Friday, November 24, 2006

What do publishers want...

... and how can writers help?

Part of an interesting Writing Magazine article, written by Phillipa Pride, caught my attention today and I've rewritten it here:

"The fiction bestseller lists today are dominated by established names who continue to deliver first-rate books -- Stephen King, Kathy Reichs, Lee Child, James Patterson, Bernard Cornwell, Jilly Cooper... I advise all writers to read these authors to see just why the public engages with these undoubtedly popular writers book after book."

I shall do just that, Philippa. After my first draught is done, though - I have to start now, and stop reading about how.

Curious Incidents!

A while ago, as instructed by a writing course no doubt, I started writing (and keeping) reviews of books that I read. Books included Googlewhack Adventure by Dave Gorman, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, White Teeth by Zadie Smith etc.

Now understanding (by reviewing) how these books 'work' will help my own writing, in some cases and so I will copy my reviews to this blog from today. But reviewing books that a) are not novels or b) I did not finish will not assist me, I feel.

So there will be no review of Dave's or Zadie's book, alas. (Zadie is no doubt a writer of the highest order but I just couldn't read on, and I got half-way through, too.)

I will include my review of Mark Haddon's book, however. And here it is...

'Review' of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime written by Mark Haddon

This is a fabulous book about an autistic boy called Christopher and his view of the world as he tries to discover who killed his neighbour's dog. It's almost a guide into 'how to write a novel' as well as 'how to research', 'how to write from child's point of view' and 'how to understate things'.

For me, it's a great insight into how to deal with a difficult person (and maybe shows all of us that we're a little more difficult to deal with than we'd like to admit to). So, in Christopher's case one follows simple rules: try to see things from their perspective, completely. E.g. if she lies then why does she lie?

I could go on and on about why I love this book but I didn't when I wrote the review and I'm not going to make it up here. Instead, here's the last few paragraphs of the book.


(That's a smiley face emoticon, and it means I'm happy, Christopher. Okay?)

And then I will get a 1st class honours degree and I will become a scientist...

And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of who killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and that means I can do anything.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Write a novel? Be a blogger!

Surprise yourself (and your readers!)

I visited another blog today; a very popular blog, actually. But before I have time to read any of it I notice that the author, Abby Lee, has had a book about her blog published. And it has sold 40,000 copies already.

Okay, it's non-fiction, but who's to say that you can't write a blog about the thoughts of a fictional character in the same way (like this)!

Who's to say that that blog won't garner the thousands of avid readers that Abby's blog did!

Who's to say that you too might win a coveted bloggers award and then find yourself inundated with book deals. (Yes, they sought her out - how novel!).

Who's to say you won't also have a ready audience eager to become buyers of your book, with little or no marketing involved on your part (40,000 is not shabby, is it!)

I know I'm a know nothing when it comes to writing and publishing a novel; still, I say 'blog away'. It's by far the easiest way to publish a website and, at the very least, it encourages the habit of writing (now that's never a bad thing, is it).

Some links to help

A not quite random collection of blogs

The blog in question

And some words you can read at Girl With A One Track Mind: "I laughed. 'Well, yes, spontaneity is always a bonus when it comes to sex, but that isn't quite what I meant. What I'm talking about is your technique: make him try to anticipate your next move, but then surprise him with something he didn't expect instead.'".

As an aside, how do you think you could use such sentiments to shape your plot, or even the behaviour of your characters, so that you leave your readers guessing, wanting more?

Arvon Postscript

This is a first draft of a message I was going to send to the Arvon director (she met us on the Thursday, and asked me (and others, I'm sure) the immortal question "why Arvon*?"), but she doesn't seem to have an email address.

So instead of sending it to her, I'll post it here, but I won't bother editing these first draft thoughts. (Would you notice if I did? ;-) )

Subject: Validation

[Dear Ms Director]

Stressful, especially on Friday

After I read my piece Jeremy said straightaway that what I had just read was known as postmodernist fiction (aka meta fiction). The fact that it was known as something made me feel 'validated'[He also said later, that it's about the writing not the type of writing. Of course. But writing something 'different' felt 'wrong' - now it doesn't.]

