Skip to Content

Comment from the book world in January 2009


From screenwriting to books

21 December 2009

'The beauty of screenwriting is that nobody can do anything without a script, so whether you are going to make the film or not at the end of the day, the writer gets paid, and has to be paid at every stage and for every rewrite... For years my mother had been saying to me, "Write books because then it's yours", so I thought "I'm going to take all the ideas I've had for films over the years and start writing books...

As a screenwriter you have to be succinct and cut out any extraneous words or descriptions so when I started writing prose for the first time it was really difficult to make it last. I'd write Chapter One (and it would take up) three-quarters of the page!'

Belinda Bauer, author of Blacklands, in the Bookseller

'A compulsion, a pleasure, a necessity'

14 December 2009

'It is a peculiar conundrum to write in the knowledge that you are creating a product, but not concerned with production, and knowing the only way to do it is to put that knowledge completely aside. I think for most writers it's a form of mental acrobatics verging on contortion: to hope to reach others by creating something uniquely personal. Or perhaps I'm making a generalisation based only on my own, rather roundabout journey.

From childhood, writing has always been a compulsion, a pleasure, a necessity, and not concerned with compromise or approval. But when I was 21 I wrote my first screenplay and an agency took me on. I moved back to London from Paris, where I had been teaching English as a foreign language with some fabricated qualifications, rented a flat and waited for my career to happen. No one feels older than the very young, and it seemed to me that I had travelled a long time to reach that point. I remember a sense of joy and rightness. There was nothing else for me to be doing. I was meant for this. So armed, or unarmed, with my naivety I faced the market place, and everything changed...

For me, in the end, unemployment was my apprenticeship and I had my first novel published when I was 40. I am concerned about those very young people being trained up in creative writing courses and universities around the country; being taught how to present, how to sell as if they were heading for careers in advertising, being snapped up by agents and scraping it all in the first - only? - book. Success may be recognition, it may be admiration, or money, but it is an impossibility without the purity and the clarity of the thing itself. Fifteen years ago I would sit down to write and think: "What will people like?"and now I begin every day with the virtual mantra: "Do what you need to do; nobody need ever see it."

Sadie Jones, author of The Outcastin the Sunday Telegraph

'The essential component of fiction is plot'

7 December 2009

'I know that what I do is not literature. For me, the essential component of fiction is plot. My objective is to get the reader to feel impelled to turn the pages as quickly as possible. If I want to achieve that, I can't allow myself the luxury of distracting him. I have to keep him hanging on and the only way to do it is by using the weapon of suspense. If I try to understand the complexities of the human soul, people's character defects and those types of things, the reader gets distracted.

Of course, I've read literature in the classic sense. We've all got those type of books on the shelves. They made me read them at school and I admit that I didn't like them much. I couldn't understand why they were said to be so good.'

John Grisham in the Sunday Telegraph

Changing the way people consume content

30 November 2009

'In the digital world, there is more volume out there, a lot of competing forms of media, a lot more noise. So is very hard to get noticed unless you can market your content. Like some record labels are now doing, that is what book publishers can do - use their brands to focus people's attention on their product...

The main thing the music business didn't realise at first is that digitalisation isn't about distributing the same content in another way. It changes the way people consume content and what is consumed.'

Danny Ryan, intellectual property specialist at LEGC, in the Bookseller

'Rules for writing'

23 November 2009

'In his essay Politics and the English Language George Orwell set out a series of rules for writing that are worth repeating in full:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase or jargon word if you can think of an everyday equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I would add three more tips:

  1. Read the papers.
  2. Be a sponge...
  3. Write. As much as you can. The more you do the better you'll get at it.

Damian Whitworth in The Times

'A love relationship'

16 November 2009

'The way I see it, ageing and writing is of course an enormous subject all by itself, and my general feeling about it is that as you get older, you lose a certain musicality... you realise that writing is more of a bodily activity than you thought.

All writers go off. There is no question about this in several cases: John Updike, for example, RIP, a great presence who is now an even greater absence. With him you see a deterioration in the ear, suddenly in his last two or three books, prose full of rhymes and repetitions and inadvertencies, those bits in prose called false quantities where the reader gets a jolt - "hasn't he already used that word, just in the last sentence", or "that rhymes with that word...'

It's my belief that the relationship between writer and reader is a love relationship. How do you make someone love you? You present yourself at your best, your most alive, your fullest, your most considerate. An author must be love-flushed: you must give them you most comfortable chair; you want to give the reader the seat nearest the fire, the best wine and food. It's a sort of hospitality gesture.'

Martin Amis in the Sunday Times

Books that are written by women for women about women

9 November 2009

'I've always felt that I have tried to give women of a particular generation a voice. I do think chick list has potentially been very powerful as it has looked at things like our awful relationship with our bodies, our relationship with food, with the beauty industry, our relationship with work - the fact that we're still not equal... So I don't think chick lit is always as fluffy as the title implies. Nevertheless, I sort of feel that I've transcended it, I've evolved and so have my readers. I still think there's a place for the fluffy. I do think it's another form of misogyny to denigrate books that are written for women by women about women.

