Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Richard and Judy, the Expensive Couple

The new costs of entering prizes, and now the new costs of a Richard and Judy recommendation:

I've now been brought the paper copy of the article by Tom Baldwin in Saturday's Times about the the new Richard and Judy book club (which I wasn't prepared to pay to see online). The article is occasioned by a complaint lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority over TV commercials linking the new book club - which the Times says it has discovered requires a payment to W H Smith of £25,000 for a recommendation - with the earlier Channel 4 book club which producer Amanda Ross says never asked for money. Ross is quoted as saying: 'In the past we have certainly picked publishers who could not afford £25,000 or anything like that.' Commitment to the £25,000 fee and to supplying chosen books to W H Smith at a 'substantial discount' as well as paying 'a further 50p for every sale at one of its stores' are conditions of inclusion on the R & J list. A spokeswoman for W H Smith is quoted as saying: 'This is a standard arrangement.'

Yes, I guess that sadly now it is, and it won't surprise me if the standard of the R & J list plummets...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Present Tense.

Gratified to see that, further to my post re the present tense, yesterday John Mullan outlined some of the sophisticated and dynamic uses to which the historic present can be put in novels - which I'd have liked to have done myself but was too involved in my own partly present-tense novel.

Stories about Stories and the Cost of Storytelling

Hilarious - and telling - that the current interviews with Jonathan Franzen trot out the story that while writing 'The Corrections', as well as using earplugs he wore a blindfold and touch-typed, when to my knowledge he has denied this as the literal truth.

I was in the audience when he came to Waterstone's Deansgate in Manchester with The Corrections and someone asked him point-blank if it were true about the blindfold. Franzen explained that he had been talking metaphorically about the need for a writer (or his need anyway) to shut off the outside world in order to write, and that the journalist he'd been talking to at that time had taken it literally and others had run with it.

And they're still running with it. Does Franzen go on allowing them to take it literally when they mention it, or is it now just now set in stone in the records they look up? Either way, it's an indication of the importance nowadays of colourful meta-stories in the marketing of books.

Or else I'm remembering wrongly what he said that time in Waterstone's and someone can correct me (ahem).

On another note, I've been informed that The Times yesterday had an interesting article on the cost nowadays to any publisher entering books for the new Richard and Judy book club. I'm not prepared to pay to check it out online, but others may be if they haven't already read it...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Present Rules

Sometimes when you're writing you just think: for God's sake, will people stop talking about how to do it! Because a) as Charlie Brooker has recently indicated, sometimes thinking about it too much it is just not conducive to actually doing it which can require huge dollops of intuition rather than intellect and b) because too often the talk implies rules and too many rules end up in proscription, and another thing you need in huge dollops is confidence and a sense of freedom. And before you object that there are rules and that writing is a craft as much as an art, with techniques to be learnt: I know, I know: I agree!! But the way I see it is that you learn the rules so well you take them for granted, in fact can start to break them, and after that what every writer, however experienced, really needs, are (mainly psychic) stratagems for freeing up their imagination and achieving originality in their writing.

And there's a third problem, c), with all this rule-bound chatter, especially when it's indulged in by well-known writers: what they're often doing is simply banging the drum for their own kind of writing and (by implication) denigrating other modes of writing from a standpoint which is hardly impartial (though too often taken as such).

When the news broke last week that Philip Pullman had condemned the current use of the present tense in novels, my stomach gave a lurch, I can tell you, as I'm using the present tense in my WIP, though not exclusively. I was tempted to join the debate and point out some of the subtle and wholly dynamic uses to which the present tense can be put in novels (and which as far as I could see were being overlooked), but, putting my duty to my work first, I decided to refrain from analysis and preserve the more intuitive frame of mind I needed for the writing, and to keep up my confidence in what I was doing by tuning out the critical voices.

Just as well: in today's Guardian Philip Pullman is at pains to explain that the reports had oversimplified his remarks. And in spite of myself I did read his article, and here are my pathetically writing-immersed responses:

He does begin by admitting that he said that 'the present tense in fiction has been getting more and more common in fiction, and I didn't like it.' (Stomach wrench from me.) But then he goes on to say: 'Like any other literary effect, the present tense is an expressive device; but expression works by contrast'. (Me: Yess! That's how I'm using it: as a contrast! Phew.) Pullman goes on to quote from a present-tense passage in Jane Eyre, which he says 'works beautifully because it emerges from the context of a narrative told in the past tense' and 'conveys as nothing else could the pressure of her feelings as she recalls the intensity of that summer evening.' (Me: yes, exactly: this is one of the best ways we can write about both intensity of feeling and memory. By this point in the article I'm feeling affirmed...)

