I've just been catching up with Meet the Writers (you may have seen this post) and greatly enjoyed hearing the engaging Anthony Horowitz, particularly on the power and importance of storytelling, reading and literature, and on his incredible output and work ethic. You can find the programme here.
Next I listened to Ian Rankin on the origins of Rebus, the significance of music in the books, why the fact-finding comes after the first draft, Edinburgh's secrets, and 'making it up as you go along'.
It so happens that I was in Oxford over the weekend for a family celebration, staying at the always wonderful Old Parsonage Hotel (mentioned many times on the blog - e.g. here).
Jeremy Mogford, owner of the hotel and its excellent sister establishments, The Old Bank, Quod, and Gee's*, sponsors an annual short story competition in association with the Oxford Literary Festival; its theme is always food and drink, and this year's judges are Philip Pullman and Mary Berry.
You'll find full details here but to summarise, entries can be fiction or non-fiction, must be unpublished, and no longer than 2500 words. The closing date is 15th. January, 2017.
*I've stayed at or eaten in all these places often and recommend them most highly.
The first draft of Kate Forsyth's latest novel Beauty in Thorns took two years to write; here Kate condenses the process into four minutes.
The video shows something of the amount of work which goes into a book - from idea to research, from sketchy notes to detailed ones, writing, rewriting, re-ordering material, adjusting balance and weighting, and so on and on through the hundreds of pages required to construct and tell a story. Good to know that after all that, Kate's editor is happy!
The author is one of the Dictionary's most experienced lexicographers, and his account of its history takes it from its origins in the middle of the nineteenth century to the present day. Drawing on previously unexamined archival material and eyewitness testimony, "the book explores the cultural background from which the idea of a comprehensive historical dictionary of English emerged, the lengthy struggles to bring this concept to fruition, and the development of the book from the appearance of the first printed fascicle in 1884 to the launching of the Dictionary as an online database in 2000 and beyond. It also examines the evolution of the lexicographers' working methods, and provides much information about the people - many of them remarkable individuals - who have contributed to the project over the last century and a half."
Language and its usage are ever-evolving, of course, and Oxford Dictionaries keep their finger on the linguistic pulse. Their #OneWordMap is tracking global trends and is currently asking people to submit their least favourite English word! You can do so here**.
*Peter Gilliver praises Elisabeth Murray's biography of her grandfather and says that her book was recommended to him by way of preliminary reading when he joined the staff of the Dictionary.
**Edited to add: as Toffeeapple reports below in comments, the map has been taken down due to misuse.
Talking recently to an as yet unpublished writer with a solid first draft of a novel under his belt, I was surprised to discover that he hadn't already come across this indispensable guide. It's billed as "the perfect companion for writers of fiction and non-fiction, poets, playwrights, journalists, and commercial artists," and I know of no other resource as comprehensive.
It provides up-to-date listings for literary agents, publishers, self-publishing services, literary prizes, art agents, and much more, so should be the first port of call for anyone looking to submit work. In addition, it contains essays by writers and well known industry figures which are informative or inspirational; for example, Simon Trewin writes a "Letter to an unsolicited author" - or 'how not to approach an agent', Rebecca Swift shows - with reference to Pride and Prejudice - how to write a good synopsis, and Madeleine Milburn tells us how to get hooked out of the slush pile, while writers who are household names talk about their particular field or genre, so you can read, say, Rose Prince on writing about food, Alison Weir on historical fiction, William Boyd on becoming a novelist, and Katie Fforde on being a romantic novelist.
Its 700+ pages incorporates sections on practical topics such as copyright and libel, finance for writers and artists, advice on editing your work, and a glossary of publishing terms, and there's even a page or two on book sites and blogs, including Kim's, Simon S's, and (to my surprise) this one.
I've got my 'PLR social media advocate' hat on today, reminding authors to ensure that all their books are registered for PLR by tomorrow's (i.e. 30th. June) deadline. Illustrators, editors, translators, and audiobook narrators may also be eligible, so check the criteria here, and writers, ensure that any new editions of your books, e.g. paperback or audiobook, anything with a different ISBN, have been registered.
"Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different. And while we're on the subject, I'd like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it's a bad thing. As if 'escapist' fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in. If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn't you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real. As J.R.R. Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers."
"I always feel like my books are inspired by my books. Bel Canto was a novel that took place outside of linear time. I got so frustrated writing a book in which nobody knew what day it was that I decided my next book, Run, would take place in twenty-four hours. In Run I had a character who was an ichthyologist, and I enjoyed writing about science so much that in my next book, State of Wonder, pretty much all the characters are scientists. I was nervous about publishing my essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage* because it was so personal, but as it turned out no one seemed to care. It made me wonder about writing a novel that was closer to home, something that had more to do with families and less to do with the Amazon, opera, or fish, some of the far-flung subjects I'd been tackling. I wanted to approach the novel more in the way I'd approached the essays: instead of the story coming from research it would be built from the material I had at hand. Which isn't to say the book is true, it's not, but it's made from things I knew and understood. I love doing research but I have to say this was a lot of fun too."
