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December 2010
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February 2011

January 2011

Alarm bells and coughing fits

It's surprising what you can learn from popular fiction. Apart from containing the first full-frontal sex scenes I ever read (learnt a good deal there), Judith Krantz's Scruples also supplied me with a piece of understanding which is nothing to do with sex but which has stayed with me. Towards the end of the novel the heroine is watching her new movie-director husband edit a movie. I don't have a copy of the book these days but, as I remember, she notices how the most beautiful piece of film or exquisitely acted scene will be be cut, if it spoils... Read more →

A word in your ear

I don't know about you, but I can't imagine writing a novel which was trying to set forward a thesis, or prove a point. Indeed, when I told a literary journalist that one of the themes of The Mathematics of Love turned out to be lost children and she asked me what it says about lost children, I floundered: I hadn't had an argument or a thesis, just an emotional centre for the novel. But the novel I've just finished is the first which has come from an idea. I knew from the first moment that it was going to... Read more →

The York Festival of Writing 2011 #FOW11

This year's York Festival of Writing is two months away, on 25th-27th March, and I'll be there, along with dozens of other authors, plus agents, workshop leaders, publishers, editors and several hundred writers at varying stages of their aspiration. I'm leading a workshop on The Writer's Voices as well as a mini-course with my companion-in-crime, Debi Alper, on Finding Your Voice. I'm also doing Book Doctor slots, though they're filling up fast, I see. Last year was huge fun, in a head-spinning sort of way, and afterwards I blogged about it all in Ducks, Dreams and Cross-channel Ferries. But what... Read more →

The desirable difficulty of sleeve and paint

Oh, how I do love a thoroughly counter-intuitive discovery! Apparently, the plainer and cleaner the typeface, the less a reader will learn and remember of the detail of the text. A typeface which slows the reader means they learn and understand more of what's being said. Not just the denotation, but the connotations, the friction between them, the prosody which affects the tone and 'feel' of the piece... they all have time to grow and flower, and create a full meaning, rather than only a basic meaning, in the reader's mind. This sounds to me like something fairly fundamental in... Read more →

If a thing's worth writing...

As night follows day, a new novel has entered the works, just as the final draft of the novel I think of as my Betrayal novel, has left them, going from my desk to my agent's and onwards. Not that it's new in the obvious sense; it first appeared, untimely, almost exactly two years ago. Since then I've been... not exactly ignoring it, but making no effort to do more with it than I couldn't avoid. I've bought the occasional book that caught my eye, clipped articles out of the TLS, gone to exhibitions that were relevant, collected postcards and... Read more →

Starting to breathe

Over on Nicola Morgan's blog she has one of her typically common-sensical pieces about if and how an agent was right to reject a manuscript on the grounds that the writer's not so young any more, and limited in how much she can travel. Her conclusion is that the agent has a point, for general reasons to do with how the book trade works, but no, those reasons aren't conclusive. In other words, the general nature of the book trade doesn't translate into a particular - and therefore absolute - rule. And then in the comment trail agent Carole Blake... Read more →

It flows. So what?

Last year I went to an induction day at the Open University for new Associate Lecturers in Creative Writing. And the moment which raised the biggest laugh was when someone said, "How do we get the students to say anything more about each others' work than 'This flows really well'?" Not only did we laugh, but it became the running joke of the day, because we'd all seen and heard it so often. Okay, perhaps that's a less than warm and empathetic attitude towards neophyte writers but, dammit, if we're going to engage with them and their writing warmly and... Read more →

Things which have a proper name

I did laugh when Michael Caine recently agreed in a radio interview that he's "an instinctive actor", and promptly went into a HIGHLY technical description of how if you're talking to another actor in a scene, you should look into their left eye with your right eye, which gives you the perfect angle for the camera to pick up your expression, without it appearing that you're looking at the camera at all. No other combination of gazes will do... Oh, and don't blink, not ever, unless you want to show weakness... Instinctive? I don't think so. Caine's art, it seems... Read more →