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Comment from the book world in January 2019

2019

'Ebooks made all of those old books immediate'

25 April 2019

‘Ten or 15 years ago, (literary estates) were dead. There were a few classic books that will always be with us, and the rest was dust. Then e-books provided the mechanism of making old things timeless - there was no such thing as backlist or frontlist any more. We, like a lot of people, worked hard and scrambled to make these book available again. Film and TV people have, let's say, quick attention spans. An idea floats into their minds, maybe about a book they read years ago, and if it's not available they are off to another idea. But e-books made all of those old books immediate, and that coincided with the rise of Netflix, Amazon, and all the other streaming services.'

Bill Hamilton, MD of the A M Heath Literary Agency, which celebrates its centenary this year, in the Bookseller

 

'Turning up'

18 April 2019

‘I'm a great believer in turning up still. No forgiving yourself because you are tired. I try to get there before 10, not too early. On those magical writing days you forget you exist and you surface an hour later and you have 400 words you were not expecting to write. But turning up is certainly the first condition. Work until lunchtime, listen to World at One, have a sandwich. Walk the dog. We have a very active sheepdog.'

Ian McEwan, author of Machines Like Me, The Children Act, Atonement, Amsterdam, Enduring Love, The Child in Time and many other celebrated novels in the Guardian

 

'Now I could write a real death, a true loss'

8 April 2019

'Whatever happened to me in my life, happened to me as a writer of plays. I'd fall in love, or fall in lust. And at the height of my passion, I would think, 'So this is how it feels,' and I would tie it up in pretty words. I watched my life as if it were happening to someone else. My son died. And I was hurt, but I watched my hurt, and even relished it, a little, for now I could write a real death, a true loss. My heart was broken by my dark lady, and I wept, in my room, alone; but while I wept, somewhere inside I smiled. For I knew I could take my broken heart and place it on the stage of The Globe, and make the pit cry tears of their own.'

Neil Gaiman, author of Adventures in the Screen Trade, American Gods, Neverwhere, The Sandman: Book of Dreams and 41 other books. http://www.neilgaiman.com/works/Books/

 

Memorable short stories

1 April 2019

‘An admirable line of Pablo Neruda's, "My creatures are born of a long denial," seems to me the best definition of writing as a kind of exorcism, casting off invading creatures by projecting them into universal existence, keeping them on the other side of the bridge... It may be exaggerating to say that all completely successful short stories, especially fantastic stories, are products of neurosis, nightmares or hallucination neutralized through objectification and translated to a medium outside the neurotic terrain. This polarization can be found in any memorable short story, as if the author, wanting to rid himself of his creature as soon and as absolutely as possible, exorcises it the only way he can: by writing it.

Julio Cortázar, Argentinian author of Hopscotch, A Manual for Manuel and 4 other novels, as well as 11 short story collections.

 

 

Ten years of writing history

25 March 2019

'I've been sitting at a desk writing history books for something over ten years. It's been engrossing, demanding and occasionally exhausting. This is a good moment to take stock. What does it add up to? Four books in various languages (the last still in proof), thousands of pages of handwritten notes.

Despite the impressive number of different language versions it's been a modest living not a handsome one - I'm still waiting for the film rights. People come by and take out options but I've become realistic. I spent three unpaid months writing outlines for a Game of Thrones style history epic based on one of my books at a publisher's behest - no luck so far. There's an element of gambling in all this - the next book could make it, a producer could get serious, but I've learned that seasoned punters read the odds - a history of Venice is never going to be Fifty Shades of Grey.'

Roger Crowley, author of Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, Empires of the Sea and three other books on the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency site

'The seed that sets you off'

18 March 2019

‘I do think that sometimes the seed that sets you off on the process of writing a novel can have been around for many years, even decades, before it actually - for some mysterious reason - comes to fruition . I think it's almost a good sign if an idea has been fermenting for quite a long time in a sort of semi-conscious way.

I've learnt to distrust the staggeringly brilliant new idea that was triggered by something that happened quite recently. Ha ha! You need the dog-eared thing that's been around for a long time, quietly nagging away at you.'

Pat Barker, author of The Silence of the Girls, the Regeneration trilogy, The Eye in the Door and five other novels. https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/16113/pat-barker.html

 

'No writing is wasted'

11 March 2019

'No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can't put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.'

