Skip to Content

Comment from the book world in January 2018


Becoming Children's Laureate

19 March 2018

'Becoming children's laureate has given me a voice. I'm determined to change the snobby attitude around picture books. Children's illustration is viewed as the poor relation to fine-art painting, yet it's children's first introduction to art and can have a profound effect on how they view the world. John Burningham's Granpa, which deals with the loss of a loved one, explains grief to a child far better than anything else...

I experienced failure until my thirties. I always knew I wanted to do something art-related, but I had no idea what. After art school I did everything from mixing colours for Damien Hirst to starting a chandelier company, all the while writing and inventing characters for books, films, TV, but getting rejections. It took five years before Clarice Bean was published, and that was the turning-point. It took a long time to support myself solely on illustration.'

Lauren Child, UK Children's Laureate and author of the Charlie and Lola picture books and the Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort novels in the Sunday Times magazine

'A new counter-culture'

12 March 2018

‘Books begin to feel more and more like a new counter-culture. There seems a new power animating books that was absent for many years, and that has to do with the form. It's said that reality has outstripped fiction but I don't think that's true. We need fiction more than ever to define reality afresh.

Politics has collapsed as a place where questions can be asked. The media has largely collapsed and in that space, books remain to ask the questions. Even if they do it badly, they still do it.'

Richard Flanagan, author of The Narrow Road to the Deep South, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2014, First Person and four other novels, in the Bookseller


‘A mouthpiece for race, gender and culture’?

5 March 2018

‘I never conceived of myself as a mouthpiece. Nor do I think of myself as telling "my stories", exactly. I think of myself as thinking about all sorts of things, on the page, in public. I try to point out the idiosyncratic way I think and the commonality I'm seeking. Something like: "I'm thinking this - are you, reader?" But I don't mind if the answer turns out to be no. I'm less interested in convincing people of an argument than in modelling a style of thinking. That's what's important to me in the literary world: ways of seeing and thinking...

I like to hear a variety of voices, but they don't have to be personal stories. What I'm really interested in is other conceptions. People have radically different minds, in my view, and I want to be exposed to as many of them as possible. I think there can be almost as much difference, experientially speaking, between you and the person next to you on the bus as there is between me and my pug. And if, as too often happens, publishing houses choose only writers they recognise, from their own milieu, their own backgrounds, class, perceived community etc, well, then you get far less variety in this pool of minds and we all miss out. Writers principally - but readers too.'

Zadie Smith, author of the book of essays Feel Free and the novels White Teeth and Saving Time in the Observer


Writing 'because you have to'

26 February 2018

'The best books come from someplace deep inside. You don't write because you want to, but because you have to. Become emotionally involved. If you don't care about your characters, your readers won't either.

Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being. If you're that kind of writer, never give up! If you start a story and it isn't going well, put it aside. (We're not talking about school assignments here.) You can start as many as you like because you're writing for yourself. With each story you'll learn more. One day it will all come together for you.'

Judy Blume, author of Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Forever, Wifey and 25 other books, which have sold over 85 million copies worldwide, but often been banned.



Crime fiction today from a Waterstones buyer and crime writer

19 February 2018

‘It's in rude health. I would never try to predict a trend, I think it's a false game. The public appetite leads you one way then another, and recently we've rocked from the Scandinavian craze to psychological thrillers. Some people say the crime novel is not a social novel - that it's just entertainment. I would totally dispute that: it's exactly where society is at the moment. Psychological thrillers are usually written by women, with a female protagonist and male villain, often in a domestic setting. For many men, the experience of women is being illuminated for the first time via #MeToo, and that it's not a problem that exists just at the top of Hollywood but everywhere. Crime fiction is reflecting that...

