The Ghost of Christmas Past

scrooge     There are very few stories I read again and again but Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one of them. It is one of those instant pathways to my own childhood Christmases. My father, who never read any other book and who worked long hours, came home on Christmas Eve with just two things on his agenda. The first was to carry the previous Christmas’s empties to the off-licence and trade them for a few beers and a bottle of egg flip to add a bit of oomph to my mother’s lemonade. I went with him, partly to remind him to buy crisps and partly because he was very good company. He could do all the Goon Show voices, plus several others of his own invention.

Publishing Shock Horror

lucreSo hands up who was shocked, amazed and disgusted that Zoe Sugg’s best-selling Girl Online was ghost-written? Really?

First of all, Zoe is 24.  Book writing is a long haul job and  very few 24 year olds have the necessary staying power. Perhaps there was a time, when the world moved slowly, working days were long and Sunday sermons lasted an hour, but today, when people have the attention span of a puppy? Naah.

Secondly, what do you imagine gets publishing executives out of bed in the morning? The thought that today might be the day they discover the next Tolstoy? Try again.

A Fashion Statement

fashion     I’m feeling a bit crushed not to have merited even a mention at this week’s Fashion Awards. I cede to no-one as Most Eclectically Dressed Novelist. In the frosty cave that passes for my book-lined den I am currently wearing: one vintage thermal vest, one long-sleeved cocoon dress, two sweaters and my old Mum’s shortie cape slung around my shoulders in a style not dissimilar to Anna Wintour’s white, furry shrug. Where am I going wrong?

Types Wearing Mittens….

mittensA gratifying response to last week’s book offer. Some readers chimed in simply to say they already have all my books   –  go to the top of the class!  They should really get a special prize, and perhaps they will when I can think what it should be.  Books are now on the way to five of the most alacritous claimants. The sixth will be delivered personally to a reader who, it turns out, shops in the same branch of Tesco as I do. See, you just never know who that might be peering at the Best Before dates on all the milk cartons.  I was once in Sainsbury’s in Cambridge and was absolutely convinced that the man two ahead of me at the check-out was Robert Mugabe. It wasn’t.

‘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.