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Comment from the book world in January 2020


Writing has so much to give

6 July 2020

‘I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is.

Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do - the actual act of writing - turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.'

Anne Lamott, author of seven non-fiction books, and the forthcoming Hallelujah Anyway, and two novels, Imperfect Birds and Rosie.


Why and How Writers Should Embrace Twitter

29 June 2020

Like any social media platform, the more you use Twitter the more you will get out of it. So keeping your account as active as possible-i.e. tweeting as often as possible-is perhaps the most valuable tip of all. But that raises a common anti-Twitter excuse: "Oh, I wouldn't know what to talk about..."

To pro-Twitters like me, this is perhaps the most frustrating excuse of all, especially when it comes from otherwise idea-rich writers and authors! But admittedly, it's an understandable one: Twitter (if not social media as a whole) finds it hard to convince its detractors that it isn't merely full of cat videos, Star Trek memes, and everyone's everyday inanities...

Paul Jones, author of The British Isles: A Trivia Gazetteer, Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons and its sequel, Jedburgh Justice & Kentish Fire.

A female children’s writer with a boy hero

22 June 2020

‘It was more difficult. I believe very fervently that we overstate gender differences, so a kid that is brave and tough, but panicked, will, in either gender, I think, act in extremis in similar ways. But I was reading about the 1920s and 1930s, and to be a boy in that period was to have demands made of you that I didn't want to blur. Fred's father wanted him to be manly...

The demands that are made of women can be ferocious, but the demands made of men can be equally tough. I don't know what it is to be a boy. I have a lot of male friends and my best friend when I was nine was a boy, but there is an extra imaginative leap you have to make, I know intricately what it means to be a girl and I don't know who gets to say whether a character is real. Do only boys get to say if a boy character is real and a girl if a girl character is?'

Katherine Rundell, author of The Explorer, which she writes about here, Rooftoppers, Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, The Wolf Wilder and The Good Thieves in The Times.


Independent publishers will ‘not only survive but thrive’

8 June 2020

‘Sales have been down at least 50% for April and May compared to previous years, and even more compared to our forecast (we're still waiting for the final numbers)...

As bad as the last couple months have been, the underlying publishing industry is strong. There will undoubtedly continue to be many challenges through the rest of this year and beyond, but we have large numbers of wonderful books across all our imprints coming up in the second half of this year and next year...

I feel optimistic about the sector. Independents are well placed as they've been for a number of years now. We are small, flexible and nimble businesses with relatively low overheads, and as long as we can continue to find and successfully publish wonderful authors and their books I'm sure we'll not only survive but thrive no matter what the future landscape looks like.'

Adam Freudenheim, publisher and managing director of London-based Pushkin Press in Bookbrunch (behind paywall)

Write like you'll live forever

1 June 2020

'1. Write like you'll live forever - fear is a bad editor.
2. Write like you'll croak today - death is the best editor.
3. Fooling others is fun. Fooling yourself is a lethal mistake.
4. Pick one - fame or delight.
5. The archer knows the target. The poet knows the wastebasket.
6. Cunning and excess are your friends.
7. TV and liquor are your enemies.
8. Everything eternal happens in a spare room at 3 a.m.
9. You're done when the crows sing.'

Ron Dakron, author of the novels Hello Devilfish, Mantids, infra and Newt and three collections of poetry


Writing under lockdown

26 May 2020

‘Stay off the booze. Just before he died, Dylan Thomas claimed he had drunk 18 whiskies, an act described by the coroner as "an insult to the brain". If you want your brain to work at all during this period, don't insult it. Yes, he wrote the most amazing work while being a famous drunkard, but think of how much more he might have written...

The rules for writing under lockdown are no different to other times. It won't happen unless you make it happen. It's incremental and frustrating, and your chances of being paid for it are tiny, but it's a fascinating process, with all the glamour and excitement of an affair but with less chance of divorce. One you discover the joys of it, and the pains, it will bring you the deepest pleasure. Good luck. And save that whisky for when you've typed "the end".'

Louise Doughty, author of nine novels including Platform Seven, Apple Tree Yard and Black Water, and the how-to-write guide A Novel in a Year, in the Sunday Times Magazine

'Gripping, compelling reads'

18 May 2020

‘It's difficult to envision what will appeal post-Covid19; however, the current trend for uplifting reads is bound to continue, with readers looking for distraction and escape from a fairly dire reality - warm humour, salvation, (stories of) unexpected success, happiness, or beating the odds release tension and provide solace...

