Monday, 29 December 2008

A new arrival...

So, how was your Christmas? Peaceful and happy I hope.

OK, now for non-Christmas news. Today, my paperback copies of Testament arrived in the post. Not quite as astonishing a moment as when the hardbacks arrived and, for the first time, I saw my book as a real thing which other people would buy, but still quite something. And paperback – I mean, that’s a real book isn’t it, the kind of book ordinary people like you and me buy? (Many thanks, however, to all the wonderful, noble people who bought it in hardback…)

Interestingly, Pan has decided to retain the hardback’s dust jacket design for the paperback’s cover. I have to admit, it’s very distinctive and looks brilliant in the paperback format – just enough out of the ordinary to make people pick it up (or out – even the spine is gorgeous) and wonder what it’s about. I know we’re proverbially warned not to judge books by their covers but we all do, don’t we? So I’m very pleased with how it looks. Here it is...

It's slightly brighter (more red, less brown) than the original hardback image but in other respects it's the same. Actually, the published version is slighly different to the one above, with the ‘shout line’ (‘what would you sacrifice to carve your name in history?’) dropped further down the cover which I think looks better, though I’m not sure I understand why. Maybe a graphic designer out there could clarify the visual psychology?

The publication date is this Friday – the 2nd of January – so it’ll soon be out there in the bookshops… I shall be in Canterbury on Friday seeing if I can spot it. If any of you manage it, let me know!

I keep reading in papers - and even in The Author - that the dreaded credit crunch is going to mean an upswing in book sales as people decide that they can’t afford to eat in restaurants or treat themselves to expensive evenings out. And, when you think about it, a paperback book is amazing value when compared with other forms of entertainment. At 568 pages, Testament represents around 8 or 9 hours of reading time (if you’re a slow reader like me, at any rate) which, at £7.99 seems like a lot better value than a cinema ticket at anything upwards of £6.00 for a couple of hours’ viewing. And you can’t even take the film home and lend it to your friends! Scale up for the theatre (or premiership football match) and even more so for eating out and, suddenly, paperbacks seem like astonishingly good value.

Of course, I’m preaching to the converted here but I am pleased that the industry I’m part of offers such good value.
Here’s to a New Year which sees publishing bucking the crunch trend!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Just to wish all visitors to Hawkins Bizarre a very

Thanks to all regular readers and commenters for your cyber-company this year - let's hope 2009 is happy, healthy and peaceful (with a bit of success thrown in) for all of us!
Have a good Christmas and some wittering here will recommence sometime between Christmas and the New Year.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Back online

Hooray – we are connected to the world again! Can’t quite believe how bereft we all felt. We live in a digital blackspot and don’t have satelite TV so we were limited to the usual 4 channels (can’t get Channel 5 because we live too near France and the wavelength is used by a French channel) so the boys couldn’t watch lots of the stuff they normally catch up on online.
For me it was the sheer inconvenience of not being able to check stuff (as well as not being able to blog). And I did feel cut off. Although I refered elsewhere to blogging and reading blogs as being the solitary writer’s equivalent of water cooler conversation, I hadn’t realised how much I needed the human cyber-contact until it wasn’t there.

Still, I am hoping that a week of having to do his homework without the accompaniment of Facebook and MSN might convince the Bassist that this is a viable alternative form of work and that his output might even improve as a result. OK, as I hear the derisive laughter of parents the country over, I have to defend myself - I did say might.

I have now officially finished work – ie writing – until the 29th of December which is when the extended family which has begun to arrive chez Bizarre will depart. I’m connoting this positively and hoping that stuffing myself with unnecessary amounts of carbohydrates, alcohol and fats will somehow induce a spurt of creative energy which will induce the final few chapters of the work in progress to write themselves, instead of dragging their wordy little feet as I try and rip them out of my subconscious.

Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering about my best books of 2008 list. I realised I’d left out Sebastian Faulks’s Engleby which was an amazing read…sure I’ve left out lots of others too.

What about everybody else? What are your best reads of 2008?

