Friday, February 26, 2010

Salt Sale, Hard Times and Doing It for Yourself

My publishers, Salt, are having an amazing sale, and anyone interested in poetry would be advised to get on over there quick, while stocks last. Salt make beautiful books and some are going for as little as £1 !

There's a serious side to this, though, of course. The reason Salt are running this sale is that they need an emergency injection of cash if they are to keep going. The Just One Book campaign started last summer continues, and as a Salt author I am asking you once more to do that: buy just one Salt book - and brighten up your life into the bargain! If you want prose, you could buy one of my own Salt books: Balancing on the Edge of the World, a story collection that lifts the lid on some of the untold stories in our everyday lives, or my novel Too Many Magpies, on the surface a spooky tale of adultery but on the deeper level a study of our present sense of the precariousness of the world, and of the ways in which we think. (If you've got them already, why not buy one for a relative or friend - Too Many Magpies, since motherhood is one of its themes, would make a great Mothers' Day present!) Or you could buy a book by one of the great short story writers I feel privileged to be published alongside: Carys Davies, Matthew Licht, Paul Magrs, Tania Hershman, Vanessa Gebbie, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Chrissie Gittins, Padrika Tarrant, and on... Or you could buy Salt's guide to the art of the short story, Short Circuit.

Times are hard, the publishing industry has changed, and all but the most commercial sectors of publishing are suffering. Last night I attended a meeting of north-west women writers, convened by the novelist Sherry Ashworth and others with a view to setting up a press to publish fiction by women in the north west, in response to these changes. The reality of those changes was illustrated by the fact that there were several writers present, both prize-winning and mass-market, who were now facing difficulties in publishing their latest books or had moved to small presses. Basically the feeling is now that writers must do it for themselves.

A propos this, my fellow Salt author Nuala Ni Chonchuir writes an interesting post on the subject of self-promotion by authors. I have come across criticisms on the web of authors who ceaselessly promote their own books, and I have to say that, although I try to do it conscientiously, it still goes against the grain for me, but the fact is that it's now an absolute necessity - most of all for authors with small presses, but also it seems now for most authors with big publishers. I'm sure that Vanessa Gebbie won't mind me replicating here her comment on Nuala's post:
I was at a large writer's convention last weekend, with talks from some senior figures in the publishing world - (Get Writing 2010 - and a speaker in question was the MD of Hachette) - it was a wake-up call for anyone in the audience who thought that all you had to do was get a book accepted and then sit back!

Cross-posted to my author blog.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Pinch of Salt Rule for Writing.

Interesting that some of the 10 Rules for Writing offered by some of the authors in The Guardian tell you rather about those writers themselves.

Anne Enright's first rule, for instance: The first twelve years are the worst. Hm, obvious she's never been a mid-list author out on her ear.

Hilary Mantel's very first rule: Get an accountant. For god's sake, has she never been at the writing stage where you can't f***ing afford an accountant?

Interesting how conflicting the advice is, Atwood and others saying it's no use plodding on if something's going stale, someone (can't remember who) saying stick at it.

All relative, innit? And perhaps it's not surprising that it's the writers I like best with whom I mostly agree: Atwood, Enright (in spite of her opener), AL Kennedy, Joyce Carol Oates among others.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jewish Book Week

I'm delighted to have been asked to blog for Jewish Book Week (27th February-27th March), and I'm covering two sessions on Sunday 28th in which I must say I'm immensely interested. After my recent visit to Theresiestadt, there was no way that I was going to miss the session at 11 am when Ben Barkow and Klaus Leist will read from and talk about the book they have edited, Philipp Manes' account of his experiences in the camp, written in the last days and broken off in mid-sentence when he was deported to Auschwitz. And at 2 pm I'm covering 'A Beginner's Guide to Jews on the Edge', a discussion between Will Self and Adam Thirwell on 'the many possible manifestations of Judaism and whether any of these semitic permutations actually matters'.

The week looks really interesting, other speakers including Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Lionel Shriver, Anne Fine, Rebecca Goldstein and Stephen Pinker. Probably a good idea to book, which you can do here. My colleague, author and blogger Sue Guiney, will also be blogging JBW.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Writers Are the New Proles

Foad Mardukhi alerts me to an article by Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, which spells out the pauperisation of writers and their loss of status in our new internet culture.

And, although I don't usually respond to requests to publicize things - once you start, you're never finished, and this is a commentary and not a listings blog - I've given in for once:

The Juniper Institute is an American summer writing conference hosted by the UMass-Amherst MFA program (, giving new/emerging writers the chance to study with a stellar array of more established poets and fictionists. The April 1 deadline for scholarship applications to the 2010 Juniper Summer Writing Institute is fast approaching! From June 20-26, poets and writers will gather at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to explore the creative process and advance their craft. Faculty members Charles D’Ambrosio, Mark Doty, Noy Holland, Paul Lisicky, Dara Wier, and Matthew Zapruder will offer workshops in poetry, fiction, and memoir. Writers in residence (including James Tate, Joy Williams, and Thomas Sayers Ellis) will give readings, lead craft sessions, and participate in Q&As. For application forms and more information, visit Workshops fill quickly, so applicants are encouraged to submit their materials soon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Who'd Be a Writer?

Apologies for the recent absence from this blog, which was due to much busy-ness. One of the very many things which preoccupied me was a visit to a private secondary school to conduct workshops with younger classes and to talk to upper school classes about the whole business of being a writer. My readers may be interested to know that the matter of greatest concern for the future guardians of our culture appeared to be that of Making a Living, and achieved its best expression when I addressed the whole of Year 10 in the hall at the end of the day:

Boy 1: What's your best-selling book?

Boy 2: How many of it have you sold?

Response of shock at the figure of 3,000 (they opened by asking me if I like Twilight, and know that it has sold in the millions), and I explain that I write literary and not commercial fiction, and that it's not on the whole possible to make a living out of literary fiction.

Boy 3 (puzzled): But what's the difference between literary and commercial fiction?

I explain, essentially that literary fiction doesn't obey the expected formulae, isn't simply entertainment.

Boy 4 (a bit incredulous): So why don't you write commercial fiction that sells?

I explain that though I may sometimes have thought of it, basically I can't and don't want to: I'm looking for the truth rather than just to entertain, and I'm constitutionally incapable of doing the expected thing (adding that I was always in trouble at school, which raises a titter).

Boy 4 (really incredulous): How do you buy things?

I explain that I do other things for money such as talks like the one I am giving now.

Boy 5: So isn't it just a hobby then, rather than a job?

Hm. Not so sure I fired up that particular lot to be writers...