Friday, 23 December 2011
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
- Purple prose. Of the ‘behold my literary sensibilities’ variety. I don’t know whether to be grateful or embarrassed about this, so I shall be both.
- Repetition. Saying it clearly the first time means not having to say it loosely again and again.
- Waffle. My book isn’t set in Belgium. And even if it was, characters should never be allowed to sit about in comfy chairs, explaining the plot to each other. At least not in front of the reader.
- Un-warranted non-verbal communication and other narrative ticks. Such as staring, gasping, sighing, eye-rolling and arse-scratching. Actually, no-one ever scratched their arse in my book, but if they had, they wouldn’t be doing it now.
- Seeming. When things patently are.
- Many instance of the word that. On the whole I think
thatthis is a good thing.
- A policeman. Yes, a whole policeman. He was a rubbish
policeman anyway. I like to think
thathe’s now in the next street, scratching his arse.
- Repetition. Oh…
Friday, 4 November 2011
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Sunday, 23 October 2011
Friday, 14 October 2011
Monday, 3 October 2011
Friday, 30 September 2011
Friday, 23 September 2011
I went life drawing last night for the first time in years. And it was a humbling experience. There’s nothing like being confronted with the real thing to remind us that everything we draw is in a kind of shorthand. It’s less a question of trying to succeed in capturing the subject than an exercise in trying to control the failure to do so. Which is why drawing from life is so important, and why I’m pleased to have found a new group to join. It’s the visual arts’ equivalent of practicing scales.
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Thursday, 8 September 2011
Editted to add: Nah, don't like it. Cold light of day, and all that. So now it's back as it was.
Saturday, 3 September 2011
Thursday, 1 September 2011
Monday, 22 August 2011
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Monday, 15 August 2011
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Friday, 1 July 2011
Monday, 20 June 2011
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
-NERVOUS. Don’t let anyone tell you to be relaxed about your work. Nervous energy is good – it prevents complacent or comfortable writing, and keeps you out of the biscuit tin. And fortunately there’s loads to be nervous about, especially if it’s your first novel. So bite those nails! Drink too much coffee! And don’t worry if a little cold sweat seeps into your keyboard -- there really is everything to play for and everything to lose. A nervous brain is a very active organ, a nervous brain gets things done. So keep it real, brothers and sisters -- keep it twitchy.
-HUMBLE. You are not in complete control of your novel, only the writing of it. And this is good because no way can you be expected to bring much objectivity to something you’ve been giving birth to for years. If it’s rubbish, you need to be told. If your editor spots a useful connection you could make, or a logical flaw you shouldn’thave, just be grateful. The only question you should ask is, ‘would this change improve the book?’. If the answer is yes – and somewhere deep down you’ll always know the answer to that question – then go for it. Just remember to also be...
-RUTHLESS. You’re living on your nervous system and your ego is in chains. Now you are loose in a world of your own making with the most powerful weapon a creator can have: the delete button. Even your main character reaches for a spare pair of trousers as you clank by, your senses straining in every direction for signs of plot device, flabby prose and vile non sequiturs. You have already driven cliché to the edge of extinction, and reduced vast herds of Adverbs to a few captive specimens. On your keyboard, no button shines as brightly as the one that used to say ‘Delete’.
A huddle of emaciated back-stories spot you. They point at each other and shriek, ‘Him! Do it to him!’ but you merely scatter them with your passing – you’re after new prey now. Up ahead, a minor character who no longer pulls his weight is too busy ordering pizza to notice your approach. It’s only when your monstrous scales disrupt his wireless connection, preventing him from uploading his third best Mahjong score, that he looks up into your pitiless lens. In a second, he’s off his chaise longue and running, but it’s already too late.
Friday, 10 June 2011
Friday, 20 May 2011
Obviously, the ideal pulse rate would be a once-a-day (or at least twice-a-week) rhythm of site traffic spikes, as my scintillating wit and industry relevant infoblasts bring waves of visits to each post, but, um… I’m still warming up to that. In the meantime, while I wait to be industry relevant and scintillating (and rather than resort to posting pictures of kittens), maybe a detailed study of my blog’s stats will suggest a suitable medicine.
