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Comment from the book world in January 2012


On first becoming a writer

31 December 2012

'I first became aware of my need for this twice-lived life at the age of 12 during my time at boarding school in Hertfordshire. I was dawdling back across the lovely hayfield that separated the tennis courts from the garden of the main school house when I was stopped in my tracks by the beauty of the June light on the field. I stood very still. I felt, in a memorably passionate way, that what I wanted was to possess the field, to capture it and my feelings about it in orderto recreate the totality of that lived moment at some future time on paper. You could say that I became a writer on that summer day in 1955.'

Rose Tremain in the Sunday Telegraph

Texting - a springboard to poetry

17 December 2012

'The poem is a form of texting ... it's the original text. It's a perfecting of a feeling in language - it's a way of saying more with less, just as texting is. We've got to realise that the Facebook generation is the future - and, oddly enough, poetry is the perfect form for them. It's a kind of time capsule - it allows feelings and ideas to travel big distances in a very condensed form...

The poem is the literary form of the 21st century. It's able to connect young people in a deep way to language ... it's language as play. I think it's most obvious in music, if you look at rapping, for example, a band like Arctic Monkeys uses lyrics in a poetic way. And using words in an inventive way is at the heart of youth culture in every way...

I grew up in a bookless house - my parents didn't read poetry, so if I hadn't had the chance to experience it at school I'd never have experienced it. But I loved English, and I was very lucky in that I had inspirational English teachers, Miss Scriven and Mr Walker, and they liked us to learn poems by heart, which I found I loved doing. I'd write them out by hand, and it was that very physical act that led me to become a writer. It was quite an intimate experience of poetry, and that's what I'd like us to go back to now with children.'

Carol Ann Duffy in an interview in the Guardian

'A fanbase of millions'

10 December 2012

 'I don't think people always understand the scale of what we have done in the past 12 months. The level of work has been very intense. What we've done with Pottermore is harness a fanbase of millions of the biggest Harry Potter fans. In terms of producing value to all of the rights holders - be it J K Rowling, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Warner Bros, or indeed our sponsor Sony - that's an immensely valuable thing, as any new books, content or products come out. For any launch we have a direct relationship with those fans already, who we can then engage with...

'If you have a brand that is very relevant to 11 to 15-year olds, it is clear to me that they consume more content on YouTube than on TV, for example. So therefore we have to think very carefully about what we do for Harry Potter and Pottermore in that environment... 

The convergence of media challenges existing right structures that were put together at a time when there was clear blue water between what film companies did and what film companies did. There is a lot in the middle that you could do great stuff with, if the film and publishing companies got together and said" your rights, my rights, let's put them together and do something amazing on YouTube, with in-flight entertainment, or on tablet devices." But in many cases, they look across suspiciously at each and don't speak to each other, so that stuff in the middle drops through.' Pottermore is about doing all those  thing in the middle.'

Charlie Redmayne, CEO of Pottermore


'Advice to aspiring writers'

3 December 2012

'Read. But assuming they are already people who can't sit down at breakfast without reading the cereal packet, then I would say write the sort of things you like to read. Don't write what anybody else tells you is popular. Publishers don't know - all they know is what were last year's bestsellers. The insolence of daring to say to you what ought to be written. Disregard it.'

Philip Pullman in The Times

'A brand is a job in its own right'

26 November 2012

'A brand is a job in its own right. You feel like you can't leave it. I'm very fond of Charlie and Lola but there was a time when I really just wanted it to end. You want to walk away because you want to get on with something else, but if you walk away you can't be sure how it might move without you...

(but isn't she rich enough to retire?) I don't think that's true. I used to feel pretty good about the book industry but the recession has hit authors in a big way. I didn't think it would hit children's publishing so strongly, but there's been such a big worldwide dip, it has affected everything.'

Lauren Child, author of the Charlie and Lola series, in the Sunday Telegraph

'A whole lot of experience'

19 November 2012

'All my books work in the same way in that they draw upon a whole lot of experience that I've already had. I'm not just talking about life experience but knowledge of Chartres... I will already know about what I'm writing about. I will do some research a) to remind myself; b) to make sure I haven't got it wrong; c) to bring it to life again... but I'm not one of those people who goes away and does research. I tend to draw upon what I already know because then it means that I'm not, as it were, having to process it. It's already in my blood and it comes out easily, and I think therefore more naturally.'

Salley Vickers, author of The Cleaner of Chartres in the Bookseller

'Digital is here'

12 November 2012

'Thematically this email is a microcosm of publishing now and tomorrow. Mega-mergers, new devices, Amazon growth (and losses) and established players seeking to re-adjust for the digital age through innovation and restructure. The Penguin Random House story suggests that the phoney war is now over, digital is here, it is driving our thoughts and strategies, and will come to dominate this content led business as it has other content sectors.

