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May 2008

Where did the week go?

Oh dear, oh dear, time does slip by during half term. What with having family to stay, and an editorial report to write, and a PhD chapter to finish, and vast quanties of reading for that and the new novel, and a big update for my website about A Secret Alchemy - temporary cover, extract, reading-group-questions, how-I-came-to-write-it and all - the poor blog's been going hungry. A truly superb production of Pygmalion at the Old Vic is one of my better excuses. I know the play pretty well, and it never fails to be good value, but here was a... Read more →


The spaces between

Apparently someone once said to Artur Rubinstein that he was a great pianist. He replied that, actually, he didn't play the notes any better than anyone else: what he played better than anyone was the spaces between the notes. It's sort-of obvious that a very plain, bare narrative - what one might loosely and irritatingly call Hemingway-style - apparently using as few words as possible, works as much by what's not said, as by what is. From that realisation it's not so far to realise that much of such a story's power is in what the reader finds in -... Read more →


Different voices and chocolate cake

So I'm trying to work out what to read at Pipe & Slippers, next Sunday. The slots aren't very long, which makes for a much more varied diet for the audience - and the bill really is varied - but harder decisions for me. And I do want to read from both The Mathematics of Love and A Secret Alchemy, though presumably a couple more books down the line I'll have to get over that one. Do I go for bits at the beginning, which don't need too much explaining? Do I go for high drama, or something quieter which... Read more →


Alive, kicking, and joining in the game

I've been trying to work out what to do about the fact that much of study of literature assumes that I'm dead, when I really do feel quite alive. The thing is, I've finally discovered some hard-core literary theory - narratology, apparently a branch of structuralism - which is absolutely fascinating not just in itself, but because it maps very exactly onto my own experience of writing. Where necessary it gives new, more precise words to the things that I and most writers think and worry and decide about, but reading it's a bit like having walked all over a... Read more →


Taking your novel for a dance

I've spent the weekend working to Chopin, courtesy of Radio 3. I came late to him, and all to the core nineteenth century composers: at school my instrument was the flute, and there is no music written for it between early Beethoven and Debussy, though Bach and Handel and Telemann are in my bones. It was only when I made a writing friend with precisely opposite tastes in music to write to that my horizons expanded. He was astounded that the backbone of my writing-music collection is the big baroque choral works, whereas it had never occurred to me that... Read more →


A Secret Alchemy

So here it is. A great moment... I should say that this isn't the final cover, which has been delayed, but rather than delay the proofs going out Headline have given it this very elegant temporary dress. But nonetheless, as all authors know, the real excitement is that It Looks Like A Real Book! It's sitting plumply on my desk, being patted every now and again. I might resist the temptation to take it to bed with me, but then again I might not...I didn't resist with The Mathematics of Love, after all! Read more →


Any spiders interested?

In Slipstreaming Eagleton and selling your soul I and some of the commenters were grumbling about the way that our non-fictional selves often seem more important to the book trade and to readers than what we write, which is ostensibly the raison d'être of the whole industry. (I'm reminded of the vast edifice of health clubs and Away strips and Chelsea-Football-Club-branded wine, which surrounds a postage stamp of centrally-heated grass in the middle of the stadium at Stamford Bridge.) Then Rosy Thornton had an excellent rant on Vulpes Libris about the way that book trade categories, and most particularly book... Read more →


Not so much a bloggy week as a giggy one

Considering I'd assumed I was in something of a lull between books, I'm actually slightly busy on the author-in-public front, which is why I've been neglecting the blog. Despite my grumbling about the business (and I do mean business) of selling one's authorly personality and experience, as opposed to selling my books, I really enjoy the readings-and-signings side of it, because that (and the comments here) is when I actually meet people who've read my work: that's when you really feel that what you've been saying is being heard. On Saturday I went to a conference at the University of... Read more →


Slipstreaming Eagleton and selling your soul

To Goldsmiths yesterday evening, for a lecture by the literary and cultural critic Terry Eagleton. Apart from knowing his name in connection with swathes of literary theory, combatively expressed, which I haven't read (I haven't read much of anyone else's literary theory, it has to be said) I didn't really know what to expect. In the event it was the kind of talk you wish you could have recorded, to go over more than once, spreading out the densely-argued points, gathering together arguments that ranged over an astonishingly wide area, and seeing whether it really is as persuasive as it... Read more →


Drilling deep

But if I was arguing in Trust me, I'm telling stories for being allowed to play fast and loose with historical (or, indeed, any other) facts, I do see that there's not a lot of point in fiction that doesn't grapple with the realities of human existence in some way. It doesn't need Bruno Bettelheim to tell us that even fairy stories say important things to us: that enchantment has its uses. A fairy story may also be - pace Freud - a growing-up myth; many an opera - pace Jung - is an integration of animus and anima; and... Read more →


Trust me, I'm telling stories

I've just realised that this is my hundredth blog post, so thank you to everyone who's dropped by, read, commented, linked, or just said something that got me intrigued and sent me over here to work out what I think. For example: Poet Sheenagh Pugh has been blogging here about Linda Grant's piece in The Guardian that also set me off on Rogues and Vagabonds. It's apparently even harder to persuade readers of poetry that the persona in the poem is not the poet, than it is to persuade the readers of novels that the author made it up. And... Read more →


Seized with desire

Over at Vulpes Libris there's an excellent interview with Susan Barrett, author of Fixing Shadows and The Inconstant Husband and, incidentally, a stablemate of mine at Headline Review. At one point she steps away from the questions and says, 'What fun writing this - it is a nice opportunity to post-rationalise, a bit of literary onanism.' Which made me laugh, but also got me thinking. I guess whether we should pursue that precise analogy does depend on what you think of onanism as a form of pleasure, but post-rationalising is an interesting business. Yes, it's fun, though there are people... Read more →