My most visited (I won’t say ‘read’), blog post is without doubt my claim-to-fame one. There’s nothing surprising there: write about something famous and people will find it. But my second most visited post, and by some margin too, is a throwaway piece I knocked out in a few minutes, whose popularity seems to be based on the fact that the play on words in its title is also a popular spelling mistake. So clearly the best shot in the arm I can give my blog is a dose of…
…Harry Potter and the Googled Myrrhmaid!
There. Long term though, there’s no alternative to getting back into the driving seat and making the effort to blog more regularly, but I have to move house first. In the meantime, please don’t worry if the patient slips into a temporary coma, it should be over by the end of June. And don’t go away, because there’s loads of news about my novel coming up (hey, I saw that look!), and more about Dan and the Dead, as well as my adventures with websites, my thoughts on branding (cowboy!), the experience of being edited, and the ups and downs and headaches of working with ideas. I’m also going to be giving stuff away.
See you soon (I hope!)
Thursday, 5 May 2011
Sunday, 17 April 2011
Anyway, it's something to put in the diary for next Spring:)
Wednesday, 13 April 2011
Saturday, 26 March 2011
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
schools -- his call for ‘leading children’s authors’ to select titles isn’t going down too well either. Librarians are surely the true experts, as many authors themselves are pointing out.
As a boy of 12 or so, we started reading Treasure Island in English Class. The teacher read aloud for five minutes, then we took it in turns to stumble through Stevenson’s Victorian prose ourselves. There seemed to be a story in there somewhere, but all I could hear was a hesitant drone and the rustle of paper aeroplanes. When weeks turned to months, the teacher finally decided something had to be done. She held a vote and we elected to stop reading and do a mini project on democracy instead. Obviously we all loathed Treasure Island by then.
Isn’t it time to abandon the concept of ‘children’s classics’ altogether, and accept that Stevenson, Ransome, Carroll, et al are best left for more mature readers? Let’s stop beating kids round the head with what they should read, and let them take their pick from modern writing, comics, flash fiction, anything that keeps them reading. This is meant to be a 'Golden Age of Children’s Writing,' after all. But it’s libraries, not lists, that could help it become a Golden Age of Reading too.
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Friday, 18 March 2011
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Friday, 11 March 2011
Sunday, 6 March 2011
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Following my last post, I thought I should have a stab at guessing what might be 'hotter than hot' in Kid-lit in the next few years. Not because I advocate writing anything other than the story you have to tell (trend-chasing is for losers, right?), but because precedent suggests it's bound to change the publishing landscape, whatever it is.
The web is surely the best place to hunt for nascent signs of tomorrow's 'Harry Twilight', and the opinions of readers are easy to find and always interesting. However, what people read now only tells us about the acquisitions climate of two or more years ago, which is more relevant to my last post than this one. The opinions of writers themselves are far more likely to take us toward the future, and those of agents even more so, but surely the nearest we can get to the publishing sensation of tomorrow is to look closely at what is exciting commissioning editors right now. Or at least at the things they have noticed are missing.
About two years ago the head of a British publishing house told me he believed 'young detectives' (think Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Secret Seven) were overdue for a comeback. Since then several editors have suggested to me that they feel the same way, and there certainly does seem to be a gap in the market. There have been close equivalents in the Young Bond series (and now Young Sherlock Holmes) and individual books (such as Siobhan Dowd's delightful London Eye Mystery) have been very successful. Character-driven mystery-tackling in its broadest sense is perennially popular (Artemis Fowl, Joshua Garcia, Alex Rider, etc), but where is the Red Hand Gang of the 21st Century? Either the 'group of crime-busting child/teen detectives in a short-text series' format has morphed into something else or it's been neglected. Few contemporary teenagers are going to want to read or watch Nancy Drew now, but is that because they don't want crime fiction of their own or is that because Nancy Drew is very dated and 70s cheesy (at least on the telly)?
The clichés and archetypes of the genre are well known: a dashing but flawed leader (with a dog), a nerd with specs who is the brainy one, and a fiery girl (probably with red hair) to stir things up and provide a dash of very tame sexual tension. Then the set-up needs a 'Something Else' that gives the kids an edge (a gift for disguises perhaps, or a rich uncle with 'access') while the writer must have a talent for slow-drip backstory and long term character development. Stir all this together and serve it up in a dozen or more plot-driven shorter novels, and watch the fan base grow and the film rights get optioned.
Or not. At the very least it's something to think about (minus the clichés, of course). But identifying a gap in the market is a long way from spotting The Next Big Thing, and as far as I can tell that publisher and those editors have yet to be proved right.
But what if the next hot intellectual property is already here? I've just finished reading I Am Number Four by James Frey and Jobie Hughes (under the name Pittacus Lore). The book -- soon to be a series and already a movie -- reads like a self-concious attempt to reboot a tried and trusted formula in order to generate a fresh publishing sensation. First wizards, then vampires, and now... aliens? Traditional Sci-Fi themes of the space western/Star Wars type are also conspicuously lacking in today's Kid-lit market place (I've long wondered why we don't have a modern teen take on Flash Gordon or Blake's Seven, and perhaps Nathan Bransford has too), but it could be that Pittacus Lore has found the right way to exploit them. Book one was published six months ago, and with five more planned someone somewhere is investing heavily in Aliens. Did I mention there's already a film?
So, er.. that'll be my conclusion then: the Next Big Thing in Children's publishing might well be super-powered alien heartthrobs who gang up to solve crime. Or it might be something else.
You heard it here first:)
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
Saturday, 5 February 2011
In Britain we now have something called 'The Big Society'. For those of you who don't live here, this is the government's Grand Idea, designed to stimulate local entrepreneurial flare while pulling back the role of central government. I'm all for giving new ideas a go, but looked at from any angle it's hard to see the Big Society as much more than a Big Sticking Plaster slapped hastily over the effects of even bigger cuts in public spending. Cuts that plunge painfully near an author's bone when they they cause the loss of public libraries.
Of course, it's not just writers who should be worried. Everyone has something invested in the concept of the free lending library, whether they have forgotten what that is or not. And don't take my word for it. Philip Pullman's recent speech in Oxford, where the local council has decided that Big Society means the proposed closure of 20 of the county's 43 libraries, does more than anything else I've read to highlight the value of what we may be about to lose. Please take some time to read it (though the chances are you have already).
I'm lucky because my local library isn't threatened. It's a bright, clean, modern place, and never empty. But I know that this isn't always the case. Some have been allowed to become 'gloomy old buildings full of unread books', and many respond to their possible closure with disinterest. You have only to read some of the negative reaction to Pullman's speech to find out what a part of the British population thinks of libraries. And as their use is allowed to decline, some local authorities -- invited by government to 'be creative' in their response to the Big Society – have deemed libraries to be irrelevant and unprofitable (!), dead wood to be hacked off. An easy way to save money.
So much for being creative. A truly big idea would see our less popular, shabbier libraries re-vitalised as centres of literacy and civic pride, designed to counter the numb-skull notion that we don't need them 'coz it's all on the internet'. Like Pullman, I want to live in a Long Society that remembers the past and invests across generations, not a short sighted one that can't see beyond next year's accounting and the vague positives of 'bigness'.
In 1994, Norwich central library burnt down. It was a traumatic event for the city, and I sensed the ruin and shock of it even though I no longer lived there. I used the library as a boy, and remember it as a grand and sober institution, a repository of local history stretching back a thousand years, a lending library stacked to its high ceiling with upright spines. It may not have been a very joyful place for a child, but there's something especially bitter about the stink of burning history and books, however old you are.
Norwich responded to this disaster not by rebuilding a cheap imitation of what was lost (as many called for), and certainly not by grabbing the chance to cut spending, but by finding the courage and foresight to create something innovative: a 21st Century forum.
Thanks to Phil Bradley for the picture.