Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Very Merry Christmas to One and All!

Before everybody leaves off blogging and reading blogs for the festive season I thought I'd put up a quick post.

I began this blog, as most writers do, as some kind of marketing strategy. Get your name on the web! Form a fan base! Be a visible presence!

I've no idea whether any of those things has happened but the blog has become important to me in a totally different and unexpected way. Writing is a solitary business and I have found it more important than I would have predicted to receive the support and companionship of others on the journey I make through various books. This has been particularly true this year with the disappointement over Not One of Us. The generosity and kindness many of you have shown in comments and emails has really helped keep my writerly spirits up this year.

So, this is just to wish everybody who visits Hawkins Bizarre - whether as follower, commenter or simply as a reader of what goes on here - a very happy, peaceful and joyful Christmas.

I shall be back between now and the New Year with thoughts on the writing year and books I have read in 2009.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Synopses and other Curses

Actually, that's a misleading title. There are no other curses chez Bizarre now that I have (mostly) got over the cold that has been thickening my head for the last week and more.
No, there is only the need to write a synopsis.

I knew I was going to send the work in progress to Will, my editor, once I reached the hundred MS pages mark but I - foolishly - hadn't bargained on him wanting a synopsis as well.

Can I just say that I HATE WRITING SYNOPSES?

I know this puts me in the same category of intransigent moody teenagerishness as most other novelists when it comes to having to do this task but that knowledge doesn't make it any easier.

I know all the standard lines: If you can't explain what your book is about simply and economically then you don't really know. A synopsis helps you bring things into focus. It's a skill you need to develop so that you can talk cogently to editors, publishers, agents etc etc. I've heard them so often I don't even know whether they're true or a load of baloney any more. All I know is that I'd rather write a whole 120 000 word book than a measly 1 000 word synopsis.

How do you make your book sound literate, unputdownable and deeply satisfying in workaday prose that bears no resemblance to the 'voice' of the book? How do you convey themes and layers without sounding like somebody who needs to get out in the fresh air a bit more?

I know I have to do it. I know I'll have to do it for every book I write. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Testament - Book of the Year!!

I am extremely proud to link to this announcement by Juxtabook. It's on Twitter, which I don't do, so I hope the link continues to work for more than today.

I feel really privileged to have Testament announced as book of the year by a blogger whose taste and judgement I respect as much as Juxtabook's.

Thanks Juxtabook!

Oh and while I'm on a boast-fest, there's this too...

I'm feeling stroked.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Bestsellers and Blockbusters

Over at Tomorrowville, David Isaak is talking about how books are bought and sold and he quotes an interesting concept from a book called 'Formal Theories of Mass Behaviour'. In this book the author, William McPhee

'noted that a disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type. (Many other studies have since reached the same conclusion.) A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better.'

McPhee wrote his book in the USA (presumably based on US consumers' behaviour) in 1963. So I got to wondering – does the same thing hold good here in the UK in 2009?

I looked up Waterstones top 10 bestsellers on their website. The top 5 were either Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (interestingly the ebook was at Number 1 and the hardback at Number 5 which probably tells us how many ebook readers have been acquired for Christmas presents) or one of Stephenie Meyer's YA vampire series (New Moon, Eclipse and Twilight at 2, 3 and 4 respectively).

OK, maybe the theory holds good for the Dan Brown; I know that lots of people who rarely read will succumb to buying a book that has received a lot of hype and whose predecessor made it into film. But is it true for the Stephenie Meyer books? All the young adults I know who have read the Twilight series (to say nothing of the adults) are absolutely avid readers and have just wombled this series up along with everything else in a voracious reading life. I'm aware that that probably says more about me and the reading habits of the people I associate with than about young adults in general, but still.

(I should probably admit that I have recently borrowed the Twilight oeuvre in its entirely, largely based on a laudatory review by Juxtabook here).

Number 6 is Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife. I loved TTTW and despite the considerable numbers of brickbats thrown at it, I don't think that it's the kind of book that people who don't habitually read books would buy. OK, it's probably at No 6 currently because of the film (sounds of my argument being shot in the foot) but it was made into a film in the first place because it's a massively good story, well told, and because it was a bestseller first time round!

Number 7. The Girl who played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. I am a huge fan of Larsson's work. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when nobody had heard of it simply because I plucked it off the shelf, intrigued by the title. I found it strange – like no crime novel I'd ever read before – but very satsifying and very good. I read the other two in hardback because I couldn't wait for them to make it to paperback. Now, I don't know whether the Larsson books qualify as 'books read by non-readers'. I think they may be bought by such because the covers suggest some degree of salaciousness from the eponymous girl but I suspect that they are read, in their entirety, by few people in that category. They are meticulous, interestingly crafted, psychologically satisfying and they don't always rattle through the story – sometimes you're obliged to think and consider. In other words they are not your standard blockbuster. So, do they fit McPhee's model? Not sure.

I don't think Waterstones' number 8 fits. It's Maeve Binchy's latest novel Heart and Soul and, though my own purchasing of Ms Binchy's books is probably not going to keep her in any particularly opulent manner, I do know that a lot of people are absolutely nuts about her books and buy them accordingly, not simply because they are hyped and piled high.

Number 9 is – coincidentally – the book I am reading at the moment, John le Carre's A Most Wanted Man. I haven't read any le Carre before but the Other Half has. She read this one and was complimentary about it. She said she thought I would enjoy it and, as she has a track record of being 100% right about books I would like , I'm reading it. She remains at 100%. I think le Carre falls into a niche just like Maeve Binchy – there are enough people who love his writing and who buy his books for their own sake for us not to fall back on McPhee's model to explain why he is in the top 10.

Number 10? It's the first in the Larsson trilogy. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If you haven't read it, I do recommend it. OK, so it's probably benefiting from the release of the third and last element of the trilogy – The Girl who Kicked The Hornet's Nest – now out in hardback (and at number 18 in the bestseller lists), but maybe it would be there anyway.

So, where does this leave us? Is the 'people who buy bestsellers/blockbusters don't buy other books and aren't really readers' model correct? Or is it out of date and US-biassed?