The next 12 months are likely to be among the most tumultuous this sector has ever witnessed. Barnes & Noble, Microsoft, Apple, Kobo and Google need to find a way to break Amazon's e-book market share, while the growth in tablet devices indicates that publishers are going to have to redouble their efforts to make both immersive reading and non-immersive reading attractive for those billions of users who do not have e-ink readers, but who will want to interact with content that used to come in books on their tablet devices.

Philip Jones in the Bookseller's Futurebook

'A reasonable living'?

29 October 2012

'These days, almost everybody I meet who's not already a writer wants to become one. Recent Society of Authors statistics show that only seven percent of all writers in this country make a reasonable living (which means that 93 percent do not, as compared with 85 per cent of actors who do not) and yet there's a general clamour to scramble into this strange and lonely arena. Why? Is it that everybody feels they could do it, just as everybody feels they could be ballroom dancers, given a patient tutor and half a chance?  Or do they suspect - rightly, it seems to me - that the act of writing can very often awake in the human spirit that elusive and indefinable thing we call happiness?'

Rose Tremain in the Sunday Telegraph

'You realise you do it because you want to'

22 October 2012

 'You sort of rebel when you sit down (to write). You feel anger and boredom and the stupidity of what you are doing. It's like my dad's making me go to work, or my kids asking "Who invented homework?" Then you quieten down and become interested. You realise you do it because you want to. It is the waste of time that makes it possible...

As you get older, you want economy. I don't want to start writing now and maybe publish in five years. Salman (Rushdie) does that. I can't bear it. I want to say it, throw it away and write something else.'

Hanif Kureishi in The Independent on Sunday 

We're all spies in a way

15 October 2012

'We're all spies in a way'

'Spies allow a novelist to heighten what all novels do anyway, which is control the flow of information. They allow limitless possibilities of tangled plot; they carry with them a hint of danger, which I think we rather love, from the perspective of our rather safe lives. Historically, we are safer than we've ever been. It's my theory that the reason we're getting such amazing thrillers from the social democracies of Scandinavia is because they've got such low crime rates. They dream of danger, and they dream it very well. Or you could say that I guess we're all spies in a way. We can't wear the entirety of our hearts on our sleeves, and novels have always been good at exploiting the difference between the inner and outer self.'

Ian McEwan, whose latest novel is Sweet Tooth, in The Times

Learning how to write

8 October 2012

'I went to classes at the college one evening a week. For the rest of the week I did my homework. I wrote stories, plays, poems, and read voraciously. We emailed our homework to our tutors and classmates, who gave invaluable feedback. I became obsessed. My flat is falling to pieces, the windows filthy, my clothes shabby, my friends have forgotten who I am, and my relationship with my partner, the writer Andrew Lycett, has disintegrated to the occasional grunt. And there is nothing in our fridge.

Although I had done some copywriting in a previous life, written newspaper articles, and won a pen in one of the weekly Spectator Competitions, at Birkbeck I found my writing "voice". I am never going to be another Virginia Woolf or Henry James, but I could be a rival for Pam Ayres, or perhaps become today's P G Wodehouse or Anthony Powell - without the balls.

Joanna Trollope said in the Guardian recently that no one should write until after 35, because she feels that writers need life experience. My years as a photographer have certainly influenced my writing. I've been to places, and met people, that I would never have had access to without my camera. Photography taught me to see. And hanging around at book events gave me plenty of opportunity to stand and stare, watch how people behave and move, notice what they are wearing and carrying. And eavesdropping has proved enormously beneficial with writing realistic dialogue!

I have met an enormously diverse and interesting collection of people of all ages on the course. Sometimes our only point in common is our love of books and desire to write well. Some people are born writers, but most of us who want to write benefit from being taught the technical skills. As well as weekly classes, and one-to-one tutorials, we had a wide range of lectures, including ones on writing style, digital developments, and the commercial realities, as well as talks given by experienced editors, agents and authors. And twice a term at a pub in King's Cross, "celebrity writers", students, staff and alumni read their work at an event, known as Hubbub.'

Susan Greenhill, photographer extraordinaire and now writer and contributor to MIR9, in Bookbrunch.

Birkbeck's website showcasing students' and ex-students' work:

'A little floor-mat problem at the end'

1 October 2012

'I'm probably not a natural novelist, but I want to become one. I loved working on A Gate at the Stairs.I know it's not perfect, but that's what novels are allowed to be - imperfect. I know it speeds up at the end like a Toyota - it has a little floor-mat problem at the end. A short story has to have energy and focus, but novels can wander around quite a bit... Novels borrow from the world like that. They are different from reportage or photographs. They take things, and scramble them and create a parallel universe that asks questions, without providing any answers.'

Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate in the Stairs, in the Observer