I've now bought London Fields by Martin Amis and will[...]

I've decided to develop my ideas, because of the course,

I even have a working title: Blocked

I had no idea what would happen going on an Arvon course, but I can now highly recommend it, simply for the hothousing effect it delivers.

I am very excited. Even though I am still a long way away from starting, let alone finishing my first novel. I now have a starting point, a first step, and it's thanks to Arvon, the tutors and the students. So, thanks.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share

And if you want to read my blogs


PS Believe it or not, this is a successful writer's website -

(*) Interestingly, for an organisation so interested in why, they don't seem to answer this question on their website.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Review of The Alchemist

Feel good about The Alchemist

Firstly, I'd like to say that I am not a fan of writing reviews. I'm a fan of reading them, but I never want to have to make a living from having to write them. "Too much like hard work." (Thus can the limits of my life's achievements be understood. Lol.)

No, I'm writing this review as it's an exercise in understanding writing. In fact, I have a sheet of paper with several questions on it that I meant to answer and maybe for the next novel I read (London Fields) I shall answer them.

The questions are:
  • What did I like most [about the book]?
  • What did I like least?
  • What about the author's style & characters?
  • How did the author achieve tension?
  • To what extent did the author force you to use your own imagination?
  • Did the chapter move me, make me laugh, bore me, excite me?
  • Would I read it again? [Note: YES, absolutely.]
  • What about typos, grammar, etc.?
To answer these questions with respect to Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist would be like trying to explain why the early morning sunset looks magnificent and life-affirming, or why the sound of your favourite piece of music (think of Mozart, The Beatles, Robbie Williams or whoever can be relied upon to 'float your boat') moves you so much. Quite simply, to do so would break the spell.

The Alchemist is a little piece of magic, of making believe that you can have control over your life if you look for, and act on, the signs.

To quote Santiago, the hero of the story, "It's true; life really is generous to those who pursue their destiny". Santiago, probably like all of us at some point in our lives, goes on a journey to seek out the 'treasure' only to find that it was [spoiler warning!] located at the start of his journey all along.

Coelho's language is simple -- it was translated (from Spanish, presumably) by Alan R. Clarke -- and everything that happens in the story has a purpose. For me, it was a classic page-turner and I do not use that term lightly.

I guess the novel appeals to my 'feel good about the world' nature (a little like Amelie, the film, does too).

I will always enjoy stories like this. I do think it's a 'proper novel' too, and not just a collection of words loosely arranged to chime with the current zeitgeist. (I'm thinking about The Celestine Prophecy, here which, whilst I enjoyed reading it, jarred with me on several occasions from a writer's perspective. I thought it was quite badly written, actually, whereas The Alchemist is written well enough to charm so that you almost don't notice the words.)

I know that not everyone is as enthralled with Coelho's world and Coelho's words. Perhaps because they think it's all 'new age tosh'; who knows.

Anyway, I'm rambling. I'm not, and never will be, a writer of book reviews.

What I took from this novel was the notion of searching, of seeking truth and of finding it in the last place you looked. I know. That last statement will always be true - no one looks for something once they have found it! But still it reminds me that sometimes people look for joy, for happiness, for love etc. everywhere but in the one place they will find it: in themselves.

I can use this notion in my next (first) novel, for sure.

To finish this non-review with, here's a short passage from the book I particularly liked:

'The alchemist said, "No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it."'

(Just imagine what it would be like if he (or she) did know it.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Write A First Novel Blog (Updated!)

Well Blogger (beta) now lets you add labels to your posts, and so I have just spent the best part of the morning 'tarting up' the ol' blog, and adding labels to (or categorising) previous posts.

Yes, it's a great way to not-write today, but -- and I never like to do things the easy way (as you'll find out when you read my first novel) -- blogging about writing is part of my writer's experience right now and as such is as valid an activity as any other. Actually, I have always had a habit of writing about what I learn as I learn it, so I can then explain it to others (or myself), later. This blog is just the latest example.

By the way, should that be single dash or double dash, above, and should it be writer's or writers'?

212 Degrees

I came across this 'inspiring movie' via my email recently, and it reminded me of what's at stake when you try and do something new; i.e. write a first novel.