Wednesday, April 13, 2011

View From Here article, and thoughts on short stories and CW teaching.

I said in the comments on a post below that I would like to write sometime about the subject of unity and fragmentation in fiction. It's a big subject, and immersion in my wip hasn't yet allowed me to tackle it with the depth it requires, but my monthly deadline on The View From Here has pushed me into putting up some signposts.

In other matters, there's a good post by Daniel Green on The Reading Experience about the vogue for 'quirkiness' in short stories, a quirkiness that he (rightly, I think) says often covers a lack of substance while being lauded as doing quite the opposite. He sees it as stemming from the culture of creative writing teaching programmes, and it does seem to be cw-teaching backlash time: Jessica Crispin gets the boot in on The Smart Set: 'Style is king, and not content', she notes, chiming with Green's perceptions, and accuses cw teachers of, among other things, 'excising all [the students'] adjectives, replacing their libraries of novels with guides'. Interestingly, in an article in the current Mslexia, manuscript editor and former literary agent Rose Gaete picks up on a mantra of cw teaching that can constrain rather than liberate writers:
I often sense that new writers, in an effort to adhere to the maxim 'show, don't tell', can shy away from exploring their characters' motivations. Paradoxically, this can result in less richness and complexity, not more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mslexia: Mid-list crisis

Good (and depressing) article by Louise Doughty in the new issue of MsLexia, on the crisis facing mid-list authors. I love the opening paragraph in which she reports what she was told by 'a respected novelist who had had her most recent book turned down by her publisher':
' "They said, the reviews of the last were great, but your sales figures were poor. I replied, they're not my sales figures, they are your sales figures. I did my job. I wrote the book.' "

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Word of mouth

Robert McCrum tackles the phenomenon of word of mouth success in today's Observer. I'm a bit amused, though, by John Murray MD Roland Phillips' reported statement - apparently in support of the notion of word of mouth - that 'people don't like to be told what to read'. Maybe he means when you hear publicists talking out of other orifices...

McCrum points out, however, that when a book takes off apparently independently of a publisher's publicity machinery, there's more involved than people simply telling each other about a book: there's the subtler matter of 'the milieu into which the unknown book is released' that creates that kind of grass roots excitement.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The dangers of taffeta

On the matter of gender bias in reviews I was interested to note that, beginning his Observer review of Monica Ali's The Untold Story (her novel that imagines the fate of Princess Diana had she not died), Tibor Fischer says: 'I'm not sure I'm really qualified to review Monica Ali's new novel because I don't know what a French tip manicure is and I'm rather hazy on taffeta.'

I'm kind of charmed by this: Tibor Fischer is a refreshing reviewer whose reviews always shine with this kind of honesty, although since he concludes by pronouncing the book 'classy commercial fiction', I wonder if by saying this he's doing more than simply being honest, but also distancing himself from it.

At any rate, it set me thinking. Would a female reviewer be likely to state so readily that she doesn't feel qualified to review a book due to a haziness about football or motorbike engines? Would she be too afraid of endorsing a general perception that already makes her less likely to be asked to review books by men?

I have to say that I don't know what a French tip manicure is, either, but I must confess that having been brought up by a needleworking mother, and having actually studied textiles at one point, I'm not at all hazy about taffeta, and I say this publicly not without a certain qualm...

Friday, April 01, 2011

An Apology

This post is an unreserved apology to William Skidelsky, literary editor of the Observer. In an overview post on the reactions to Vida's research on gender bias in reviewing, I attributed to him the view 'that while women read more than men, they mainly read the kinds of books that are not worthy of review'. He has pointed out to me that this is not a comment he made, nor a view he holds, and a look back at the Guardian article on which I was commenting shows that the comment was in fact that of TLS editor Peter Stothard, and related specifically to his own publication, thus: 'And while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS... The TLS is only interested in getting the best reviews of the most important books.' It was a serious error on my part because people picked up on it in the comments section and ran with it.

This is the moment that the lone blogger - unsupported by editors or subeditors - dreads. For the past five years that I have been writing this blog I have lived in horror of making this kind of misrepresentation (and in the process providing fuel for the detractors of blogging), and I can tell you that when I received William Skidelsky's friendly but questioning message I went hot and cold all over. It's why blogging is so particularly time-consuming - the need to check back and double-check, which I signally failed to do on this occasion - and why it is not always compatible with the immersive, distracting and time-consuming project of writing a novel (which is why I think I failed on this occasion).

Once again, my sincere apologies to William Skidelsky, and my thanks to him for pointing out my error and enabling me to put it right.