Monday, 26 January 2009

An Award - Hooray!

Clearly, being nominated for awards is one of those things that comes in waves...because as well as the Waverton Good Read award longlisting, I have just been given an award by Juxtabook! Here it is.

It’s immensely gratifying when people say, publically, that they enjoy your blog and it set me to wondering what is is about the blogs which I like reading most that keeps me going back each time.

I have to confess that I’m a bit of a blog-tart and will follow trails from one blog to another to another on occasion just to see what I’m missing. In the ‘blogs’ folder on my favourites menu I have nearly fifty entries, though many of these are visited only ocasionally. But, of the top dozen or so (which are visited almost daily) what are the common factors? Four of my top 12 are Macmillan New Writers, including the collective blog. The other eight are also writing related – the blogs of writers published and unpublished, the blogs of people connected to the writing business – booksellers and publishers. In fact, I have to scroll down in to the twenties to find a blog not connected with writing and a few more before I find the next one, though I do have a separate folder for blogs related to the podcasts I listen to and that is far more eclectic. (Clearly, writers are prone to write blogs, people fascinated by other things are more likely to produce a podcast.)

So what – if anything – do all the writerly blogs which I read have in common?
Some are humorous, some are far more serious; some are self-deprecating, some are more upfront about their own artistry; some write exclusively about writing and others write about various aspects of their life; some review other people’s work, others might comment more tangentially on books not their own.
But what they all have in common is that they take their writing very seriously. Some share craft secrets they have learned through their own writing apprencticeship whilst others digest the ‘how to’ writing of others. But writing, and doing it as well as humanly possible, is their concern.

So, because part of the award Juxtabook has given me is a meme, I have to award it along the line to others.

Here are the rules of the meme:
1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Award up to ten other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs.

I’m sending the award to David Isaak, Aliya Whiteley and Neil Ayres, Tim Stretton, Karen Clarke and Simon and Tim at Open a Bookshop.

Do check them out if you haven't already, they're all great blogs.

More on theme etc as promised in my last post, hereafter.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A lovely time in Waverton

Well, I’m now back from Cheshire having had a wonderful time speaking to a large and enthusiastic group of book-reading people in Waverton. They were so welcoming, so interested, so nice about my book (those who had read and reviewed Testament) that it was an absolute pleasure to be there. I spoke for far too long – over 50 minutes when I’d been asked for 30 to 40 – but you know how it is, they laughed at my jokes and asked interesting questions so the impetus to sit down and shut up was small.

I spent the train journey up to Chester writing my talk which was, essentially, about the main elements of a novel – plot, characters, theme and language – and how it’s almost impossible to separate them fully. Obviously, I was doing this with reference to Testament so I kept having to flick through the book to find relevant bits that I could read and, every now and again, I’d find myself actually quite impressed by what I’d done. That’s when I wasn’t wanting to rewrite the thing, obviously….

I must have looked a bit dappy. There I was sitting with my notebook in front of me, Testament on my lap, listening to The View on my little iPod (and occasionally, unintentionally, singing along… ooops!), scribbling my illegible spider diagrams which got more and more densely annotated until I had to make a fair copy so that I could glance at them and actually be able to read them during the talk.

Gwen Goodhew - one of the prime movers of the Waverton Good Read Award - had very kindly said that she would meet me at Chester station and take me home for supper before the meeting. ‘I’ll be holding a copy of your book’ the email had assured me. Well, better than a red carnation, I thought…and described myself and what I would be wearing as I am notoriously able to walk past burning buildings and not see them, never mind somebody standing in a crowd holding a book.

I shouldn’t have worried. Gwen had chosen a fairly quiet spot to wait for me in and the copy of the book that she was holding turned out to be an A4 bound proof copy. In other words, it was big. Unmissable, even for the observationally challenged.
‘Crikey’, I said, ‘where on earth did you get that?’

It turned out to be the only copy MNW had had to send. I realised that the Wavertons’ request for review copies of the book must have arrived at a time when the hardback edition of Testament had sold out and the paperbacks were not yet available.
Still, if you’ve ever seen a book bound in A4 format, you’ll realise what a disincentive it is to reading the thing, especially in bed (visions of it falling on your face and leaving you permanently scarred would immediately spring to mind) so I was even more chuffed when Gwen told me that everybody who had – man/womanfully - read it seemed to have liked it and Testament had made it to the longlist for the Award.

So, now, copies of the book will go out to anybody in the village of Waverton who wants to read it and is prepared to fill in a review sheet and give it marks out of ten. It’s fantastic that so many people who otherwise might not come across Testament are going to get a chance to read it.

It’s also in illustrious company. Here are the other longlisted books:

A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Eze
The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams
One Man’s Empire by Geoffrey Bird
The Paradise Trail by Duncan Campbell
How to Survive Your Sisters by Ellie Campbell
The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day
The Love of My Life by Louise Douglas
The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato
Out of a Clear Sky by Sally Hinchcliffe
The Outcast by Sadie Jones
Nights Beneath the Nation by Denis Kehoe
Spider by Michael Morley
Warrior of Rome 1: Fire in the East by Harry Sidebottom
The End of Sleep by Rowan Somerville
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling
Monster Love by Carol Topolski
An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson
The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse

Those in the know will spot a couple of books which have been nominated for other prizes and, if what the people I spoke to on Monday evening said is to be believed, there are some crackers on the list. Spider by Michael Morley and Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith were particularly singled out for mention. Macmillan New Writing is represented twice (Geoffrey Bird is also an MNW author) which, given that the imprint only produces twelve books a year, speaks extremely well for the editorial judgement of Will Atkins.