A staple diet of Netflix thrillers should increase the appetite for more of the same but, perhaps most importantly, crime has always done well in darker times, perhaps because readers are able to take comfort in the fact that their own lives seem comparatively less bleak. A lot of people have mentioned that they are struggling to read at the moment, with so much going on in their minds and homes, and an overwhelming concern about health, finances and the future dominating. Gripping, compelling reads are most likely to help overcome this.'

Karen Sullivan, founder of Orenda Books, in the Bookseller


'We are going to have change'

11 May 2020

‘The last four or five years in publishing have been great. We're in mourning for them. But you can only dwell on that for a few moments before you say: the reading and the writing are still there. Original work will come out of this lockdown, just as it did out of austerity; it has shone a light on globalisation, and the inconveniences that we have, to a degree forgotten, like mortality...

We are going to have change, I feel sure this is a [permanently] changed environment. But my vocation as a publisher feels very central and important. Reading has had an exciting six weeks. It's breathing for some people. Now we just have to figure out the next bit.'

Stephen Page, CEO of Faber & Faber, in the Observer


Escaping the Lockdown

4 May 2020

‘It's that old cliché of getting lost in a book. You want something that you can get immersed in, that takes you out of what is an extremely difficult time or all of us - and a lot of classic novels do that... I think this period, if it's doing nothing else, is probably making reading a more central part of people's lives than before. Reading is always in one sense, a form of escape. It's escaping into a life which is not the life that you're actually having to live. That's why we do it.'

Penelope Lively, author of Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger, Family Album and more than 38 other books for adults and children in the Observer


'The book is writing itself somewhere in my head'

27 April 2020

‘I often write everything all at once. Memory isn't linear for me, nor is experience, but I try to keep it as straight as I can. A sense of fluidity and shift, and that energy, that is about change. It's really integral to my work, which is not about the past becoming a stable object. The past very rarely settles down. It shifts under our gaze all the time. When we articulate things, the past becomes different and so I resist and sometimes resent writers who say, "What is, is" and "What was, was", because to me it changes constantly....

What I tend to do is to focus on one or two paragraphs or chapters pretty much endlessly for months and months at a time, and it feels like I'm getting nowhere. I feel like I'm never going to get this book done, but the book is writing itself somewhere in my head.'

Anne Enright, author of just-published Actress, Booker Prize-winning A Gathering, The Green Road, The Forgotten Waltz and three other novels in the Bookseller


Boomtime for film and TV scripts

20 April 2020

‘We have been busy, as there is quite a lot of action out there. It is really lively and major buyers, like Amazon, Disney and Netflix, are calling and saying "what have you got?" They've had to close down their productions, so are putting everything into development. And, of course subscriptions have spiked, so they have money too...

There is quite a bit of corona-writing going on, of course. Some publishers are being opportunistic, rushing out lockdown-inspired work, but generally agents are looking for something fresh.'

Catherine Eccles of Eccles Fisher Associates in the Observer


Agenting in Isolation

15 April 2020

‘I've taken on four new clients over the last couple of weeks for various non-fiction projects, and as an agency we're very active in pursuit of new clients and ideas. It's a great time to work on manuscripts and proposals with authors, while we've all got additional time and space. And it's hugely important that, when we all emerge from this, we're in good shape for the remainder of this year, and next...

The acquisitions process has inevitably been a bit slower than usual, but it appears that publishers are getting used to the new reality and things are going more smoothly now. I don't envy their having to conduct editorial and acquisitions meetings via Zoom, let alone a cover meeting. It remains to be seen how things will evolve and whether we'll see deliberate belt-tightening from publishers, but we've done a very good number of deals since lockdown, including the conclusion of a multi-publisher auction for a significant amount of money, so in the main things look in pretty good shape...

Publishers are being brilliantly creative at improvising publicity campaigns online and via social media, and certainly authors at the more commercial end of the market (where supermarkets and ebooks make up a good proportion of sales) have been less affected than those who rely on traditional booksellers...

People are being more communicative and sharing problems and ideas - I've had some really interesting and creative chats with editors and authors. People have more time to focus on what truly matters, with fewer meetings and distractions, and good and original ideas will certainly emerge from this period. We're seeing confirmation, if it was needed, that stories nurture and console us.

Tim Bates of the Peters Fraser + Dunlop agency in Bookbrunch (behind paywall)