Friday, 27 March 2009

Waverton Good Read Award Shortlist

Well, Testament didn’t make it to the short list of the Waverton Good Read Award but the whole experience was great fun – especially being invited up to Waverton to talk about the book. What the people of Waverton are doing with their Award is so different to any other literary prize in Britain that I feel it’s very much to be encouraged and supported. Ordinary people who don’t depend on the literary scene for their living are putting in a lot of time and effort reading, commenting on and voting for Good Reads. Fantastic. I hope Borders’ sponsorship places the Award a little more firmly on the literary map and that we start seeing books with ‘Shortlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award’ and ‘Winner of the Waverton Good Read Award’ stickers on booksellers’ shelves. .

The shortlisted novels are:

A girl made of dust - Nathalie Abi-Ezi
The Outsider- Sadie Jones
Spider – Michael Morley
Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith

Four very different books – I’ll be fascinated to see which one wins.

Meanwhile, the editing is bringing Not One of Us into much sharper focus for me and the whole thing is beginning to feel like a finished novel instead of a work in progress.
The structural edit’s done, now I need to go over it one more time tightening the language, sharpening the focus yet again, pruning where I’ve not yet been ruthless enough.
This time next week I might actually be getting to the stage where I’m ready to let another human being read it.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Amazon Reviews

I found this article about Amazon reviews and their influence on the bookbuying public on the Book 2 Book booktrade bulletin recently. And I was intrigued because the way in which Testament is represented on Amazon is not something I’ve given a lot of thought to. Stupidly, as it turns out.

I’ve been fortunate – the few Amazon reviews that Testament has received have been kind and complimentary but the article makes the point that it only takes a few sharp-tongued critics to ruin your star-average and have an impact on sales.
To which the answer is…get people to write lots of nice reviews.

Has anybody reading this blog solicited reviews? Is it becoming an acceptable thing to do, a simple marketing tool? Or is it a bit naff, a bit desperate?

Though one of Testament’s Amazon reviews was written by somebody I know, it was done entirely gratuitously rather than at my request, though I was no less grateful for that. Probably more grateful indeed; there’s nothing like a free gift, after all.

But, to look at the question from the other end, how many of us actually read Amazon reviews before we buy books? I tend only to buy books on Amazon if I already know about them and have failed to buy them in a real live bookshop or can’t afford to do so. But, I’m assuming that Amazon wouldn’t bother with the whole ‘people who buy this book also bought’ thing if people didn’t impulse buy or browse.

And if we don’t read reviews on Amazon, where do we get book recommendations? I’m often swayed by reviews from other bloggers but most of my book buying is done in store and after a good long time happily browsing shelves. How about you?

Monday, 16 March 2009

Testament in Germany

Just thought I'd show you the cover for the German version of Testament which comes out, so the Goldmann site tells me, in August of this year. If my v. rusty German serves me the title means The Master Mason's Testament but I'm prepared to be corrected.

I think it's rather striking - what do readers of HB think?

Monday, 9 March 2009

One I prepared earlier...

OK, time to 'fess up. The editing is going along pretty well but it is becoming all consuming, so here’s one I prepared earlier – like about a month ago - and forgot about! It’s a tag which originated with Nik Perring – I picked it up at Aliya Whiteley and Neil Ayres’s blog:

List at least five things you do to support and spread a love of the written word.. If you list something that touches youngsters, you get a bonus...

I have a house which is apparently spawning books as we speak. Every time we think we have enough bookcases, it seems only to be a matter of days before we discover that books have begun to colonise the stairs, the windowsills, the blanket box in the living room which is supposed to house nothing but DVDs and Wii stuff - you know, you’re not supposed to put things on top of it because you can’t get at the stuff inside easily, so – obviously - there are books on it most of the time. Bedrooms, obviously are full of books, that goes without saying but bathrooms – do other people have stacks of books in their bathrooms – balancing on the side of the bath, stacked next to the loo rolls in the downstairs loo…
So, whenever anybody comes to our house they kind of have no choice but to interact with at least one book on their visit – normally so that they can sit down on anything. They’ve got to be interested in at least one, right?

For years when my children were small I read dozens of books to them – often many, many times (Cherry Tree Farm anyone? I can probably still do it off by heart all these years later.) And I wouldn’t mind but THEY DON’T REMEMBER A SINGLE ONE. They don’t remember any of the characters they loved so much. Not a word. I mention Cherry Tree Farm and Hairy McLairy and they look at me blankly. And, more to the point, once they became literate themselves they did not start reading books off their own bat. Oh no. They became uninterested in books (unless I was reading to them, which I persisted in until they were 12 and 11) until very recently. Mind you, the Bassist is now talking about reading English at university and does things like hauling off and reading the whole F Scott Fitzgerald oeuvre which is more than I’ve ever done, so maybe Cherry Tree Farm and Hairy McLary from Donaldson’s Dairy weren’t such a vain effort after all.

