‘Tis the Season (Almost)

package  This can be a depressing season for writers. Those Best Books of the Year lists start appearing in time for people to do their Christmas shopping  and one must face the fact that yes, there are some brilliant writers out there talking about interesting subjects. And then there are the rest of us. There are a few cases of Mutually Agreed Plugging  –  you stroke my book and I’ll stroke yours  –  and I even spotted Julie Burchill recommending (tongue in cheek, but still…) her own new book. And there are some infuriatingly obvious stocking-filler bestsellers. Terry Wogan just published something. Nothing wrong with Terry. He writes well, talks sense and everyone loves him. But you can’t help but think, ‘did you really have to?’ It’ll fly off the shelves of course.

Shelf Life

moosegloveWhat has a moose oven glove to do with novel writing? Not a lot, but bear with me.

One gets to a certain point in one’s, ahem, career, when it becomes clear that The Big Breakthrough isn’t going to happen.  Fifty years ago it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Plenty of fine authors bimbled along with a modest but appreciative following. Then they died and soon after the only place to find their books was a charity shop. These days who (apart from me) reads E.M.Delafield? Who reads Nevil Shute, or Bram Stoker  – except perhaps for THAT book. Actually I don’t think people do read it. Why would they when they can watch a movie? People don’t even read Robert Louis Stevenson and I count him a giant among storytellers.

Too Many Books, Too Lidl Time

upladderA gratifying number of fellow ranters chimed in after my previous post. Many thanks. Not only is it encouraging to know people actually read this stuff, it is also comforting to learn that I’m not alone in being driven nuts by little (but important) things.

If you’re still in the mood for things in this vein I commend to you Rod Liddle’s recent Spectator blog post on Fatuous Phrases. Laughter is a great healer.

Take Cover

bluetouchpaperIf there’s one thing guaranteed to light my blue touch paper…  okay let me back up here. There are MANY things that light my blue touch paper but in particular, recently, it’s people who say ‘haitch’.  I’m not alone in this, which gives me some comfort though not a lot.  There’s  been quite a correspondence about it in that redoubt of English conservatism, The Daily Telegraph. Still, all very well for Despondent of Virginia Water to complain. I’ll bet he can go an entire week without being ‘haitched’. Where I live, in the Republic of Ireland, ‘haitching’ is a national sport. It goes on in the north too. I’ve heard it suggested that you can tell an Ulsterman’s religion by what he does with the letter H: Prods say ‘aitch’, Catholics say ‘haitch.’

And Then the Sun Came Out

goodreviewAfter last week’s snivelling post it seems only right that I also share the joy. The Grand Duchess got a fabulous review in today’s Daily Mail.  My fingers have been fairly rattling across the laptop keyboard this morning. So much so that I feel able to take the afternoon off. Well…. to go to Tesco at any rate. It sounds like they desperately need my custom.

Rolling With the Punches

openbook     My official position on reviews is that authors shouldn’t read them. If they’re bad they can pull your confidence from under you like a rug on linoleum. If they’re good they may bathe you in an unmerited glow. I regret to say I abandon this position at the drop of an email.

So it was on Monday that my publicist alerted me to what she described as ‘an unnecessarily snippy review’ in the Sunday Times.  Could I leave the file unopened? No. I just had to run, throat bared, towards the reviewer’s knife.   The charge : that The Grand Duchess of Nowhere lacks rigorous rooting in historical time and place. This was all the more painful for being sandwiched between cracking reviews of books by two already hugely successful novelists.

Author, Know Thyself


 Whenever I have a new book out I get a  welcome flurry of correspondence from readers and quite often they say something along the lines of, ‘I booksearchloved that bit where….’  Then, more often than not, I have to go rummaging through the book looking for the bit they loved but I have quite forgotten.  Shocking, I know, but my interest in a story last only as long as I’m writing it. Immediately it’s finished I have to turn my attention to the next project. I leave behind me a trail of abandoned literary offspring. Thank goodness somebody loves them.
Today a reader wrote to me about a line in The Grand Duchess of Nowhere that had particularly touched her.  My first thought was that she was mistaken. It was possible I’d written it  –  it sort of had my thumb print on it  – but I had no recollection of doing so.
It took ten minutes of speed-reading but I found it. My reader was spot on and an ember of memory began to glow. The scene was the deathbed of Ducky’s father and, as I recall, it was a late addition to the manuscript, put in during the second edit when I was nearing the ‘Oh God let it be over’ stage (of the rewriting, not the dying). A casual addendum that someone found moving. Well, well.
So three cheers for my readers, who are always generous with their time and praise. And nul points for a forgetful old scribbler.

The Jury is Out

So here she is, The Grand Duchess of Nowhere, published tomorrow. I love her jacket (book and clothing), but what I think when I look at the copy sitting on my desk is this: it represents a year of my life. Was it a year well spent? The reviewers will soon let me know. Grand_Duchess_of_Nowhere

I never planned on becoming a long-distance runner. Actually I never planned on becoming anything much, except a mother. But the long haul has turned out to be my career groove. Two months of fevered research, eight months of writing, and then the slow ping-pong of edits, rewrites, long silences and urgent final tweaks. Do I feel a thrill when I hold a finished copy in my hands? Not really. More like relief.

Does Size Matter, II ?

blog     Someone asked me recently why I have a blog. My reply went something along the lines of: these days, if you’re a writer you have to. To not have a blog would be like omitting to put your trousers on before you walk down the street. Of course a surprising number of writers don’t even have a website which, to continue the analogy, is like never leaving the house, with or without trousers.

Does Size Matter?


A bit late in the day but I feel I should sidle into the discussion initiated by Ian McEwan on lengthy novels. It is a topic close to my heart. I remember… cue nostalgic Hovis advert music… when a book was published on its merits, not on the distance between its covers. When I started out (more Hovis music) a 60,000 word novel was considered perfectly acceptable. Provided the writing wasn’t crap. Then things changed. No more Hovis music, I promise.