.
Thursday, 31 January 2008
And her story has grown as well. When I started, I envisaged a single, extremely condensed novel using a very fragmented structure. It soon became clear that that would not work. I wanted to involve people in Charlie's story (which is unusual enough) before involving them in unusual text.
There were four parts to the story from the outset, so it seemed natural to expand that to four novels. Four short novels. But in considering the structure of all four, it became clear that the first book had to do certain things. And to achieve those, to tell what needed to be told, I would need another 60,000 words on top of the 60,000 already written.
This realization was a little dizzying. The finished work will no doubt edit down to something shorter (100,000 or thereabouts), but it means I get to spend more time in Charlie's company. And for that I am grateful as I have never had so much fun writing a book as I am having with this; and the best is yet to come.
Sunday, 20 January 2008
There was not a great deal to tempt me (ever conscious of my still enormous to-be-read pile at the bottom of which are tomes penned on vellum with swan's quills), but I did find a wonderful gem for which I handed over all my loose change. It was a copy of The Comedians by Graham Greene. But not just any old copy. It was a Companion Book Club hardback edition in mint condition. The 7/3- price was still unclipped (that's seven shillings and three pence for you youngsters out there - yes, a hardback for 36.25p).
Now this may seem unremarkable, especially as there were a dozen other equally pristine volumes from the same book club. But for me it was a real dose of nostalgia. Perhaps not the best mix with the wrench of having parted with Mr Scrumptious the pussycat, but powerful nonetheless.
The reason is simple. My mother belonged to the Companion Book Club and bought these books. They sat on a set of shelves my father made and I read each and every one of them. The Graham Greene was when I was twelve and not long before we left Norwich (which I loved) and the City of Norwich School (which I loathed to the point my parents celebrated when my father was made redundant and we had to move).
I would often lie on the settee in the back sitting room and read one of these books (or any of the many others in the house). I look forward to settling down with The Comedians and, appropriately I suppose, conjuring the spirits of the past as I read.
Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Tuesday, 8 January 2008
On the other hand, and before I retreat entirely into the Eeyore corner, there will be many good things going on and, if you are prepared to look, there will be great books to discover - well written, astute, witty, vibrant, and with something new, genuine, and insightful to say about the human condition.
Which reminds me. I have a novel to finish.
I hope your 2008 is brand free and full of discoveries that delight and warm you.