On the new Staunch Prize, a new literary award for thrillers that don't feature violence against women. ‘My inclination is if Val McDermid says something listen to her. In response to this prize, she said that in pretending that the problems of sexual violence don't exist, are we really helping, or is it better to expose it? At the same time, I think there's room for different prizes. Undoubtedly someone has and will write a great crime novel where a woman isn't killed. I know my books wouldn't be welcome, but there's space for everyone.'

Joseph Knobbs, crime fiction buyer at Waterstones, whose crime novels Sirens and The Smiling Man (published in March) have been published under the name Joseph Knox, in Bookbrunch


Finding a publisher

5 February 2018

'What you have to remember about the publishing business is that a young editor or small publisher makes a fortune by finding an unknown writer and making the book into a best seller. That is how you get on in the publishing business. And so if you do write something good, they will be crazy about it and they'll publish it with great enthusiasm. They will also spend money advertising it.

So although people say, "it's terribly difficult for a first novelist to get published," in fact, if you are good it is not that difficult.

My first novel was not very good but it still got published. It wasn't good enough to be a bestseller, but it had something and a publisher read it and thought, "this guy could be going somewhere". He published it because he thought I might write something better one day.

Your job is to show them what you can do. To start with, you will need an outline because the publisher will want to know what the story is about and how it develops. They will also want to know whether you can write and if you have got the power of words.

For that, you will have to write at least some of it...'

Ken Follett, author of The Kingsbridge Series and The Century Trilogy from the Masterclass on his website


'Remake a world'

22 January 2018

'If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories - science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world."

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes.


'Reading other poetry aloud'

15 January 2018

'T. S. Eliot said to me "There's only one way a poet can develop his actual writing - apart from self-criticism & continual practice. And that is by reading other poetry aloud - and it doesn't matter whether he understands it or not (i.e. even if it is in another language.) What matters, above all, is educating the ear."

What matters, is to connect your own voice within an infinite range of verbal cadences & sequences - and only endless actual experience of your ear can store all that is in your nervous system. The rest can be left to your life & your character.'

Ted Hughes, giving advice to his 18 year-old daughter Frieda on becoming a poet

'In a book it happens in your head'

8 January 2018

‘One of the reasons children find magic so exciting is that they get told what do all the time. It offers them a freedom and power. I did lots of fairy, witch and giant research, it makes the fantasy more rich. Bringing in Arthurian and Shakespearean references, it's very British-inspired...

Books ‘Offer something special and different. A language medium, a thinking space. And it's also fantastic for empathy. On a screen it happens out there, in a book it happens in your head...

I do put in complicated ideas because I think children are highly intelligent. Thinking outside the box is natural to them. The heroes of my books are always the creative, inventive thinkers.' She wants her books ‘to feel like sweets not brussel sprouts. Not something that you ought to be doing but something you want to be doing.'

Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train Your Dragon series and The Wizards of Once in the Bookseller.


'The dream transaction'

1 January 2018

'A published writer has people pay to read the manifestations of her imagination, soul, and heart. For me, that remains extraordinary. It will always be the dream transaction for me, but it is also the most exposing, the rawest, unavoidable, supremely important fact in my life that I have battled desperately to understand and get a handle on these past three years. It's a rockier path, certainly, knowing you are going to be held publicly accountable, knowing that your personhood will be as relevant to your artifices when it comes to talking about the work. I know I'm not alone in this battle and I am grateful to the other writers who have spoken to me about this on the way, sometimes reaching out without me even having to ask.

My own lack of anonymity when I publish is something I am coming to accept. I handed it over without even thinking about it. I made a pact with the kindly devil with my eyes wide shut, but I do not regret it. Having my novels bought and read has been the best thing that ever happened to me. Sometimes, however, the things that are best for us are not always the easiest. I do regret my inability to find my pause button, but maybe writing that regret here will enable me to locate that mysterious setting inside myself? I want to write, and write well, and that's nearly all I ever want to do...'

Jessie Burton, author of bestselling The Miniaturist (just very successfully made into an excellent BBC One two-parter) and The Muse on her website