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Comment from the book world in January 2007


After Katrina

17 December 2007

'The most important job of a writer is to tell the truth and I feel I've done that...

The Tin Roof Blowdown came about almost by accident. I wasn't going to write a novel about Katrina because it was too depressing. Then an editor at Esquire called me and asked if I could write a short story and I said I didn't think I could.... The next day, I went to mass at a little town nearby, and when we got home I thought: 'Jesus out to Sea', and that was the title. I had heard an account of the priest in the lower Ninth Ward who tried to get his parishioners to leave. He stayed and he died, so I wrote the story based on two of his parishioners. I figured if I was going to write about Katrina, then this was the time and if others doubt what happened in New Orleans, nothing I or anyone else can say will influence their thinking.'

James Lee Burke on his new novel The Tin Roof Blowdown in Publishing News

After the bestseller

10 December 2007

'I've been asked many times since what are the pros and cons of life after Labyrinth. Too much pressure? Too much expectation? The easy answer is that the best consequence of a novel selling well is that it gives you the freedom to carry on writing for a while longer and, hey, it's a great problem to have. But the truth is that it does knock you off course, if only for a little while. Not because you haven't got the ideas - Sepulchre was already researched and planned before Labyrinth ever came out - but because you haven't got the time to write...

You fret about the possibility that having raised your head above the parapet there might be those waiting to shoot you down - but then again, all authors, actors, politicians, painters and musicians feel this, regardless of what's gone before or since. And you do worry, most of all, about disappointing readers. What if they don't enjoy the new book as much as the last? But then you pull yourself together, get back to work and all those thoughts fade away.'

Kate Mosse in Publishing News

Building an audience

3 December 2007

'My goal as a writer is to have my readers meet people like them, people who make mistakes and learn from them, people who have problems and try to cope with them... They're books about relationships - between mothers and daughters, sisters, friends. I'm here to answer reader expectations and my readers want a good feeling at the end of a book... Having grown up in category romance, you have to build an audience and then keep your name in front of it.'

Debbie Macomber, whose latest book is Old Boyfriends, in Publishing News

'An emotional connection'

26 November 2007

'My feeling is that we know the benefits of literacy and the comforts of literacy - but we still don't know the benefits of reading the great works. I mean, there is no scientific proof that you will become a better, wiser person if you plough your way through Dostoevsky. Now, there are all sorts of reasons why I read the books that I read; but I think we've lost the sense of being able to tell people that what they should be looking for in a book is an emotional connection that makes you feel excited and alive, and you're as likely to find that it a 'literary' novel as in a popular novel.'

Nick Hornby in The Times

'Everything actually happened'

19 November 2007

A great irony of creative nonfiction is that one of its chief assets is also one of its chief liabilities. The fact is that in nonfiction, everything actually happened. It's all true. One of the reasons we eagerly turn to nonfiction is because we have it on reliable source - most often, in any case - that the events on the page actually took place, and the people who did them were, or are, real. A good part of our astonishment at reading Ernest Shackleton's account of his eight-hundred mile open boat voyage from Elephant Island across the terrible frigid sea to South Georgia Island, for example, is that real men went through this, with real fears and real hopes, who had real families at home, with real men left behind, cold and hungry, depending on their success. This happened...

But the cold clear fact is that no matter how astonishing the story, there is no guarantee that it will be interesting writing. Many writers of nonfiction, particularly in the ever-burgeoning category of memoir, seem to believe the strength of their subject is enough to keep the reader captivated...

Not so. Or, often enough, not so.'

Richard Goodman in The Writer's Chronicle, published by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in the US

Starting to write

5 November 2007

'I was a teacher at a primary school in Kent, reading a tedious story to my pupils, who were clearly bored. That night I complained to my wife, who said: 'You're quite good are telling stories - why don't you make one up?' So I screwed my courage to the sticking place. At the end of the session they all shouted: 'Oh, sir!' They wanted more. In one afternoon I understood what it is to be a storyteller. A colleague persuaded me to write it up and gave it to a friend at Macmillan. Luckily he liked it, and it quickly led to my first book, It Never Rained, a collection of stories about things that go wrong in children's lives.'

