Blog and blogging

Belated Happy Christmas

So there I was, Christmas Eve in deepest, darkest Suffolk, with an editorial report to send which I had absolutely, cast-iron-promised would get there before Christmas. I had two laptops and three ways of going online and could I get any combination of them to work? Could I hell! The local market town was showing signs of closing down, but mercifully the nicest café-wine bar, which combines 15th century half-timbering with posh cream teas and French brasserie cooking, also combines those with wi-fi internet and a sensible decision that someone was going to need reviving after the last minute shopping... Read more →

Three pleasures and a frustration

A handful of little things: 1) Something's gone wrong with the Comment form at the bottom of each post - at least in my browser - so the 'post' and 'preview' buttons are greyed out. Sorry if you'd like to leave a comment (I have one all drafted in response to everyone's insteresting ideas on Conditional Validation, but can't post it either, grrrr....), but I hope TypePad are sorting it out even as I write. 2) Like all of us, when I read a book which really changes how I think, I'm always dying to tell others about it, but... 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 →

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 →

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 →

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 →

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 →

New Jersey jetlag

Just a brief post from an internet café in Oaxaca, in Southwest Mexico, but about something else entirely. Reading historical fiction for my PhD, I´ve been fascinated by how, for many writers, fiction is fundamentally about time and therefore memory, at the deepest level if not always on the surface. When I realised I was going to have finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime before we actually took off from Heathrow, I dived into Borders. One of the books I bought was LeCarré´s A Small Town in Germany. I read it all the way across the... Read more →

Not a fortress, just a zoo

To some aspiring writers the book trade looks like a well-defended fortress, garrisoned by what appears (according to your temperament) to be a bunch of celebrity-hunting, money-grubbing clones, or thick-skinned, parasitical philistines. Hang around for - oh, all of ten seconds - on some of the writing forums, and you'd think that the garrison is run by a set of James Bond villains determined to destroy literary civilisation as we know it. It is heartbreaking to send your work out and have it rejected without so much as a grade attached: even lazy and nasty teachers write C- before they... Read more →

Make me believe

The US agent Nathan Bransford asked his blog readers what was the worst writing advice they'd ever been offered. His comment trails are always long - it's a consistently interesting blog - but this one made a python look stumpy. After I'd recovered from quotes like "Remove all your commas; editors don't like commas and they pull the reader out of the story," and "Any sentence that uses 'was' is written in passive voice" (more on that one here), I was interested to see that the bad advice quoted which most resonated with other commenters was "Write about what you... Read more →

Another bloggy week

Most writers start secretly. Then it evolves from a habit to a hobby and a few people know, then you take it seriously, learn your trade, learn (usually painfully) something about how the industry works, and more people know, and eventually - maybe, just maybe - the world knows. And one day you wake up and realise that this is what you do, and such is the nature of our society that is has therefore become what you are. My brain's gone a bit demob-happy, what with it being Friday and all, and the end of a funny mixed-bag of... Read more →

Come on now, drop the knife...

My mention of steak knives in my last post obviously touched a nerve (I realise that's a slightly nervous-making metaphor, but never mind) so, in conversation with a few of my fellows, I've been rounding up the most annoying things we get asked. Alternative answers and questions gratefully received. Top Five questions that drive aspiring writers mad: Q: Hoping to be the next JKR, eh? A: Well, she tells a fantastic story, but what I write is different. Q: Isn't it only celebrities who get published these days? A: No. Look at the debut novel prizelists: not a celebrity in... Read more →

Lonely, obsessive, and slightly nuts. And that's a bad thing?

Autumn does seem to have arrived, doesn't it? And it's not just the weather and the plum jam-and-crumpets; across the aspiring writer world, the first thing that's asked once the sand's been shaken out of the beach towels, and the piles of post and pizza menus combed for those dishearteningly fat SAEs, is, 'Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? NaNoWriMo, for the unintiated, is National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that those who sign up spend November writing, furiously, towards the standard goal of a 50,000 word novel. The website makes no bones about the focus of the whole... Read more →

Writing wrongs somewhere else

Well, now that I've finally pinned down some of the difficulties of using real historical people in A Secret Alchemy, for a Vulpes Libris piece, it's got very late. I've rather run out of time and brainpower to post what I was planning here, so, sorry, that'll have to wait a day or two. Meanwhile, Vulpes Libris are having a Richard III week. My post is called Writing Wrongs to make A Secret Alchemy and the other posts look as if they'll make a classic VL mixture of thoughtful booky talk coming from all sorts of angles. Read more →

Birds and Gardners

Despite having fulminated more than once, for example here, on why I think rules are not what a beginner writer (or any writer) needs, I do think it can be useful, sometimes, to have a quick label for a concept you've understood in more detail already. The difference between showing and telling is subtle and complex, and 'don't' doesn't begin to describe the relationship between them, but among writers it's very useful to be able to say 'It's quite telly-y, this passage,' and know that the others understand the full implications and possibilities of what you mean. And it applies... Read more →

Something for the weekend?

I may not be able to post much, or okay comments promptly, for the next week or so, so if you're in need of a bit of reading matter (or procrastination), you might like this piece, which I wrote for Vulpes Libris, about a favourite children's author of mine, Antonia Forest. Writing the piece was such fun, and made me realise how important she was to my reading for many years. And I know that her two wonderful historical novels, The Players' Boy and The Players and the Rebels, have been a huge influence on my work. See you soon! 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 →