(Publishing)'s become a lot more brutal. I see it with first-time authors, there's far less opportunity to build an author any more. You're straight out of the tracks and if you're not a big success on the first book there isn't the same kind of loving care. | hope I don't sound disloyal saying that, but that is the reality.'

Marian Keyes, author of The Brightest Star in the Sky, in the Bookseller

The Sony Reader

2 November 2009

'I've never been much of a gadget girl. I do have a mobile phone (Orange, obviously...) but, about to embark on a three-week book tour in August, I agreed to test drive one. I was a far from obvious choice. I don't have a BlackBerry, don't travel with a laptop and have an old-fashioned pen-and-ink diary. I saw the sense of taking one device rather than lugging quantities of books in and out of customs, but I was lukewarm.

Four countries and three weeks later, I'm another convert. The Reader

New website launched by magazine for readers which provides readers' reviews, mostly of classics, and reading rooms for online discussions.

is wonderful when travelling and, once you get the hang of it, easy to use. But, actually, I think the most significant thing about the Reader is not the issue of convenience, but its potential for transforming non-regular readers' relationship with books. We're all hard-wired for story telling, both as listeners and as tellers. We know there is a problem with literacy rates in the UK. If we are to solve it, we need to be more imaginative. We need to accept that the tools are not what matters - voice, print, audio - but the narrative itself. And acknowledge that, for some, a resistance to the physical book itself is a problem.'

Kate Mosse in the Bookseller

On Her Fearful Symmetry

26 October 2009

'The difficulty always, for any book, is the reveal. How much does the reader know at any given moment? Are you being fair if you hold that behind your back and don't tell them until later? So what I'm hoping is that as people get into this they are surprised but then they think: 'Oh, my gosh, yes, of course', but that's really hard to do. That's what mystery writers do and I've always had a lot of respect for them because it's such an amazing craft. But essentially this is a mystery or suspense novel.'

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveller's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, in the Bookseller

Opening doors for children

19 October 2009

'In the Fifties, when a strong child was dealing with difficult circumstances, there was always a rescue at the end of the book and it was always a middle-class rescue. The child would win a scholarship to Roedean or something, and go on to do very well. That was felt to be unrealistic and so there was a move away from that. Books for children became much more concerned with realism, or what we see as realism.

But where is the hope? How do we offer them hope within that? It may be that realism has gone too far in literature for children. I am not sure that we are opening doors for children who read these books, or helping them to develop their aspirations.

'I can't see how we roll back from this without returning to the sort of fiction that is no longer credible - books with a Blyton-ish view of things.'

Anne Fine in The Times

Booker's 'literary snootiness'

11 October 2009

'I wish popular novelists wouldn't get so het up about the Booker. They seem to believe that their exclusion from the most prestigious literary award is a symptom of the snootiness of the literary establishment. No doubt some people are literary snobs; but most writers and readers accept that there are different genres, that the Booker is for literary fiction, and that's that... The latest is Jenny Colgan, in the Independent: "But the Booker's enduring legacy to me is this: this is Grown-up Serious Reading and would all you little sentimental people who like being entertained please scuttle back to your tawdry little comics, your Katie Prices, threefers and celebrity autobiographies."

If the Booker intends to be exclusive, it has failed on numerous occasions: Salman Rushdie, Thomas Keneally, Anita Brookner, Roddy Doyle, Pat Barker, Arundhati Roy, Ian McEwan, Yann Martel and Aravind Adiga are among the Booker winners to have, vulgarly, entertained huge readerships. Yes, other winners - John Banville, Anne Enright - have been tougher sells. That is inevitable, given the remit of the prize. But it is the Booker's emphasis on literary excellence that has won it such prestige, and that has brought authors to the attention of readers who might otherwise have overlooked them.'

Nick Clee in BookBrunch

Writing short stories

4 October 2009

'The short story is a moment of enlightenment. A moment of vision. The story is going to fall on my head like an apple. But the novel... there is a school of thought, and I agree with it, that we do not have to invent novels; we discover them. The novel exists in my heart and in my mind and I must concentrate to get it out. This is not the case with the story. I could get an idea for a story now, while I am looking at your face...

Society is a living organism and you must keep up. That's why I still practise (as a dentist), though only for two days a week. I will never close the clinic. The clinic is my window, I open it to see what is happening in the street. You can't get disconnected from the street, as a writer; that's a common mistake. You can be too easily welcomed every night by the richest people and the most influential. It is very dangerous because it is that relationship with the street that made you successful in the first place.

I'm against presenting literature on an ethnic basis. I am pushed, little by little, to be an Arab writer, but I prefer to think of myself as part of the republic of literature...

A good subject does not make a good novel, but a good novel makes any subject seem interesting.'

Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany in the Observer