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Comment from the book world in January 2020


'I'm a writer now.'

2 April 2020

'It was only after two years' work that it occurred to me that I was a writer. I had no particular expectation that the novel would ever be published, because it was sort of a mess. It was only when I found myself writing things I didn't realise I knew that I said, 'I'm a writer now.' The novel had become an incentive to deeper thinking. That's really what writing is-an intense form of thought.'

Don DeLillo, author of 17 novels, including Americana, Running Dog, White Noise, Underworld, Libra, Falling Man and Zero.


Advice for aspiring crime writers

9 March 2020

‘Do your homework. This is a very competitive genre and you need to be aware of not only current novels, but current television series and films too. There is nothing worse than working on a story for months only to find out it has already been done. I would also advise that you learn how to write a treatment of no more than two or three pages, because as a writer, you need commissions, be it in publishing, television or film. You will also have to learn how to pitch a plot line if your treatment gets a bite. Importantly, if you do have the good fortune to get a project commissioned, pay for a good lawyer to read through and explain all the contracts you will be asked to sign.'

London Book & Screen Week ambassador Lynda La Plante, author of 33 novels, including The Legacy, Widows and Buried (published in April) and many TV series, including Widows and Prime Suspect in Bookbrunch

Lynda's handsome website

'A controlled psychosis'

3 March 2020

‘Anyone who has ever tried to write a novel knows what an arduous task it is, undoubtedly one of the worst ways of occupying oneself. You have to remain within yourself all the time, in solitary confinement. It's a controlled psychosis, an obsessive paranoia manacled to work completely lacking in the feather pens and bustles and Venetian masks we would ordinarily associate with it, clothed instead in a butcher's apron and rubber boots, eviscerating knife in hand. You can only barely see from that writerly cellar the feet of passers-by, hear the rapping of their heels. Every so often someone stops and bends down and glances in through the window, and then you get a glimpse of a human face, maybe even exchange a few words. But ultimately the mind is so occupied with its own act, a play staged by the self of the self in a hasty, makeshift cabinet of curiosities peopled by author and character, narrator and reader, the person describing and the person described, that feet, shoes, heels, and faces become, sooner or later, mere components of that act.'

Olga Tokarczuk, Polish Nobel Laureate for Literature and author of House of Day, House of Night and Primeval and Other Tales


Writing about Thomas Cromwell

24 February 2020

‘He was a good pick. I thought it was an amazing fact that Henry VIII's reign is told and told and told - but where is Cromwell? It seemed to me that no one had bothered to try to listen to his voice, and that it is such a major gap because he is so central. It's almost as if he was so central that people couldn't see him...

When you look at the earlier books, you can see the movement towards crisis, and the way I've chosen to do it is to lead the first book up to the death of Thomas More... and the second up to the death of Anne Boleyn. But when you get to the third book, there is no tidy pattern because the crises come every day, really; every day he is under siege from circumstances...

I admire his cleverness, his energy, is sheer appetite for life. I admire that kind of determination in the face of the worst life can throw at you...

Novels teach you about all sorts of circumstances in the bigger world that you might encounter or states you might pass through. I don't mean they formed a guide to conduct, but a guide to the complexities of life.'

Hilary Mantel, author of just-published The Mirror and the Light, the third book in her trilogy about Thomas More in The Sunday Times magazine. The first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, both won the Man Booker Prize.


'A golden thread of loyalty and friendship'

17 February 2020

Modern children have ‘a yearning for a world without screens. Yes it's rough and Torak and Renn go through some difficult times, but it's this amazing world where there's no climate change, lots of animals, no pollution. It doesn't matter what you look like. What matters is you don't make any noise when you're hunting...

I very much want to make sure that any child reader doesn't feel worse about the world when they've read my books. I visualise a golden thread of loyalty and friendship, and love personified in the friendship of Wolf and Torak. Hope is so important. Everything you do can make a difference.'

Michelle Paver, author of Wolf Brother, Dark Matter and Spirit Walker, talking about her new book Viper's Daughter, published next month, in the Bookseller.


'How do you write a book without offending people you love?'

10 February 2020

‘Lots of aspiring writers ask me, "How do you write a book without offending people you love?" And you have to make a decision to be honest. I mean it's painful, but I want to write a book that is true to my moral core and that is true to my characters. Writing the abortion storyline, I found that really frightening because I was brought up as a Catholic, it went into my bones and the fear was real. It took so much courage for me to be able to say. "I'm going to address this taboo issue in my book in the hope that it might change people's minds" And do you know, it was a wonderful, freeing thing to do. But my mother was upset, you know.'

Marian Keyes, author of Grown Ups, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, Rachel's Holiday, Anybody out There? and 14 other novels, in The Times.


'The sense of being alien in your own world'

27 January 2020

‘I do feel that the world in which I grew up and have lived all my life is ending. And that's true in all the countries that I've cared about in my life and written about: India, England and here. What I thought was the given, how the places worked, has changed in all three cases. I guess it is a characteristic of old age, that you begin to have the sense of being alien in your own world.'

Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight's Children, The Satanic Verses, Quichotte and Shame in The Times


'The biggest kick'

20 January 2020

‘The biggest kick is reading something new and exciting and then getting other people to share your enthusiasm... Beyond all the cant and hypocrisy in publishing, that's what it's all about...'

On receiving the Maxwell Perkins Award for lifetime achievement:

‘I have always found comfort in the confines of a book or a manuscript, Reading is how I spend most of my time and is still the most joyful aspect of my day. I want to be remembered not as an editor or publisher, but as a reader...

It has been said that my outlook can sometimes be dour, even dire. I don' think you can work is this business without faith or optimism. Reading a manuscript, sensing something special about it, and believing you can find readership for it, is an article of faith.'

Sonny Mehta, Publisher of Knopf, who died recently.

"Margaret has to die soon."

13 January 2020

‘Writers make everybody nervous but we terrify Silly Service workers. Our apartments always look like a front for something, and no matter how carefully we tidy up for guests we always seem to miss the note card that says, "Margaret has to die soon." We own the kind of books that spies use to construct codes, like The Letters of Mme. de Sevigne, and we are the only people in the world who write oxymoron in the margin of the Bible. Manuscripts in the fridge in case of fire, Strunk's Elements in the bathroom, the Laramie City Directory explained away with "It might come in handy," all strike fear in the GS-7 heart. Nobody really wants to sleep with a writer, but Silly Service workers won't even talk to us'

Florence King, author of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady and nine other books.


"I don't know where to start"

6 January 2020

‘"I don't know where to start," one [writing student] will wail. Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O' Connor said that anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don't worry about doing it well yet, though. Just get it down." 

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