One of the questions I was asked was –approximately – ‘given that you can’t untangle plot, theme, character and language, how do you actually go about writing a scene?’

The subject of the next blog post here, I suspect.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Of mice and me

Apologies for the dearth of posts recently – I am suffering from what I can only assume is the beginnings of RSI and am therefore keeping typing to a minimum – ie to the work in progress.

On the subject of RSI, I already have various gizmos (laptop stand to put it at the correct eye-height, separate plug-in keyboard) but was wondering about investing in an ergonomic vertical mouse, as it seems to be the ‘cocked wrist’ position which is causing the trouble. Does anybody have any experience of these so-called ‘handshake position’ mice? If so, I’d be very grateful to hear from you in the comments trail.

With luck, I will be able to type more easily when my hands have had a couple of days rest on my jaunt to Cheshire so I hope to have more to say then...

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Waverton Good Read Award

It is with immense pleasure that I can tell readers of this blog that Testament has been nominated for the Waverton Good Read Award.

In case you don’t know about the award, Wikipedia has this to say:

The Waverton Good Read Award was founded in 2003 by villagers in Waverton, Cheshire, based on Le Prix de la Cadiere d‘Azur, a literary prize awarded by a Provencal village. First adult novels written by UK residents and published in the previous twelve months are eligible for consideration and are read by villagers. "The aim was not only to stimulate reading in the village but to provide encouragement to British writers".
It is the first British award to be judged by normal readers rather than literary figures.

and, should you be interested you can read more about the award on its website, here.

There’s also a natty summary of winners and shortlisted novels on Wikipedia here.

Having read all this, I am very honoured indeed that Testament has been nominated. I have read three out of the five previous winners – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon), Boy A (Jonathan Trigell) and A Brief History of Tractors in Ukrainian (Marina Lewycka), and enjoyed them all very much. It feels wonderful that Testament is being bracketed with books like these, even if it is only for a short while until the long list is announced…

I am off up to Cheshire next week as they have been kind enough to ask me to and talk to the group about Testament. Must remember which book I’m talking about and not start wittering on about the all-encompassing work in progress…

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Salutary Thoughts

I knew, from the beginning, that I was on to a good thing with Macmillan New Writing. Not, you understand, because I have a vast and varied experience of publishers and how they do what they do but because, sometimes, you can just feel that people are rooting for you, rather than just in it for the money; that they are people of integrity.

And then, earlier in the week I read this by literary agent Simon Trewin of United Agents. Read it and weep. It’s not a pretty picture. And it made me even more convinced that I’m in safe hands at MNW.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Who decides which four percent?

Imagine not being able to read. Not being able to see the words on a page. Not being able to just pick up a book and lose yourself in it.
I do occasionally contemplate what it would be like to go blind. I have an eye condition which, if it progresses to its severe form, could leave me unable to see well enough to read even large print books.
It’s not a prospect I relish and it’s one I try not to think about very much.

Could I learn braille?
I don’t know. I imagine it’s hard to do once you’ve passed a certain age.
I had a blind friend at university whom I used to read for as critical works weren’t readily available. She had, I remember, a natty kind of tape recorder which enabled her to mark the tape so that she could find important passages easily. It was a kind of auditory highlighter. It seemed to me that the level of determination she needed to get through a degree in English when she had to rely on others to give her access to so much of the material she needed was far in excess of what the rest of us needed.

Why have I suddenly started talking about blindness?
Because I picked up this story on the lovely Juxtabook blog. In case you don’t want to read it, it’s about the need to protect the long-term future one of the most important braille presses in Britain. A campaign has been launched which is being supported by Ian Rankin who, apparently, has a son with a visual impairment.

This story told me something startling. Only 4% of books ever get produced in a form that visually impaired people can access. Four percent? That’s nothing!

And who decides? Who decides that this novel, this work of non-fiction, this reference book will be printed in braille while all the others won’t? Does there have to be a ‘demand’ and, if so, how does the blind and partially sighted community know what it should be demanding? Are people who read braille confined to ‘bestsellers’, never able to pick up something new and interesting off the obscure literary shelves, always waiting for sighted people to decide in large numbers that they think a book is good enough to warrant being produced in a braille version? Or am I being cynical.

Given the paucity of books already available in braille – four per cent, remember - I imagine I’d be panicking a bit if I was unable to read printed books and there was the prospect that one of the most important braille presses in the country was becoming more and more antiquated and out of date. I’d be worried that my supply of books was going to dwindle even further.

Seems like a good cause for book lovers to get behind, don’t you think?

Friday, 2 January 2009

132 words instead of a photograph

What there should be here is a photograph.
Of Testament.
On a three for two table in Waterstones.

The total absence of photograph arises from the fact that:
1. I can’t seem to make my laptop recognise my mobile phone
2. Nobody else in the family can make their laptop recognise my mobile phone (it is very old)
3. I’m not prepared to stand in Waterstones taking pictures.
4. Nobody else in the family is prepared to stand in Waterstones…you get the picture.

A photograph would have conveyed the news much better. I wouldn’t have had to say anything. It would just have been there, underneath the title ‘Look What I Just Found’ or something. There it would be – Testament - obviously lying between Kate Mosse, Rose Tremain and Michelle Moran.

Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt.