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.

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