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Comment from the book world in January 2018


'Writers remember everything'

31 December 2018

'Writers remember everything...especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he'll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.'

Stephen King, author of more than 60 novels and countless novellas, short stories and screenplays, whose most recent novel is The Outsider.

'Two types of writers'

17 December 2018

'I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows. And I'm much more a gardener than an architect.'

George R R Martin, author of a vast number of novels, short stories, scripts and screenplays, including most famously Game of Thrones

A poet and an editor

10 December 2018

'I've always thought that writing poetry has very little to do with the intellect. It's not something one can explain and chat about very easily: certainly not about the making of it. It's very resistant to explanation. It comes from a place that is occult, in the sense of being hidden. It attends to some of our deepest anxieties and hopes in the same way that dreams do...

You can't live from poetry. It's always been my line that this job is entirely counterproductive. I can't go home at night having spent the day editing a novel and turn to my own work, because if I'm any good (as an editor) I've got somebody else's cadences in my ear. Cape has been wonderful in allowing me leniency. I go off for sabbaticals to somewhere solitary and silent, and wait to get back in the zone...

On balance (prizes) are a good thing. If you win one, they bring you new readers. But they've taken on an excessive prominence in our culture, and readers perhaps pay too much attention to them. External validation is important and, if that comes from your peers, it's even more welcome. But they're often uncomfortable, and gladiatorial. It's not a fair way of judging art.'

Robin Robertson, who has published six poetry collections, and whose latest book is The Long Take, which has just won the Goldsmiths Prize, and who is also an editor at Jonathan Cape, in the Observer.


'A quarter of a century of collaborating'

26 November 2018

‘Sean and I have written psychological thrillers together under the name of Nicci French for nearly 25 years now - a quarter of a century of collaborating, of entering the other's imagination and exploring the world together. Writing is hard: writing with another person is really, really hard. The argument with oneself becomes also the argument with the other, in a way that's intimate and vulnerable and unexpected but also messy and complicated...

Indeed there's something scarily self-exposing, wounding, even humiliating about passing a pulpy, half-formed text over to another person to edit, to change, to erase. To write with your partner is to find things out about their subconscious - possibly unwelcome things.'

Nicci Gerrard, who with her husband Sean French has written Day of the Dead and an astonishing 21 other highly successful novels under the pseudonym Nicci French, in the Observer


Don’t worry about the bad drafts

19 November 2018

'I was a lot dumber when I was writing the novel. I felt like a worse writer ... would come home every day from my office and say, ‘Well, I still really like the story, I just wish it was better written.' At that point, I didn't realise I was writing a first draft. And the first draft was the hardest part. From there, it was comparatively easy. It was like I had some Play-Doh to work with and could just keep working with it - doing a million drafts and things changing radically and characters appearing and disappearing and solving mysteries: Why is this thing here? Should I just take that away? And then realising, no, that is there, in fact, because that is the key to this. I love that sort of detective work, keeping the faith alive until all the questions have been sleuthed out.'

Miranda July, film director and author of The First Bad Man and three other books

Publisher/poet wins Goldsmith’s Prize

12 November 2018

‘I work in a pressure-cooker system where I hope that I can store up all the thoughts and lines and phrases and when I do finally get away to some retreat somewhere I can uncork the bottle in a satisfying way, to release tension, and something will be there. It's easier with poetry because you can approach it that way, novels are much longer-haul and you need a longer trajectory.

I've worked there for nearly half a lifetime, I'm afraid. But you don't leave a place like Cape because there's nowhere better to be as a publisher.

On the importance of literary prizes, ‘It's an external validation, we all like to have our work approved of in some way. The money is very welcome of course but it's more the judgement of your peers and fellow writers, it's very satisfying... rather peculiar to me that I understand it to be a long narrative poem and it's been on two fiction awards' shortlists, and now to win a prize for experimental fiction when you've written a long poem is slightly confusing - but I'll take that confusion.'

Robin Robertson, who has published four poetry collections and is associate publisher working across Cape's fiction and poetry lists with authors such as Irvine Welsh, James Wood, Anne Enright and Ocean Vuong, in the Bookseller.

Commercial fiction writers

5 November 2018

‘They are authors who are unique, they are brilliant at what they do. For every company, there are must-haves. Lesley is a must-have. (Commercial) authors are, in fact better off than ever because people can see how good their books are now, they can read reviews on Amazon, and the way we can spread the word - using newsletters and Facebook pages - is fantastic. It used to be that you could package a not particularly good author and pay for promotion, get it out there, and it would sell. You can't get away with that anymore...

