So here I am, suitcase unpacked, laundry done and ready for anything. I had imagined I’d have plenty of time for creative thinking during my holiday, seeing as how someone else was steering the boat and cooking dinner but as it turned out my thoughts very soon settled into a comfortable rut. The biggest decision I made all week was whether to have dessert or cheese. I guess I needed a rest. But now I have a serious matter to address. The direction my…ahem…career has taken.
I’ve been getting stick recently from some of my readers. They don’t like my move into pre-20th century fiction. The charges against me have been: books too boring, books too full of complicated stuff. Well. Boredom is, of course, entirely in the eye of the beholder. If you say a book is boring I can only plead that others have not found it so. ‘Complicated stuff’ is easier for me to defend. If I am capable of writing it, it cannot possibly be that difficult because I don’t know much about anything. However I do enjoy learning about things. Perhaps my mistake, if I’ve made one, is to assume that all my readers like to pick up bits of information too.
There has also been a much graver complaint: that my books aren’t as funny as they used to be. This may be true. Some of my earlier novels were described as ‘hilarious romps’, a label I detested. I also felt it completely misrepresented me. Hilarious is an over-used word anyway, and I thought, hoped, that my humour was gentler than that. Writers change over the years. Mainly we just try to get better at what we do. There are writers who use the same winning formula again and again. They are richer than I’ll ever be but sadly I’ve never found a way to emulate them. Anyway, I don’t have carte blanche. I’m a breadwinner. I can only write what someone will pay me to write.
It is true my earlier novels had a stronger comic streak. And guess what? They didn’t sell. I have a small and devoted following of readers. Some of them will buy any new book by me, God bless them and save them. Unfortunately many of them then hand their copy round their friends and relations until it falls to pieces. They write and tell me so. And flattering as it is to be passed around it does little for my commercial survival in the ruthless world of publishing. I turned to historical fiction chiefly because of my poor sales figures and my publishers thought it was worth the experiment. Has it been a success? The jury is still out. I have one more novel to deliver before I’m out of contract and it will be historical because that’s what I’m being paid to do.
And the humour? I didn’t think it had gone away. Actually humour was one of the things I hoped to bring to historical fiction, a genre that can easily take itself too seriously. But life changes. When I was writing novels like Perfect Meringues I was younger and breezier. Now I’m a full-time carer as well as a writer there are days when the chuckle tank is almost empty and maybe that’s reflected in my writing. Still, I haven’t exactly turned into Dostoevsky. Have I?
Oh my goodness, who has been telling you this? I LOVE your historical fiction and learnt more about the Crimean war from you than anyone else. I also love in capitals the “complicated stuff.” I would call it fascinating stuff though. Also sorry, I am guilty of passing your books around, although on the plus side mostly I don’t get them back and end up buying again. I will say though, that I think your recent covers undersell the books inside them. Sorry – I hate to be critical because I am one of those who will buy anything with your name on it – and always will, but I do find it irritating to find much nicer covers on books that yours would wipe the floor with. Now, I am going on holidays in mid July – will your next book be out by then? I really hope so.
I was that whinger – I loved Perfect Meringues so much that I couldn’t be arsed to get my un-educated (history-wise) brains round the Napoleon thing, the Crimean thing etc….Noone wants you to turn into Dostoevsky (apart, maybe, from your Russian fans). And I wonder just how much humour there is in being a carer – unless you can prove me wrong again.
Hi Laurie, first time I’ve commented on the blog but am an envious admirer of your adept and wryly humourous writing style (both books and blog!). It is very interesting to hear about some of the feedback you’ve been getting. The first book of yours I read, still my top favourite, is Future Homemakers of America. I love it so much I’ve read it and re-read it and bought it as a present for several friends. At Sea in my opinion is equally as good. Its the voices of the different characters you create and the subtle situational humour in your books that I love. I can’t remember exactly the scene but it was something about a yogurt pot in At Sea that had me chuckling for days. Humble Companion is the most recently written book I’ve read and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others. Perhaps because it was set in an era I didn’t know much about and personally not as interested in. By historical fiction, it depends how long ago it was before you consider it historical. I loved the Kennedy book (does that count as historical fiction). The Windsors book I did find a bit bogged down in facts and dates but it piqued my interest and got me googling all sorts of Wallis Simpson related incidents to see if they actually happened. I don’t know if this is a compliment or not but I’ve had anxiety related insomnia from time to time and I find your book the perfect bedtime reading to wind me down at night. Re-reading that last sentence it could easily be taken the wrong way, but what I mean is that they are safe and light and funny and transport me nicely out of reality. So I’d say to you, you have a gift. Don’t let negative feedback wear you down.
I think if anything, your writing has become more subtle and therefore funnier. I don’t care whether you write a story set in the present, past or future, it’s your unique voice that has me hooked. Keep ’em coming!
I am one of those devotees who will buy any Laurie Graham book, indeed diarises when they are due for release, so it would be very difficult to put me off. I don’t see the recent pre-20th century novels as a huge departure from earlier books, for example like The Unfortunates or The Importance of Being Kennedy. I think I would have to say A Humble companion would rank as my favourite of all, so far (and, by the way, I thought the cover most beautiful). The humour has always been gentle and affectionate, nothing has changed there. The more historical novels have often piqued my interest to know more and I find myself researching the real history after I’ve finished a book. I hope there are many more books to come, in whatever way, shape or form… Thank you, sincerely, for the reading pleasure you have given me over the years.
i’ve just finsided The Liar’s Daughter and i enjoyed it very much. the historical detail might stretch someone looking for an easy read, but who wants an easy read? i’d been saving it for my relaxing week off and it was one of the best bits. along with the meals. and the wine 🙂 keep writing as your whim/genius (ok or the directions of the publishers) take you, and never read what people say on *mazon.com reviews.
Aaaaagh! “Hilarious romp” is such a ham-fisted description of your wit and spot-on dialogue. I wish you had the freedom to choose the kind of genres, subjects and themes that really speak to you right now…. always makes for the most authentic, meaningful art.
Buy them all and love them all! Embrace the differences and learn about stuff would be my advise. ‘ Reading is dreaming with your eyes open after all’ (can’t remember who said that first).Keep up the good work Laurie!