Erin Bow, Canadian YA writer, whose books include Stand on the Sky, The Scorpion Rules and Plain Kate https://www.erinbow.com/

'I'm a writer now'

4 March 2019

'It was only after two years' work that it occurred to me that I was a writer. I had no particular expectation that the novel would ever be published, because it was sort of a mess. It was only when I found myself writing things I didn't realise I knew that I said, 'I'm a writer now.' The novel had become an incentive to deeper thinking. That's really what writing is-an intense form of thought.'

Don DeLillo, author of Running Dog, White Noise, Falling Man, Zero K and 13 other novels

 

Does magic have to have rules?

25 February 2019

This is a whine, not a rant. I rant when I'm angry; right now I'm just frustrated and annoyed. It's hard out here for a fantasy writer, after all; there's all these rules I'm supposed to follow, or the Fantasy Police might come and make me do hard labor in the Cold Iron Mines. For example: I keep hearing that magic has to have rules. It has to be logical. It has to have limitations, consequences, energy exchange, internal consistency, clear cause and effect, thoroughly-tested laws with repeatable results and -

Waitaminnit.

This is magic we're talking about here, right? Force of nature, kinda woo-woo and froo-froo, things beyond our ken, and all that? And most of all, not science? Because sometimes I wonder. Sometimes, whenever I see fantasy readers laud a work for the rigor of its magic system - we'll come back to this word "system" later - I wonder: why are these people reading fantasy? I mean, if they're going to judge magic by its similarity to science, why not just go ahead and read science fiction?

N K Jemisin, author of nine fanasy novels and the first author to win three Hugo Awards in a row for her The Broken Earth novels. http://nkjemisin.com/2012/06/but-but-but-why-does-magic-have-to-make-sense/

"Why am I writing this?"

11 February 2019

‘I never planned to be a writer. It is a very odd way to make a living. Just telling lies...

I do have a visceral sense of breaking through the shell of something when I walk into my study in the morning. Now I just go and do it. Sometimes it doesn't go well, but most often, I'll look up and it's time for lunch and I don't know what happened...

All books have moments when I say. "Why am I writing this?" But now I have written so many I just sort of trust and let it happen. The other nice thing to getting to this age is that I think, well, what if I never finish it? The world will go on without another of my books.'

Anne Tyler, author of 22 novels, including Clock Dance, The Accidental Tourist, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Back When We Were Grownups in The Times.

 

My Writing Space

4 February 2019

'I've wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember, and along with that came a very clear vision of where I'd write. Though I read many books in which people wrote in secret, magical places -nooks in elderly oak trees, in wardrobes, while stowed away at sea - my own vision was rather more grand.

As a child, I would write in exercise books, at the kitchen table, and sometimes I'd dream of being a proper writer, and how, when I was, I would write where a proper writer would. I would write in a big house, set high over parkland (I was reading a lot of Jane Austen), and would pick out my words on a kick-ass, hefty typewriter (they hadn't invented computers yet, of course) which would sit in the centre of an enormous mahogany desk.

This, in turn, would be situated on a suitably thick carpet, in the centre of an elegant high-ceilinged room, which looked out - via French doors, where gauzy floor-length panels billowed, obviously - onto a wide expanse of perfect emerald lawn. Beyond the lawn would stand conifers, pointing skywards, like pencils, and the only sounds, bar my tapping, would be birdsong and bees.

And in my imaginings, I would be quite, quite alone. Bar an elderly gardener who‘d rumble past on a ride-on lawnmower from time to time, it would simply be me; me and my imagination, the contents of it constantly bubbling over...'

Lynne Barrrett-Lee, author of 8 novels, including Julia Gets a Life and Barefoot in the Dark
http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/2016/11/09/my-writing-space-by-lynne-barrett-lee

 

 

Book to film - Meg Wolitzer on The Wife

28 January 2019

‘I go through a very intense process when I'm writing a book, so the idea of repeating that for a film seems exhausting. You want to have a point where you are really done with something, you know? Much better to let other people do it and then occasionally you show up and eat their food on set or come to their gala premieres and, you know, excitedly meet everyone. For me, that's a good role...

I wrote it (The Wife) four years ago when feminism was definitely a moving thing that had a lot of people talking about it but by the time the book came out we were in a very different moment and feminism was front and centre. But a novel isn't just tracking what's happening in the moment. It's trying to peek around the bend and also look backwards, at why we got to this point and why we think and feel the way we do. An up-to-date novel almost seems like an oxymoron to me. You want a book to be able to last and to be reflective. As Mary Gordon said to me once, the novel is the opposite of a tweet.'

Meg Wolitzer, author of The Wife, The Uncoupling and The Female Persuasion, in the Observer