The word "commercial"... I never know what I mean by that. I think it's an every-blurring line but it's that book where the narrative drives you through. You can find that with very literary authors as well - David Mitchell, Ian McEwan or Donna Tarrt, for instance - but you have to keep reading. We're not in it just for the love of the language, let's put it that way.'

Louise Moore, MD of Michael Joseph, in a joint interview with her author Lesley Pearse (who has achieved 10 million sales worldwide) in the Bookseller.

An unknown intern… now set for SF stardom

29 October 2018

‘I couldn't believe they'd built something that had come out of my brain on that scale. It was really mid-blowing - and humbling. I thought, there are hundreds of people who've done this from me just writing something in my bedroom...

I wanted to tell authentic stories about those cultures rather than, as you so often see, a collection of white American people leading a mission.'

From helping out on Netflix's The Crown, Mika Watkins has been overseeing Origin, her own blockbuster YouTube series with a multimillion budget, launching on 14 November. Our Comment is from the Observer.

'It's the rewriting I enjoy most'

22 October 2018

‘Whenever I talk to kids about writing and tell them it's the rewriting I enjoy most, they groan. I guess if you're in school, rewriting means copying your papers over. But to me, rewriting is the most exciting part of the process. When I'm rewriting, I feel most creative. I've got all the pieces to the puzzle and now I get to put them together. I go through four or five drafts of each book. (When I was writing Summer Sisters I went through twenty drafts!)

Read your work aloud! This is the best advice I can give. When you read aloud you find out how much can be cut, how much is unnecessary. You hear how the story flows. And nothing teaches you as much about writing dialogue as listening to it.'

Judy Blume, author of Are You There God. It's Me, Margaret, Wifey, Forever and 29 other books in her series on writing on her website.


A ghost writer on ghostwriting

15 October 2018

'So, true story... I was asked once during a Q&A session whether I would use a ghostwriter to write my own memoir. Ha ha ha, everyone in the room laughed. Funny question. ‘But really... would you?' my questioner insisted. I thought for a moment and then came up with a surprising answer: ‘Yes!' And the reason is that if I wanted to make it a damn good read, I would need another person's perspective on my life story. The ghostwriter and their subject are two different people and, as the old saying goes, two heads are better than one. You may be blessed with immoderate levels of self-awareness and an uncanny ability to see the cause and effect of your behavior, but we are all utterly incapable of stepping outside our own heads...'

Kay Weitz, ghostwriter of 10 published memoirs with an 11th due out in 2018, on the Andrew Lownie Agency website

'All reading is good reading'

8 October 2018

‘I have always loved reading, but when I was at school, especially in primary school, I didn't realise that I did. The reason for this was that what seemed to count as ‘reading' was, in fact, something much more specific: reading meant fiction, and it meant chapter books. To read a book also meant to start at the beginning, and to finish at the end. When I was at school it was true that I didn't particularly enjoy reading fiction, and I found it hard to sit with a book for a long period of time, working my way through it in a linear fashion. But looking back, it is most definitely not true to say that I didn't like reading. I loved, and continue to love, factual books and anything to do with geography and history. I loved comics and newspapers. I loved dipping into a book with no pressure to read it from cover to cover. I was, and am, a reader, and when I visit schools I do my best to help pupils see that reading does not necessarily mean just one thing. All reading is good reading.' Joshua Seigal, author of I Don't Like Poetry and two other children's poetry collections.

'Editors are readers first and foremost'

1 October 2018

‘One of the great joys of being an editor is sharing your enthusiasm with colleagues and seeing others really get behind a project, so I suppose that's a strength - feeling that I'm able to gather a team around a book so that it might be published in the best possible way.

Editors are readers first and foremost, and when I love a book my first instinct is always to approach its acquisition and publication with that readerly passion. But of course that's not always enough. I've had to really reign that in sometimes and remind myself to always consider the market.

My favorite part of my job is editing - it always feels like the most extraordinary privilege, so I certainly hope I'll still be acquiring exciting new voices and working closely with authors to make sure their book is the best version of itself it can be.

The other thing that drives me is helping build writers' careers. In a few years' time, I hope I'll be able to look across my list and see some of the authors whose debuts I've acquired continuing to succeed on their second, third, fourth books.'

Sophie Jonathan, Pan MacmillanOne of largest fiction and non-fiction book publishers in UK; includes imprints of Pan, Picador and Macmillan Children’s Books/Picador senior commissioning editor, interviewed by Porter Anderson in Publishing Perspectives