But what happens then? Pullman goes on the attack. What he's attacking are novels written entirely in the present tense, which he compares with the (also reprehensible) increasing use of the hand-held camera. He says, 'I want all the young present-tense storytellers ... to allow themselves to stand back and show me a wider temporal perspective.' He understands why so many don't: the postmodern (though he doesn't call it that) concern with lack of certainty, with the worry 'Who are we to say that this happened and then that happened? Maybe it didn't ... there are other points of view, truth is always provisional, knowledge is always partial.' But while he understands it, he doesn't accept it: he calls it 'an abdication of narrative responsibility' and states that 'the storyteller ... should take charge of the story and not feel shifty about it.'

Well, my response to that is to wonder: isn't it an abdication of authorial responsibility NOT to want to address those uncertainties? And isn't Pullman just saying he doesn't like writing that's not like his own? And what's he doing making proscriptive rules for those who don't write as he does? And I'm trying really hard not to let it knock me off balance, as I'm writing about those very uncertainties...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another Bites the Dust

Now it's Charlie Brooker's turn to decide that the internet has been destroying both his writing time and his attention span, and that he must retrain himself and cut down his time online.

(If anyone here is interested, on my other blog I'm charting my progress at trying to do the same while very much needing to use the internet for publicity for a new publication.)

Gotta love Charlie Brooker: recently he dared to say what very few writers would, but what I suspect most writers secretly think: that he doesn't want to advise anyone else about their writing beause a) he doesn't really know how he does it, it's like riding a bike, really and b) why would any writer trying to make it in a literary world where there's only room for the few go and help others to turn out potentially better than himself?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It Takes a Man to Say These Things

When Jodi Picoult and Lionel Shriver (or any other women writers) say it, it's too likely to look like sour grapes, but today in the Guardian Pankaj Mishra argues thoughtfully that for the establishment 'great' only ever signifies 'the passionate ambition of white men, never women.'

Mishra is also concerned with other prejudices beside gender: for arbiters like Time magazine, he says, 'literature is summed up by the big, panoptic novel about the American, usually suburban condition, not the formally resourceful poem and short story or intellectually rigorous essay.'

It's interesting, too, that he points out the often suburban concerns of the 'great' male American novel, since the general perception is that 'suburban' is one of the sub-characteristics for which women's literature is deemed generally lesser.

Also in the Guardian today, in the same edition in which Andrew Motion, chair of this year's Booker panel, complains about the poor editing the judges encountered (as did Claire Armitstead recently regarding the Guardian First Book Award), there's a very interesting letter from Chris Parker which I think is worth quoting:
...falling editorial standards is shared by editors themselves. As well as having to correct the most basic spelling and punctuation mistakes made by authors "educated" since the mid-70s, editors are frequently asked by publishers to copyedit and proofread (two distinct processes) at the same time. Before the 1990s, a typescript would be subjected, before typesetting, to a rigorous copyediting process, then proofread (often by two people) to ensure that all the copyeditor's changes had been implemented. We are now asked by most publishers to "cast a quick eye" over proofs which have been set straight from authors' disks, bypassing the editorial process altogether.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Self-promotion and Underpromotion

The Not the Booker Prize over on the Guardian books blog has raised the very interesting question of the role of social networking in making books known. (Must say, stuck in my literary purdah in the Welsh hills I hadn't even caught that the Prize was going on in the first place - the Guardian blog page takes five minutes to load up in the mountain, if it loads up at all, that is - leave alone had the ability to rally my mates and fans to nominate my book, if I could bring myself to do such a thing, so I guess that tells you something.)

And Lionel Shriver gets her teeth into the issue of male versus female novelists and gives it a good shake, arguing that female writers never receive the kind of accolades awarded to their male counterparts, and suffer from an infantilizing 'prettification' by marketing departments:
...trussing up my novels as sweet, girly and soft is like stuffing a rottweiler in a dress