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Comment from the book world in January 2019

2019

'If you aren't growing as a writer, you are dead.'

9 December 2019

'Dear Aspiring Writer, you are not ready. Stop. Put that finished story away and start another one. In a month, go back and look at the first story. RE-EDIT it. Then send it to a person you respect in the field who will be hard on you. Pray for many many many red marks. Fix them. Then put it away for two weeks. Work on something else. Finally, edit one last time. Now you are ready to sub your first work.

Criticism is hard to take at first. Trust me, I've been there. But learn to think of crit marks as a knife. Each one is designed to cut away the bad and leave a scar. Scars prove you've lived, learned and walked away a winner. Any writer who tells you they don't need edits is lying. I don't care if they have 100 books out. Edits make you grow and if you aren't growing as a writer, you are dead.'

Inez Kelley, author of Turn it Up, Myla by Moonlight, Jinxed and five other romance novels

 

Do genre writers receive adequate respect from the literary establishment?

25 November 2019

‘Everything's upside down. They assume that to do something that appeals to a huge audience is somehow easier than to do something that appeals to a tiny audience. Because we do a book a year people think you just crank a handle and out it comes. All my peers are smart, intelligent, well-informed, interested in the world; everybody puts in a huge amount of effort. It's not easy to do. This peculiar assumption that it is needs to be laid to rest. As Henry James said, "Easy reading is hard writing."'

Jack Reacher and the ageing problem:

‘I think I'll do whatever I want, but I assume the reader is gonna give me a free pass. The reader always does anyway in terms of how you get into the story, which is always difficult for Reacher because he doesn't have any official role. It's always some coincidence. The reader says, "OK, I'll buy that, but the rest of it better be convincing." And it always is.'

Lee Child, author of 36 novels, including the highly successful Jack Reacher series and ranging from Blue Moon to Killing Floor in The Times magazine https://www.leechild.com/

 

‘What really annoys me'

18 November 2019

‘What really annoys me are the ones who write to say, I am doing your book for my final examinations and could you please tell me what the meaning of it is. I find it just so staggering - that you're supposed to explain the meaning of your book to some total stranger! If I knew what the meanings of my books were, I wouldn't have bothered to write them.'

Margaret Drabble, author of 20 novels, including The Dark Flood Rises, A Summer Bird-Cage, The Needle's Eye and The Ice Age.

 

'Thirty-five years'

11 November 2019

‘Before the actual placing of words on pages, The Testaments was written partly in the minds of the readers of its predecessor, The Handmaid's Tale, who kept asking what happened after the end of that novel. Thirty-five years is a long time to think about possible answers, and the answers have changed as society itself has changed and as possibilities have become actualities. The citizens of many countries, including the United States, are under more stress now than they were three decades ago.'

Margaret Atwood, author of The Testaments, The Handmaid's Tale, Lady Oracle, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace and 12 other novels, as well as poetry books, children's books and non-fiction, in the Sunday Times' Culture. http://margaretatwood.ca/

'One extra day'

4 November 2019

‘When the last autumn of Dickens's life was over, he continued to work through his final winter and into spring. This is how all of us writers give away the days and years and decades of our lives in exchange for stacks of paper with scratches and squiggles on them. And when Death calls, how many of us would trade all those pages, all that squandered lifetime-worth of painfully achieved scratches and squiggles, for just one more day, one more fully lived and experienced day? And what price would we writers pay for that one extra day spent with those we ignored while we were locked away scratching and squiggling in our arrogant years of solipsistic isolation?

Would we trade all those pages for a single hour? Or all of our books for one real minute?'

Dan Simmons, author of 37 horror, science fiction, fantasy and historical novels and collections of short stories, including Drood, Hyperion and The Terror.

'The dark side is rising'

28 October 2019

‘The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but clearly the dark side is rising. Things could not have been more odd and frightening in the Middle Ages. But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes. And this is another reason to write: people need us, to mirror for them and for each other without distortion - not to look around and say, "Look at yourselves, you idiots!," but to say, "This is who we are." ‘

Anne Lamott, author of seven non-fiction books, and the forthcoming Hallelujah Anyway, and two novels, Imperfect Birds and Rosie.

 

'The most dangerous profession'

21 October 2019

‘I had always wanted to be a writer as a child but couldn't spell out this dream to myself because during the Cultural Revolution all writers were condemned. To be a writer was the most dangerous profession. I wrote my first poem aged 16 and destroyed it. When I was working spreading manure in the paddy fields aged 16 and 17, I was always writing in my head. In my home town there was a black market selling books that had been banned. My 13-year-old brother was very entrepreneurial. He made money dealing Mao badges and used it to buy books, which he hid in a hole he dug in the garden... My father loved writing and encouraged us to write diaries. But I had to destroy my diary in the revolution.'

