Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wide Choice = Narrowed Options

An interesting article on Alternet yesterday, in which it is argued that Amazon's policies of price-cutting and making as many books as possible available lead in fact to a narrowing of choice for the consumer (not to mention a squeezing of literary opportunities for the writer).

Thanks to Vanessa Gebbie via Facebook.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Question of Attention

Apologies for my absence from this blog recently. I'm working on a substantial novel, and find that when I can give it the attention it needs it can take up my whole day, or at least my whole focus: I write in the mornings, in the afternoons I type up and edit what I've written in the morning, and the rest of the day is needed for digesting what I've done and thinking about the next day's writing, as well as necessary research. It's easier to write a quick blog post about my writing activities for my author blog than to start getting my head around more general publishing and fiction issues. In the last week I have had to interrupt my novel's rhythm to help publicise my publisher's Just One Book campaign, so the possibility of feeding this blog with useful content has slipped even further away.

There's one preoccupation, however, I do want to air. I think I have said here in the past that when I'm writing intently I find it difficult to read: the language and psyche of another novel is disruptive to my own. However, during the last fortnight, in spite of being so very immersed in my own work, I have had to tackle Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for my reading group, and I'm now halfway through. I don't read crime fiction as a rule, and neither do most people in the group, but we decided to read this book in order to try and understand its success as a cultural phenomenon. It took me a long while to get into it - I found the first 100 pages or so immensely boring - but as most people told me I would, I found that it finally took off and was 'readable'. But what do I mean, in this instance, by 'readable'? I mean that it's like eating ice-cream, it slips down nicely. I don't care a fig about the characters, and so nothing's really at stake for me, and it's not psychologically disruptive. I know the author knows the answer (so why doesn't he just tell me?), and the language is bald and often cliched and there are structurally-erroneous repetitions. But there's enough action and human interest now to compensate and enough of a political theme to make it respectable, and the whole thing, including those things which initially irritated me and made me contemptuous, has become something like a comfort blanket. The main thing about it is that it hasn't interrupted my novel psyche one little bit. The experience is familiar: it's like nothing so much as reading Enid Blyton when I was a child, and then going off and immediately writing my own stories.

It does precisely the opposite of what, as a writer, I have always felt literature should ideally do. And I don't mind such literature existing, clearly it has its uses, but what I do mind is a general cultural squeezing of the sort that provokes and challenges and disturbs.

Well, I don't know, maybe some people do find The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo provocative and challenging...

Anyway, I leave you with the thoughts of a couple of other literary bloggers. Adrian Slatcher has some interesting things to say about the Sunday Time's online paywall and the marketing implications for books, and Peter Finch comments on ponderous lead-in times for print publications in the age of instant online response.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Margaret Atwood on Blogging and Twitter for authors

Further to yesterday's post I just came across this Margaret Atwood quote via Twitter, from a Literary Review interview (one good reason to have been on Twitter, ironically):
...people are trying to pile stuff onto authors, like you have to have a blog, you have to have this, you have to have that. Various party tricks. You actually don't. I would say that having done it, the blogging and Tweeting and so forth reaches possibly a different kind of reader than the kind you may have been used to hearing from. But an author's job is to concentrate on the writing, and once the writing is finished what you essentially do is throw it into a bottle and heave it into the sea, and that's the same for any method of dissemination. There's still a voyage between the text and the unknown reader; the book will still arrive at the door of some readers who don't understand it - who don't like it. It will still find some readers who hopefully do, and the process is still a scattergun approach.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Twittering and Ageing

Well, if I hadn't been so busy working on my current writing project I would have blogged about this - a Huffington Post article about the usefulness of Twitter for publishers - and the accompanying perceived need for authors to be on Twitter too, as well as online in all the other ways. (Hah! Nuff said).

I would also have taken up the current debate about age in fiction-writing (too afraid, though, of getting old and conking out before I finish writing the damn thing). I'd have mentioned the great news that an 82-year-old has just published her debut, and Robert McCrum's earlier half-retraction last week about old writers being useless. It's only half a retraction because he says that usually when older writers write something good it's just the one last flowering. This statement is rather undercut, though, by one of the writers he lists, Mary Wesley, since her offering at the age of 70-odd was her first flowering, and she went on to have several more blooms...