Despite the prevailing tendency to listen to iPods on public transport, I persist in reading books whenever I am on a train or a bus. It puts me at a disadvantage in the carrying things around stakes – iPods are little and light and books are heavier and more chunky – but do I care? No. Reading Bill Bryson in public certainly spreads the love of the written word – nobody watching me have silent, I’m-laughing-in-front-of-other-people hysterics at something he’s written could fail to get the message that books are good for you.

I am forever lending books to friends, whether they want them or not. This may be related to One, above, but I’m not going to discuss that.

I shovel ridiculous amounts of money in the direction of Watersones and – when we’re particularly broke – the local Oxfam bookshop. The latter is also the recipient of the consequences of One, above – the trouble is, we tend to go in with a rucksack full of books which we leave with them to sort and shelve, only to leave with a rucksack full of books off the shelves. Poor effort.

Anyway, hope that goes some way to making up for the very poor showing in terms of recent posts here. I shall be putting up a few thoughts on the editing process in the next couple of days… be warned.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Trampled by a herd of toddlers...

So, with the first draft of the Work In Progress finished around teatime on Sunday 22nd (cue champagne) on Monday 23rd I started editing my friend’s non-fiction book – all 51, 029 words of it.

It took me 2 eight-hour days to do the spelling, punctuation and grammar sweep (and to get a feel for how it read as a whole book after reading chapters as they were produced) and another 11-hour day to do the structural and content editing.
On Thursday I’d arranged to travel to Buckinghamshire to catch up with an old schoolfriend and on Friday I was being gainfully employed.
I had gone 12 days without a break. (Seeing the friend was lovely but, for an introvert, not a break.) By Saturday I could barely string a sentence together and that’s when my non-fiction writing friend came round to work through my suggestions in front of his laptop, MS’s Track Changes feature to the fore.
On Sunday, I allowed myself to slump and cursed the fact that the Other Half and I have given up alcohol for lent. (Actually, by Friday, we were saying things like ‘maybe we could give up except for Friday evenings…’)

So, today I am sorting emails, writing this and catching up with the housework which has been horribly neglected for the last fortnight. Currently, our house looks like a badly-run ironing agency in a parallel universe where the vaccuum cleaner has yet to be invented.

Editing will have to wait until tomorrow.

As far as half term and the finishing – in draft – of the WIP (working title, Not One of Us) goes, I can give you a feel for how much I ignored my family (the boys were away for the latter half of the week) if I tell you that, in an average writing week - four days of actual writing - I produce between 5000 and 7 000 words whereas, during the week before last, I wrote over 23,000 words in 7 days.

I’m told that 25% of the calories you take in are used by your brain. Well I think my brain was taking more than its fair share during the last couple of weeks because my body feels as drained as my mind. I feel positively post-viral.

But still… it’s done. There is a book. And, given that I’ve been trying to get this particular book into some kind of shape since before MNW offered to publish Testament, it’s taken a while. I spent 18 months on an earlier version which I just left on one side when it was 80% finished and 120 000 words long. The current version, started last April, has incorporated the historical elements I had already written - something like 40 000 words - but, given that Not One of Us currently stands at 201,331 words I have been quite busy since the end of April 2008. I just wish I’d worked out who was supposed to be telling the story – and therefore what shape the story was going to take – a little earlier.

My younger son, known to long-time readers of this blog as The Bassist, asked whether the final chapters, having been written so quickly, were going to be easier to edit or more difficult. ‘Cos maybe, as he put it, I was really in the zone when I wrote them.
Good question.
I feel at a loss to know how long the edit is going to take. I’ve done quite a lot of structural work already – in July I looked at the previous three months’ work and realised that one of my characters wasn’t coming through strongly enough so went back and restructured. I’ve also done other tweakings on the way. So I’m hoping that the basic shape of the thing is right.

But whether my characters leap off the page as the people they are in my mind; whether the themes that the book is structured around are too opaque, or – possibly – too laboured; whether the ‘flow’ of what is a slightly unusually multi-viewpoint book works… I won’t know any of these things until I start reading it.

What I would do – ideally - is read the whole thing through in one go. But, given my slow reading speed this would take almost 12 hours, so that’s not going to be possible. Not with a family to live around.
Also, just reading wouldn’t be possible. Not realistically. I’ll need to make notes about what needs to be changed and, possibly, how. That will slow me down. So it’s going to take, if I’m sensible, between two and three average days' work to get the thing read from cover to cover and begin to think about where I’m going with it. So I should start tomorrow and hope I get it all done by close of play on Wednesday as I’m gainfully employed again on Thursday.

But, should I begin with a read-through, or should I edit the last part of what I wrote in that hectic week, which amounts to about 15 000 words? If I don’t, that’s going to have had considerably less editing than everything else as every other section of the book has been read and tweaked, word by word, at least three times.

And, all the while, I still feel as if I’ve been trampled by a herd of toddlers after babysitting them for 24 straight hours.

Ah well, today’s been a nice day off…