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Testament is on You Tube!

Still without the internet at home.... sigh...
Will, my editor, sent me this link - check it out, the trailer for the Spanish version of Testament.
It's amazing on many levels...

Monday, 15 December 2008

Great Books of 2008

Still without the internet (come on Thursday, hurry up) I’m in Chambers - a wi-fi enabled cafĂ© in Canterbury (thank you Denise and Bill!) catching up with emails, doing my Sainsbury’s shopping and putting up something on the blog lest you all forget me and go off somewhere else…

Since it’s that time of the year, I thought I’d talk about great books of the year but, instead of trawling through my reviews to see what I’d reviewed, I thought I’d just talk about the ones I actually remembered, because they’re the ones that have obviously made an impression.
So they are, in no particular order:

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. If you are in any way tempted by historical fiction, you seriously must read this book. Actually, even if you’re not into historical fiction you must read this book, it’s just brilliant.You can read my review (paean of praise) of it here.

Resistance by Owen Shears. Period fiction rather than historical as such (WW2) so I’m resisting the idea that I’m descending into predictability. Wonderful book. Review here.

Wife in the North by Judith O’Reilly. The book of the blog. Very funny, very real, terribly moving at points. For sheer blistering honesty combined with brilliantly funny turns of phrase it’s a winner. The blog is here.

Light Reading by Aliya Whiteley. I know Aliya is a fellow MNW writer but that’s not the point. It’s just a great book by somebody who I’m betting is going to be a literary star one day. There, I’ve said it. Go to it Aliya. Review here.

The People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks. Yes, Ms Brooks again. I haven’t reviewed this one on the blog because I read it at a moment when the work in progress was particularly demanding and all I could do on here was write blah blah blah. If you’re going to read this book do not under any circumstances read the reviews on Amazon because they seem, universally, to be written by people who either didn’t like or didn’t ‘get’ the book. Read this instead.

Brain Rules by John Medina
Not a novel, a non-fiction book about how your brain works. Or, more specifically, why it fails to learn as efficiently as it could. He feeds into at least one of my hobby horses when he says – basically – if you wanted to design educational establishments which stop children learning efficiently and happily, you’d come up with schools. But that’s a side issue. If you read it you’ll start taking exercise when you’re blocked, make sure you get decent sleep and will turn off the internet when you’re trying to concentrate on what you’re writing. It’s also one of the most entertainingly written non fiction book I’ve ever read. Oh, and there’s a website which goes with it which is always good.

The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo
This is a bit of a cheat as I’m still reading this right now but it is amazing. I’ve always been interested in social psychology and the Ultimate Frisbee Freak reminded me about the Stanford Prison Experiment when he was doing A level psychology. I actually got this book for him but I’ve got completely into it as it starts with the prison experiment and then goes on to look at the ways in which basically decent people do horribly evil things. It goes a long way to explaining things like the Rwandan genocide and the atrocities committed during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. It also – chillingly – makes you realise that, in all probability, you would be no different.
Website here

Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale. The family in this book has stayed with me since I read it, months ago. Always a sign of wonderfully drawn characters. I’ve read various others of Patrick Gale's books and his characters do have a tendency to step off the page and into your imagination as real people. If you haven’t read any of his work yet, I recommend him and this is a wonderful one to start with. My review is here.

That’ll do for now. Hopefully we’ll be back on the net at home soon and there will be more… of something…

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The internet

Aaaargh! We are without the internet at the moment at home so I'm at a friend's house telling you this. 
We are assured - huh! - that normal service will be resumed this Thursday... We shall see...

Friday, 5 December 2008

Lights out, people still home...

I suppose it was inevitable given my rant about the dark the other day that the lights would go out in our house.
One day there was flickering in the kitchen, next day (which would be the day my parents arrived to see the Bassist in his school play) there were no lights in the kitchen, the downstairs loo, the utility room or the cellar. Fortunately, the socket circuit was unaffected so we were working by the light of our SAD lightbox which was slightly surreal.

Amazingly, when I rang the electrician he said he’d be out today ( I was thinking Monday at the earliest) and when he came (which was at the time he’d said he would arrive, more miracles) he was able to fix the problem in twenty minutes with the aid of a natty head-torch. As he went down the steps of the cellar (where the fuse box and other things electrical whirr and shine and have their mysterious being) he looked more like a caver about to navigate an unknown system than an electrician who was about to discover and change a dodgy, burned-out fuse module (or something).
So we are lit once more – hooray! I don’t like using torches, unless it’s to read in bed so I don’t disturb the Other Half.

I wish glitches in novel-writing were so easily fixable. I wish I could delve into the depths of the work in progress, metaphorical head-torch affixed,a and surface mere minutes later waving a burned-out bit of narrative and saying ‘that’s it, everything should be fine now.’
But it’s not that easy.
Having said that, things are proceeding nicely with the work in progress after months of chopping, fitting, dashing ahead and then meandering at the pace of a bemused snail.
I’m not sure draft one (or is that draft three and a half?) is going to be finished before Christmas but it’ll be a close run thing.
Then there’ll be the small matter of a couple of months of editing… I know the book is too long (over 150 000 words already) and there are bits which need some reworking but I think I’m happy with the overall shape and flow now.

Still, it’s taken me the best part of two and a half years to write, though I did stop and pretty much start again in April and begin a complete rewrite with different characters and a different backstory which, inevitably, affected the narrative as I’d originally conceived it. The same things just can’t happen to different people, not unless you’re writing a ruthlessly plot-driven novel.

So, much as I say I’d like to be able to fix things quickly, I guess I wouldn’t. Anything good – including revisions and rewrites – takes time to get right, so it needs whatever time it takes.

I’m blinking glad the lights are back on though.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Meeting the real David

I had a lovely afternoon on Friday going to London to meet David Isaak. He was in the UK on business and was taking the opportunity to catch up with as many of the MNW crew as he could. There was a big get-together organised in the evening which I couldn’t make so David very kindly agreed to come and have tea with me after a lunchtime rendezvous.
[Ooops, that sounds like the beginning of an interview. I feel I should now go on to say ‘So, David, your book…’ If you’re interested in Shock and Awe, David’s thriller, you can always read my review…]

It’s a slightly strange experience meeting people whom you’ve only ever ‘spoken’ to in the public forum of their blog or yours (or, in the case of David and myself, on the blogs of other MNW writers) in the sense that you feel you know them quite well but have no idea what they’re ‘like’ in a personally present sense.

For me it raised interesting questions (which I pondered on a long and almost infinitely delayed train journey home) about what being acquainted with somebody actually means. David and I have participated in lots of online discussions about writing – I know quite a lot of what he’s prepared to reveal in public about his writing habits, I have got to know at least some of his taste in reading, films and music. So I wasn’t meeting a stranger by any means, but I didn’t feel I knew him as well as I would know somebody from whom I’d learned all that information in verbal conversation.

David and I tangentially discussed this, wondering why he had had to come to London for a business meeting when none of the participants are based there. Why wouldn’t a video conference have done the trick? We both agreed that, despite the assumptions of the 80s technology gurus when we were young, meetings where everybody is only virtually present haven’t really taken off as a way of doing business.

What is it? Do we need to see the whites of peple’s eyes before we know that what they’re saying is what they really mean? Do we need to see what people look like before we really feel we’ve got a handle on who they are?

It’s an interesting philosophical question. More and more, our society seems to be coming to the conclusion that ‘we’ reside in our brains which may or may not be coincidental with our minds. If that’s the case, why the concensus that we need to ‘press the flesh’ before a real meeting of minds has taken place? Sounds to me as if minds are a good deal more spread about our whole person than we like to (rationally) think.

But, all that philosophising aside, it was absolutely great to meet David who is the kind of person you could just chat to for hours and hours. Now, when I read his blog, I’ll mentally hear his softly-spoken voice speaking his words and I’ll be able to think ‘yes, that sounds like the lovely person I met’.