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November 2007
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December 2007

Familiar and reliable, new and strange

I started responding to Writer Girl's comment on my previous post The dress code for bookshops, and other ways of annoying Brian Sewell, and it turned into something longer, so I'm posting it here instead. Talking about this business of branding authors, WG said My business brain cannot understand why an arrangement that would give authors brand recognition and a shot at a wider audience should be sniffed at. My business brain agrees - not least because the brand stays with the author whichever publisher has the individual books - but my writer's brain can see why so many authors,... Read more →


The dress code for bookshops, and other ways of annoying Brian Sewell

There's an interesting exchange here on Danuta Keane's blog, which carries on the conversation which started in an earlier piece of hers, It's the Brand, stupid, about the reasons why authors shouldn't shy away from thinking of themselves as brands. I won't summarise it here, though both are well worth suppressing your purist, anti-capitalist, art-fundamentalist knee-jerk horror at the idea of branding yourself till you've read them. It's Susan Hill's post in the comment trail that caught my attention: she describes an acquaintance who bought books avidly when The Book People called regularly at her office, but then went on... Read more →


The maker's mind

Is it just the human condition, or is it the particular fate of novelists to live with contradictions? In Being a snow leopard I explored the creative potential in having a foot in each camp, but now I'm talking about things that actually preclude each other. For example, in our writing we explore human interactions in all their multiplicity and complexity, but almost all of us need to be alone to do that work. We read and research and plan, but must be prepared to abandon it all if the story or the characters - those strange, seemingly pre-existing entities... Read more →


The Ancestral Elephant

Writing of the elephant in the room, in my last post, reminded me of something I've been dodging ever since I started this blog. Down our way he's called The Ancestor (though isn't that also a character in Moomintroll?). Yes, him, Charles Darwin. Okay, there, I said it. I guess most readers of this blog aren't surprised, but it's what many people think but don't ask when they meet me and my name, while others do ask immediately. (If you're wondering, he's my grandfather's grandfather, and I'm named after his cousin and wife, Emma Wedgwood) The thing is, I've been... Read more →


The full house and the real thing

A few years ago I kept meeting people - in real life and online - who maintained firmly that it's pure luck, whether or not you get a publishing deal. Apart from the fact that to say that to someone who's just got a publishing deal is rather rude, it's also not true. It's not completely false, either, though even if you do spill coffee down the Editorial Director of MegaBooks, and get chatting, s/he may offer to read your manuscript, but MegaBooks won't buy it if it won't make them a profit. And if it's good enough to get... Read more →


Selling precious metals

In Messes, clones and plots like a W, I said firmly that it's technique and confidence, together, which will enable your writing to be the best it can be. I do know that lots of wonderful writers aren't conscious of technique - some even avoid thinking about it for fear of becoming self-conscious - but the technical control is there, operating by instinct. And many a new writer, having written their early efforts from sheer enthusiasm trained by a lifetime's reading, then go seeking help and support. There they come across discussions of technique, see there are useful things to... Read more →


Messes, clones, and plots like a W

Anyone who's ever hung around in an online writing forum knows that, apart from religion and politics, the subject that's guaranteed to start a ruck is 'the rules'. Whole sites have been embroiled in the fallout, as people attack and defend and take up entrenched postions. Those sites which are already cauldrons of spite, jealousy, and obssessiveness have been known to be brought down altogether. And when people have their cherished rules disproved, example by example of acknowledged good writing, their distress - though it may take a defensive form - is very obvious. So what are these 'rules'? Generally... Read more →


Familiar notebooks, notebooks as familiars

Many writers keep diaries, but I'm not one of them. Who else reading this was given one of those 'Five Year Diaries' as a girl, complete with dinky lock and key? Only I never got further than January the 10th, and I suspect the entries were very like the ones that Katy reads aloud from younger brother Dorrie's diary in What Katy Did. "Tuesday: Forget what did. Wednesday: Pudding for dinner. Forget what did." On the other hand I suspect too that if I went back to old novels of mine, I'd find them remarkably like the diaries I didn't... Read more →


Filling the vacuum

So of course I can't stop thinking about the new novel. No, not A Secret Alchemy, the next one. Yes, I know, but nature abhors a vacuum, after all, and the vacuum of the book-shaped, struggle-shaped hole in my mind now is more than my nature can stand. Besides, it's fun, this stage. Undemanding, in a way: it's like having a big pot on the back burner, and tossing in anything that seems like a good idea. Other times, it feels more like lying on my tummy on the bank of a stream, holding a stick in the water, or... Read more →


Condensing the cloud of unknowing

I am delighted to announce, as they say, that the novel formerly known as The New Novel, My Current Novel, The Work-in-Progress, The Beast or, on a really bad day, This Bloody Novel, has finally been christened. On Monday we settled on A Secret Alchemy, and today I delivered the final draft to my editor. I've been rolling the title round my tongue ever since and it just gets better and better. But after all the fretting and brain-storming and digging in books, I'm thinking, 'Of course. That was always what it should have been called. Why on earth didn't... Read more →


Leaving Eden

A friend is taking some excellent creative writing classes. She described how she'd gone back to a favourite short story and read it again. And suddenly she was aware of clichés of expression and idea, of slacknesses, of how the story did and didn't work well in its tradition. Those of us who are writers nodded, because, in a way, one of the necessities of learning to write is losing your innocence. We can all remember the all-consuming pleasure of reading as a child. On more than one holiday day I demolished my six books, and took them back to... Read more →


Just You Wait

Writers are a motley bunch. Take a core sample through the Society of Authors and you'll find high-literateurs, cheerful writers of category fiction, self-publishers of exquisite nature books, academics, and authors of joke books for the Christmas market, and that's before you've got your own name-label safely on. We have only a few things in common: bodies the shape you'd expect from working sitting down in reach of the kitchen, a slightly mad look in our eyes from too much time spent alone, a tendency to talk too much when another human being does heave over the horizon, and a... Read more →