Jung Chang, author of the bestselling Wild Swans, Empress Dowager Cixi (with Jon Halliday) Mao The Untold Story and the just-published Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, about the sisters who helped shape modern China, in the Observer. http://www.jungchang.net/

 

 

'I like third person'

14 October 2019

‘First of all, I'm always writing from a point of view. I decide what the purpose of the scene is, and at least begin with some purpose. But, even more important, from whose point of view is this scene seen? Because then the narrative will take on somewhat the sound of the person who is seeing the scene...

I like third person. I don't want to be stuck with one character's viewpoint because there are too many viewpoints. And, of course, the bad guys' viewpoints are a lot more fun. What they do is more fun. A few years ago, a friend of mine in the publishing business called up and said, "Has your good guy decided to do anything yet?"'

Elmore Leonard, author of 45 novels, including Fifty-two Pickup, The Switch, Freaky Deaky, Get Shorty and Cuba Libre http://www.elmoreleonard.com/index.php

 

'What happened after the end of that novel'

7 October 2019

‘Before the actual placing of words on pages, The Testaments was written partly in the minds of the readers of its predecessor, The Handmaid's Tale, who kept asking what happened after the end of that novel. Thirty-five years is a long time to think about possible answers, and the answers have changed as society itself has changed and as possibilities have become actualities. The citizens of many countries, including the United States, are under more stresses now than they were three decades ago.'

Margaret Atwood, author 17 novels, including The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments, which is shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize, in the Sunday Times Culture. http://margaretatwood.ca/

'Genre writers have a greater responsibility'

30 September 2019

‘I first thought Reacher would appeal mostly to men. But the majority of my readers are women, which is really interesting. Even in the 21st century, women struggle to express themselves, they have to shout that much louder. It is usually women who are busier at work, holding families together, making the tough decisions. So I think they strongly identify with the fantasy of walking away from commitments. And being able to kick the crap out of other people...

I only really care about my readers. But I've always been irritated by the lazy assumption among critics that what I do is somehow easier than what ‘literary' novelists do. It's actually quite the reverse - to write something to please millions is obviously harder than doing something that only has to please thousands. I also think that genre writers have a greater responsibility. A literary reader has no expectation that everything they read is going to be great. If you pick up the latest Julian Barnes and it doesn't work, you go on to the next one. Many genre readers read one or two books a year - give them a bad book and they may stop reading altogether.'

Lee Child, author of the 23 Jack Reacher novels, most recently Past Tense, in Books magazine https://www.leechild.com/

 

How do you know when a poem is finished?

23 September 2019

'Every time you write a poem you start again. Sometimes things happen quickly, sometimes it can take years for a poem to find its proper mode of habitation. I think as writers we enter into a contract of trust, with ourselves, with our friends, with our editors, with our readers, when sending a poem out. Yes, practically, we have to think about stopping work on a poem. But isn't it more about when a poem is properly ready to be part of a useful exchange?

I am a firm believer that sometimes not writing can be useful. Not writing can be a way of processing difficulty, of making better poems. I am very wary of the poet who is always writing, and who publishes carelessly, too much. Nevertheless I do think it's important to keep reading and writing as a way of engaging with ‘the poem not written'. If it's a matter of confidence, of owning the right to write, then that is a different thing. Being part of a reading and writing community can help with that.'

Deryn Rees-Jones, poet and author of The Memory Tree, Signs Round a Dead Body and Quiver, and editor of Modern Women Poets http://derynrees-jones.co.uk/ in the Poetry Book SocietySpecialist book club founded by T S Eliot in 1953, which aims to offer the best new poetry published in the UK and Ireland. Members buy at 25% discount. The PBS has a handsome new website at  www.poetrybooks.co.uk's Poetips

When your first book is a bestseller

17 September 2019

‘Sometimes I feel like I talk about these things too dramatically. I'm sure some writers might read this and go, "For f*** sake you just published a book. Get over yourself." But you have to understand - before, there was none of it, then everything changed...

It's changed my life, and made it so interesting and exciting. So happy, on a cellular level...

I think it's an exciting situation when motherhood, or maternity, or lack of motherhood, is made more nuanced and put in the canon alongside the existential worries of universal man and war and class Because we've all had a mother and father, whether or not they've been in our lives, and we model our behaviours on that. It just throws up all of the things, doesn't it?'

Jessie Burton, author of just-published The Confession, The Muse and her bestselling first novel The Miniaturist in The Sunday Times' Culture.