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Comment from the book world in January 2005


'An idea that really excites me'

19 December 2005

'I don't begin a book until I have an idea that really excites me. I open my imagination and wait for it to come. Up till now, it always has. But I never get a new idea when I'm writing. During that time, my whole mind is engaged in that particular book. I live with my characters, and as I write they reveal themselves to me. I plot in great detail before I start. It's interesting, though, because however carefully I've planned, I never get exactly the book I thought I was going to write.'

P D James in the Sunday Times magazine

'The money men will demand a better strike rate'

12 December 2005

'Publishing is a form of gambling. As in any industry with creativity at it score, - advertising, music, fashion, et al - publishers are guessing how public taste can be evolved.

Huge financial investments are staked on the gut feelings of one or two people who sometimes get it right but more often get it wrong. Within publishing, this situation will not last; sooner or later, the money men will demand a better strike rate, which will trigger a rush to understand what consumers really want from their reading.

Attitudinal research will be the new battlefield. The publishers with greatest understanding of their consumers will be the winners with consumers and retailers.'

Damian Horner, a freelance marketing consultant, in the Bookseller

Henry not allowed to be horrid in the US

5 December 2005

'I think they're just considered too subversive. But it's a very conservative climate there now and children's books are invested with great power; there's this idea the child might copy something. I always say to kids: "Henry is horrid, so you don't have to be." It's the same reason adults love murder mysteries, not because they're going to go out and kill someone but because fiction allows you to explore these emotions in a safe way. But maybe they're afraid American kids might discover sibling rivalry.'

Francesca Simon, American author of the Horrid Henry series, on why her books have been published in 20 countries but not in the States, in the Observer.

Writers in schools

28 November 2005

'Supporting young people as they find their creative voice is an inspiring business. All of us - writers, teachers, and project co-ordinators - are thrilled by the sheer adventure of it. We listen to the plays, stories and poems young people write, and we are astonished. We value not only the art itself, but also the impact creative writing has on learning across the board. Writing creatively teaches us to think creatively, and the very act of doing, the act of making, changes us profoundly. Teachers understand this very well, and over the years have invited thousands of writers into their schools...

There are as many approaches to the role of 'writers in school' as there are writers who do it, and our profession plays a dynamic role in education precisely because it harnesses such a diversity of expertise. Our research shows that the practice of visiting schools is particularly strong amongst poets; however, this is expanding to include writers in all disciplines. Writers-in-schools projects are happening every week across Britain and, although the traditional one-off author's visit is as popular as ever, new initiatives are more ambitious in scope and vision. The success of all of these ventures - one-offs and residencies - depends on teachers, writers, and project co-ordinators talking and listening to each other, receiving adequate training and understanding good practice.'

Mandy Coe and Jean Sprackland in the foreword to their book Our thoughts are Bees: Writers Working with Schools, which can be purchased at a price of £10 from their website

A vocation or a craft?

21 November 2005

'I cannot abide those writers who go out of their way to make what we do sound deeply magical; who, in doing so, mystify the craft of writing, going so far as to suggest that it is a vocation rather than a job. Whether it's talk of muses, or of an almost supernatural possession by one's own character, it always strikes me as bogus and smacks of someone who has ideas above their station. It is also insulting to those writers who work hard to craft their stories, doing detailed planning and research when necessary, and whose 1,000 words a day come from nowhere but their own imagination and natural facility with language.'

Mark Billingham in the Bookseller

Bookselling as part of retail

14 November 2005

'As a retailer you are not just competing against other bookstores, you are competing against everyone else on the high street. It is about how you can convince someone to buy a book rather than a pair of jeans.

We are a bookshop and whatever the most popular books in the country are, we should be stocking them. Of course, I understand that the publishers, literary press and commentators will make comments on it, but the people we have to listen to are our customers.'

Scott Pack, Waterstone's head buyer, in Publishing News

How editors can help

7 November 2005

'Perhaps I've been unusually lucky, but in my experience, editors, far from coercing and squashing writers, do exactly the opposite, elucidating them and drawing them out, or, when they're exhausted and on the point of giving up (like marathon runners hitting the wall), coaxing them to go the extra mile...

When people speak of writer's block, they think of the writer stalled over a blank page, or of throwing scrunched-up bits of paper - false starts - into a waste-bin. But there's another kind of block, which is structural, when you've written tens of thousands of words, but can't figure out which are superfluous and what goes where. Something's wrong, but you don't know what it is, and that can make you desperate...

And that's why editors matter, not as butchers and barbers, but because what's wrong with a book can be something the author has repressed all knowledge of, something glaringly obvious which, the moment an editor or other reader identifies it, you think, yes, of course, Eureka, and then you go back and fix it.'

Blake Morrison in an excellent piece about editors as an endangered species, in the Guardian

'Being a romance writer'

31 October 2005

'It really is just a regular job... It's about marketing yourself and really selling yourself. It's a business. You have to be business-savvy.

Being a romance writer is good and bad news. I will often get, "Oh, you write those kind of books." But at the same time, these are the books women are buying. I know I'm not going to change the world but I am going to brighten your weekend.'

Debbie Macomber, bestselling romance writer, at the 25th Romance Writers of America convention, as reported in the Reno Gazette Journal (romance novels are reckoned to comprise 50% of paperback sales in the US)

What makes an agent decide to take on a new client?

17 October 2005

'That's an impossible question to answer. You know it when you see it. Something just makes you feel 'must have' - you think 'wow'! You have the little tingle at the back of your neck. All of those things happen, and you just know. You've just got to fall for it in such a big way that you're bowled over, you have to run with it, it thrills you. You've got to feel those emotions, I think, really.'

Sophie Hicks, joint MD of the Ed Victor Agency, in Publishing News

'Know thyself'

10 October 2005

'I work office 9 to 5 most days, I do a half day on Saturdays and I have Sunday off... Often I'll write 5,000 or 6,000 words. But then I'll spend the next morning cutting and reworking it.'

'Know thyself... If it interests you it's got a good chance of having some life to it... Most of all I think it's a question of not being selfish. You've got to think of your reader - even if you haven't got one yet. For so many people, the act of writing seems to be enough and I don't think it should be.'

Charlotte Bingham, author of many novels, including Coronet and Lucinda, in Writers' ForumBritish writers' magazine which is highly recommended for all writers. It features wide range of news and articles which help writers to improve their work and get published:

'An enormous rich and living heritage'

3 October 2005

'We need to remind our country that we have an enormous rich and living heritage of writing and illustration for children. It is second to none in the world. In a way we have been careless with this heritage. Readers care about it but I don't think the government does...

There are a number of people who should be recognised as a 'thank you' for a lifetime of very good work, but who are unable to fulfil a role like the children's laureate--I am thinking of such people as Philippa Pearce, Peter Dickinson or John Burningham...

It is comparable to the Jamie Oliver situation in the classroom. The SATs are the equivalent of junk food--devoid of nourishment--while the Schools Library Services that provide living, organic books struggle to survive.'

Philip Pullman in the Bookseller on why the British government should set up an award for children's writers and illustrators.

Why we need an independent Ottakar's

26 September 2005

'What lies at stake in the fate of Ottakar's is not the publishers' profit margin but the diversity of buying decisions which determine what is on offer in Britain's bookshops...

We need to broaden, not narrow, the gates through which new books, new authors and new ideas must pass before readers can find them. We need publishers who will take creative risks in the effort to lead public opinion rather than tailor their aspirations to filling the slots of a monopolist.

Which is why we need an independent Ottaker's. I'm not optimistic, but I haven't lost hope.'

Anthony Cheetham in the Bookseller