That's Ann Patchett talking about the genesis of her latest novel Commonwealth which will be out here in September. It's the story of a family, told over fifty years and offers "a window into how we change from the children we were, and how we are always ourselves." I'm greatly looking forward to reading it.
*I've no post as such on that one, but as with Bel Canto and State of Wonder (I've yet to read Run), I warmly recommend it.
"I remember that as a child I was so absorbed in my tellings to others that they could see what I saw. I could always get an audience. Not that I looked for one, the telling was all, or rather, the seeing. I don't think I write for children, any more than the great Miss Potter. For what? Whom? Well, myself, perhaps; I never think of an audience, that would kill everything. I think all children's books are grown-up books. When children's books are children's books they are not worth reading."
Good news for all of us who are fans of the late Mary Stewart: to mark the centenary of her birth this year Hodder are to be reissuing her entire backlist with new covers. I haven't seen any of the designs yet, but I hope that putting her work centre stage in this way will bring in new readers and perhaps remind old ones that her books are well worth revisiting. I've linked to this video interview with Mary Stewart many times, but if you haven't already seen it do take a look.
Unveiled today is this year's Books Are My Bag limited edition book bag designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith (who needs no introduction). The bags will be available at independent and chain bookshops around Super Thursday, which this year is October 6th..
Many of us will know Natalie Fergie as the talent behind The Yarn Yard, purveyors of hand-dyed yarn and embroidery thread*. Well now Natalie has turned her creative hand to writing and she's penned a novel called The Sewing Machine. You can read all about it - and hear from Natalie herself - over on the book's Unbound page, and if you like the sound of it (as I do) you might consider giving it your support. To find out more about Unbound and how it works, click here.
*Unsurprisingly, the shop's empty just now as Natalie has been giving her writing her full attention.
'From the beginning, Davies saw writing as a matter of recording communications from the unconscious. In a light-hearted 1948 talk, he described the process, basing his account on "a certain amount of practice and a few vague intuitions." When an idea occurred to him that seemed "to demand embalming" he would immediately jot it down, lest it vanish, in a notebook he always carried for the purpose. Then the idea would seem "to acquire a life of its own," presenting itself in dramatic form, growing and sometimes transforming itself utterly, until it settled into a final shape. Only then, when it had become "an aching tooth which has to be pulled," would he commit the play to paper. He has described the process of writing his plays and novels in similar terms ever since. When an interviewer asked, soon after the publication of Fifth Business*, how he went about developing a character, he replied: "You don't. The character arises in your imagination and then you go ahead. I know this sounds terribly pompous and grandiose, but you don't really do it; it's something that happens and you write it down. You can't sit down and say, 'Now, I think I'll think up a funny Jesuit,' and do it, because you'll get a mass of eccentricities; you won't get a live person. But if one arises in your mind, and he's got all his oddities and you see him hopping around and doing things, then you just write down about it. This is what imagination is. It's not invention, you're more passive than that. You listen to your ideas; you don't tell them what to do." And in 1989, after describing the writing of Fifth Business, he concluded: "It is this sort of explanation, I know, which persuades some critics that an author is an idiot savant, who does not know what he is doing. But that is a misunderstanding of the creative process. The author may not know consciously every detail of his story when he begins it, but his Unconscious knows, and it is from the Unconscious that he works." '
"In the course of our studies, we often had to go to museums to gather ideas for our work [...] Looking for old stories demands great effort, but it is well worth it, for it puts one's imagination to work and brings contemporary people in contact with the mystical-ritualistic world of [the past]. It is a kind of dialogue with what has been, from which new stories emerge."
Judith Kerr, still going strong at 92, is surely a role-model for us all; in case you didn't see it, here's my report of her appearance at last year's Edinburgh International Book Festival where she took the stage with her son Matthew Kneale to explore creative heritage.
Back to books now, and in other news, the Costa Book Awards shortlists have been announced, and I'm pleased to see Melissa Harrison's At Hawthorn Time in the novel category. It's a story of contemporary rural life set over a spring month, but it's an original and unsettling piece, beautifully done, and it deserves its place on the list.
Lastly today, as a PLR Twitter advocate I'm reminding UK writers to ensure that ALL your books are registered at www.plr.uk.com. Paperbacks and audiobooks - anything with a different ISBN - should be listed along with hardbacks so that they qualify for payment under the PLR scheme. Illustrators and translators should check, too. If you have writer friends, please nudge them to make sure their registration is up to date.