Monday, January 18, 2010

Channel 4's Book Club

So you decide to have a television Book Club. Book Club. Note the precise phrase. For we all know, don't we, what book clubs are like? No one's really there for the books, are they? They're there for the wine, for the chat about house prices and bags and shoes, and the chosen book is just an excuse. So this is what we'll do for a television book club. We can't have wine, of course, well, not beyond the Green Room, but we can have the intoxication of celebrity, a very likeable fashion guru who confesses to read far less than he'd like, a couple of well-loved comedians (one of each sex), and a couple of good-looking actors (one of each sex again) who will at least be able to act looking interested and intelligent even if it's a bit obvious they're acting and even if the female ex-Footballers' Wives Laila Rouass never manages to say anything (and the camera will be able to focus strategically up the thighs of her crossed legs).

Stick them all randomly on sofas (that's how book clubs happen, don't they - people just turn up and plonk down on the nearest seat). Don't bother briefing them, that would be really unrealistic: in book clubs people just say the first thing that comes into their heads, and the biggest personalities get to say the most (although rarely the most considered). Make the main focus of your programme the writer of a celebrity memoir. He will be the focus, even though the billed focus is a novel. He will be the focus not only because the other celebrities are more excited by his presence than the novel, and because he and the female comedian immediately start a basically private but very entertaining bit of sparring (in which she also gets to plug her own celebrity memoir) (this is the sort of thing that happens in book clubs, isn't it?) but because you have allocated the greatest amount of time on the programme to this item. And the questioning is not only entirely adulatory, but focused not so much on his book but on his life. Well, you get a lot of that in books clubs, don't you, people going on about life rather than books, and, let's face it, who after all really wants dry old literary stuff - that's just gonna put people off books, isn't it?

So let's put the serious bookish bit off a bit more by an interview with a mega-selling chick-lit author who can provide some glamour and success and riches and stuff, and then by having a nice little lark, a film of a reporter rushing around Spitalfields with strange words stuck on big cards like street signs, getting charmingly engaged with the public (and hope it doesn't seem embarrassingly forced).

Well, it's getting towards the end of the programme now, so better bite the bullet and have a bit of a film of the serious novel's author talking intelligently about it (though sweeten the pill with some lurid spooky photography).

And finally, with five or fewer minutes to go, the promised discussion, which you have billed as the point of programme. The fashion guru says without elaboration that he doesn't go for Gothic stuff. The female comedian looks a bit uninterested in this, and fails to give an opinion of her own. Well, that's what it's like in book clubs, isn't it? No one's obliged to say anything, after all. Others make a few murmurs, and the general impression is that no one likes it very much. Well, that's how it goes: people in book clubs are so often far more interested in their own egos than books.

And that's it. Book club over. Really authentic. Brilliant.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reading and the masses

Robert McCrum can't understand why, when book programmes are just about the cheapest to make and there's such interest in book festivals despite the fact that they're not even much hyped, there are in fact hardly any books programmes on TV.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Down with the internet - or at least off into part of the day!

Many bloggers are announcing their New Year resolutions, which is something I usually only do in the privacy of my journal: yes, I still have one of those old-fashioned black-and-red hardback A4 books in which I record by hand my writing thoughts, though I must say I write in it far less often nowadays since the internet has swallowed up so much of my time.

And here's the rub. I want to make a resolution to stop using the internet so much, since it has not only eaten into my writing time, but as Tania Hershman has indicated lately, and as David Ulin wrote recently, the presence of the internet in one's life can create a kind of scattering of focus that is entirely antipathetic to the writing of fiction, which for me, and I am sure for most fiction writers, requires a kind of shutting-off into a very personal dream world. It goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoy the social interaction, and the internet has been a stupendous marketing tool for both my recent books, but let's face it, it's like having social get-togethers and sales pitch meetings in your house all day long, and who can write under those circumstances?

But how can I make such a resolution, when the marketing of my books, which come from an independent publisher, depends on my being very much online? Would making such a resolution be the same as making a resolution to stop marketing my books? I'm very much afraid of this, but I guess I'm even more afraid of ending up never writing again.

Later this year (I think - or sometime soon, anyway) Salt will be reprinting the revised edition of my first novel The Birth Machine (which I guess is a bit of a feminist classic - see here [scroll down to Kimberley Osivwemu's entry]), so I'll have to work on promoting that, as well as keeping my other books afloat. But like Tania Hershman, I'm going to try to restrict my time on the internet each day. It will be interesting to see if it's just as effective, and if by being constantly connected I was just wasting time...

I'm posting this across my two blogs, as it seems both very personal to my own writing and a subject of more general literary import.

The (Dis)Comfort of the Familiar

In today's Guardian John Dugdale assesses the implications of the 2009 Bestsellers list, which is dominated by genre fiction, and from which literary fiction and non-fiction are largely exiled (can't find a link, I'm afraid):
...there's a narrowing of the range of work that sells in bulk, a sense of the public grasping for novels that will conform to a familiar structure.