Michael Morpurgo in The Times

'Poetry is necessary'

29 October 2007

'A poem is direct, and charged with energy. Its language is not clichéd nor second-hand. Its meaning, whether force or revelation, or slow truth, is something we can actually use. Poems are among the most useful things invented, along with rubber boots and sharp knives. It you are going to wade through the world's rubbish, and know what to cut out and what to open up - perhaps even what to kill off - then poetry is necessary.

A poem generates heat. The friction of the language causes the words to spark and fire. You can warm your hands at a poem; you can be consumed by it. It is, as Adrienne Rich puts it, "wood with a gift for burning".

Jeanette Winterson in The Times

'This biography business'

22 October 2007

'Biography is still, all too often, viewed as the skill of finding as many facts as possible and assembling them into a definitive likeness, as if each piece of paper, each interview, were a clue leading to a solution. On such and such a day the subject said this, the next week they did this, in 1935 they wrote this, and voila!, the portrait is finished. You only have to imagine a biographer attempting to write your life, 50 years hence - the idiots with whom they might discuss you, the motives they might attribute to actions that you yourself barely understood - to realize how extraordinarily parlous it is, this biography business.'

Laura Thompson, author of Agatha Christie: An English Mystery, in the Independent on Sunday

'Books are different'

15 October 2007

'Books are different, as people have always argued through the ages. They are a cornerstone of civilisation, so they're not quite like other consumer products. They are fundamental to intellectual development. The very depressing statistics you read about the coincidence of dyslexia and prison inmates suggest that in the modern world if you can't read and don't enjoy reading it's a major disadvantage. I think a home that doesn't have books is a bit of a sad place, really...

(Books) are tremendously cheap compared to most things, like, for example, mobile phone calls. The amount of time a £6 ($12.19) book provides - 20 hours of entertainment? - means they are fantastic value.'

Luke Johnson, whose company has just bought Borders UK, in the Observer

'No seven year famine'

8 October 2007

'We believe that the web has come to praise books, not to bury them. There will be no seven-year famine. E-books will drive book demand: Amazon is expanding the market, not cannibalising it; print-on-demand will drive book production; and agents and publishers will both thrive because the cake itself, online and in print, will expand.'

Bookseller editorial

'You made it up?!'

1 October 2007

'Most people's lives have a steady mixture of the social and the solitary, in factory or field, office or school. The life of the novelist has no such balance. For three years, you're alone with your thoughts, then for three weeks you're thrown to the microphones in the name of 'publicity'. The modern writer's life is like a cross between that of the Venerable Bede and Naomi Campbell.

(Readers) assume that everything in a novel is based on your personal experience, lightly, or at times not at all, rewritten. When I toured the country doing readings after Birdsong, most people could not conceal their disappointment. They had expected me to be 105 years old, French and, in some weird way, female.

One man asked me how I knew what it was like to fight at the Somme. I told him I'd read a lot of documents, visited the site, then made it up, 'You made it up?!' he spat at me. Yes, I said, that's my job. But he didn't believe me and neither did anyone else there. They thought I'd found a pile of old papers in the attic and passed them off as mine.'

'The largest group in the population'

24 September 2007

'Demographically women of my age group are the largest group in the population and certainly of the book buying population and we are not very well catered for.

I think publishers are becoming more aware of this. We are intelligent, well read, have brought up families, we have been to universities, we have professional qualifications and nearly all of us have worked hard and maybe now have a little more time. Some of us have grandchildren and may have grandparents still living.

I think there's a huge market for literature which deals with that. I think it is an extraordinary time in our lives.'

Sarah Challis, author of Footprints in the Sand, in Writers' ForumBritish writers' magazine which is highly recommended for all writers. It features wide range of news and articles which help writers to improve their work and get published: