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December 2008

November 2008

Storied creatures

I've never read any of Michael Crichton's fiction, but Mark Lawson's discussion of his work in The Guardian got me thinking. I've always maintained that, far from being sniffy about huge-selling writers with no apparent literary merits, all writers, whatever their ambitions for their own work, should have a long, hard look at what it is which those mega-sellers do, and readers in their millions so clearly want. Not just because snobbery is an unattractive quality, and even more unattractive in writers than in others because writers have some pretensions to seeing further into human nature. It ill becomes us... Read more →

It ain't what you do...

It's been one of those weeks when various bits of ideas from various places have coalesced. First, I've been revising my PhD commentary, and found myself trying to pin down how and why I feel that the first half of Atonement, while beautifully written and intelligent and all the other things you expect of McEwan, just, for me, edges into a cliché which I've called long-hot-summer-before-the-war. You all know the kind of cliché I mean, but maybe I'm not being fair to the book: is long-hot-summer-before-the-war so well-established that McEwan's playing with the convention, rather than falling into it? In... Read more →

Doughnuts, Dickens and utter silence

One of the many moments which made me lose my heart to my Mexican hosts happened just after I'd finished my second lecture, in Cuernavaca. It was packed: a 150 seat lecture theatre had another fifty people sitting on the floor and in the aisles. I'd talked, pointed, edited as I read to suit the audience, even got a few laughs, ended with a suitably uplifting idea, smiled sweetly at the applause, answered long and interesting questions, signed posters, shaken hands, been stood next to, smiled again at mobile phone cameras, answered more questions, shaken more hands, retrieved my notes... Read more →

The Other Novel

When you first start writing, it's wonderful: you're drunk on words, you're super-thin-skinned so you feel the brush of every idea and every emotion, you're obsessed with the magic of things in your head condensing, gaining colour and form, appearing on the page. You'll be seized with the passion at odd moments and have to run away and scribble. And then comes the point when something becomes big and important enough to need more: more work, more research, more planning and shaping and sitting down. Especially if it's a novel, it takes a lot of sitting down. It also takes... Read more →

Writing sex and ringing tills

When I was first asked if I'd be interested in writing an erotic story for an anthology by contemporary women writers I wasn't sure what to say. Yes, I like writing short stories, and writing sex, and yes, the general opinion seems to be that I do it well and yes, the advance for my one story would make a considerable difference to the domestic budget. But still... I was busy hammering out what was becoming A Secret Alchemy: could I put those voices, those worlds, on hold while I dreamt up something else? And would my writerly reputation -... Read more →

Win a signed copy of A Secret Alchemy or The Mathematics of Love... and the winner is...

So, what a great collection of entries! Click on the comment trail to see them all. Thank you everyone: it was very difficult to choose, but in the end, the winner is... PAM JOHNSON for Love multiplies by alchemy; mathematics of this secret realm. The runner up is RODERIC VINCENT for Alchemy of love two fused as one when secret mathematics work. with an honourable mention to SOPHY for Though alchemy's goal, I am told, Was a new, secret way to make gold, The mind's acrobatics Of pure mathematics Are still neither hoarded nor sold. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sunday 9th of November... Read more →

Past and present tense

Since I wrote this post, I've blogged about Past and Present Tense in more detail, but this post explores some of my own decisions about it, in particular cases, in more detail, so it might still be useful. A writer friend, doing the last big revision of her new novel, emailed to ask me what I think of present tense narratives. She's used it for the main-frame structure because it's a story of urgency, pressure on the main character, and action, with excursions into the backstory in past tense. But a couple of her trusted readers have said they don't... Read more →

A single rope

Two things happened in the last forty-eight hours which, of all the strands of the writing life, came from the two furthest apart threads you can imagine. On Wednesday, just before midday, I put Radio Three on while I trundled through a pile of self-employed administration. I was knee-deep in receipts for coffee at Goldsmiths ("subsistence for professional training"), and packing up copies of A Secret Alchemy for all the members of the Richard III Society who ordered them after my talk ("stationery" "postage"). And then some gorgeous vocal music - brainy and sexy in the way only Baroque music... Read more →

The paradoxical cave

A long time ago I went on my first-ever writing course, on Skyros. Not only did I have the most heavenly time on one of the most delectable Greek islands, but I came home and wrote the first novel I wouldn't be ashamed to show you, or my agent. (I wouldn't want it published, mind you, but that's another story). Skyros is the original alternative holiday in the sun, and as well as big name writers teaching what's now called Writer's Lab, it's full of yoga, self-healing, dancing, Tai Chi, windsurfing, meditation, massage and so on. They do get the... Read more →

Hearing voices

How many times do you hear an editor (less often, perhaps, a reviewer) say that the all important thing which will make them take a book on is the voice? Here's the latest version I've come across, from a 4th Estate Editor on the Authonomy blog: The most overriding thing I look for, though, is that all-important but impossible-to-define ‘voice’. You’ll no doubt have heard that a hundred times, and will hear it another thousand, but I can’t overestimate how important it is; there is no point in worrying about character or dialogue or pace or plot if you don’t... Read more →

A story in four dimensions

I'm feeling very benign towards the USA today, for reasons you can probably imagine. And among other things, I've been reflecting on how having a separate deal with an American publisher makes you realise how differently they present your work. (It also improves cashflow, but that's another blog post.) My two editors read my work itself in very similar ways, but how that expresses itself, for that market, in the whole package (yes, horrid word, but necessary) does vary. As you can see on the sidebar, the covers for The Mathematics of Love were very different, as were the blurbs,... Read more →

Events and signed copies of A Secret Alchemy, &c.

So, a quick round-up for now, and I'll sort out something coherent as soon as my brain's cleared of jet-lag, and jet-virus, and jet-landing (as in coming down to earth to laundry, tax bills, empty fridge, Christmas catalogues and so on, after ten days of being dined, wined, conversed with, taxied and bag-carried...) WIN A SIGNED COPY OF A SECRET ALCHEMY: silly competition coming very soon, so watch this side-bar... EVENTS: if you feel like dropping by for a listen, do come and say hello. And if after that you feel like buying a copy of A Secret Alchemy or... Read more →

Still processing: please wait...

Who was it who said that poetry was emotion recollected in tranquillity? It's not just emotion, though, is it? Nor is it simply a process of recollection. (Tranquillity usually helps, though I'm typing this while eavesdropping on, among others, a full-on Yiddish conversation, complete with assimilated American vocabulary...) The thing about experience, as every writing teacher has to explain, gently or forcefully, according to (you hope) the temperament of the beginner writer, or (more likely) the temperament of themselves, is that it isn't enough. What makes experience craft or even art is the business of putting it through the sieves... Read more →