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Comment from the book world in January 2021


What Hollywood needs

15 November 2021

‘What Hollywood needs is more and more content because of all the outlets, but in many cases, before studios buy the rights to a book, they need some form of validation, so they know something is good.

I don't think [exclusively] writing books ever was a way to make a living. I mean, in the old days, authors were doctors and lawyers and had real jobs. Writing was rarely considered a full-time job. The difference is now, there are so many other opportunities for authors to write.'

Peter Gethers, Knopf editor-at-large, who co-produces projects for Universal Studios, STUDIOCANAL and Food Network and previously ran Penguin Random House's book-to-film department.


'Writers do not need to be charismatic'

1 November 2021

'One of the shining exceptions in personalities is that writers do not need to be charismatic in their own persons; they are free to be dull by each of the human senses as a void for other, more powerful realities. Some have the ability to dwell almost completely in their imaginations, living vicariously through the stunning characters and fascinating worlds they create by using only words on paper. In this way, people are much like books: we can try judging them by their covers, but alas, there is always the possibility of our being deluded in doing so.'

Criss Jami, author of Killospophy, Healology, Venus in Arms and 4 other books

"I'm not studying because I want to write stories"

18 October 2021

My teacher said: ‘Stories? How do you at the age of 13, come to me brazen-faced and say, "I'm not studying because I want to write stories?" Explain: how can you be so brazen-faced?... I decided I would start writing again, but I wouldn't tell anyone...

The humiliation got to me and later, in spite of the swagger of youth, I really was very cautious. I didn't believe, for example, in the convention that we have a single face and that face is our identity. We are changeable organisms...

Rather than assail me, that man tried in a cruel, confused way to protect me, and I learnt more from the episode than I'm willing to admit because writing is a game of chance, and it's very rare that you win.'

Elena Ferrante, bestselling author of the Neapolitan quartet, My Brilliant Friend, and The lying life of adults and many other novels, who has steadfastly concealed her or his true identity from the world.


'Those words that are rolling through my mind'

4 October 2021

‘I write in my head on the way home from work, or when mowing the lawn, or on a night out with friends. Sometimes I find the time to capture those words that are rolling through my mind, quivering and drumming and swimming, banging into each other until I can finally trick them and leak them out onto the page. And sometimes I don't. Writers are like that.'

Karl Wiggins, indie author of Calico Jack in Your Garden and three other books.

Historical fiction and historical fact

20 September 2021

‘Fiction is good at contradictions and flaws; it doesn't deal just in cause and effect, but in the inconsequential, the incidental, the half-formed, half-understood, and what is too ephemeral to write itself into the record. To a degree, historians have to believe that people meant what they said and said what they meant, and that their actions can be interpreted by the logic of their lives and times. But fiction redirects us to mystery and chance, and doesn't assume that people know their own minds or hearts.'

Hilary Mantel, author of the Wolf Hall trilogy, two books from which won the Man Booker Prize, and six other novels


'I needed the money'

6 September 2021

‘I have often been asked how I came to write. The best answer is that I needed the money. When I started I was 35 and had failed in every enterprise I had ever attempted. . . I had gone thoroughly through some of the all-fiction magazines and I made up my mind that if people were paid for writing such rot as I read I could write stories just as rotten. Although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.'

Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of 91 novels, which have sold hundreds of millions of copies, who is best known for Tarzan of the Apes, the first of 26 Tarzan books which were translated into more than 56 languages and were also popular in comic-strip, motion-picture, television, and radio versions. He once said 'I write to escape ... to escape poverty'.

'I always wanted to write books, and always crime'

23 August 2021

‘I always wanted to write books, and always crime. I'd read Agatha Christie as a child and in the late 1980s I discovered the US crime writer Sara Paretsky. I thought: wow, these are the kind of books I want to write - books with strong female protagonists with a brain and sense of humour; women who didn't have to get the guys in for the heavy lifting. I wanted my characters to be three-dimensional, and if some of those characters happened to be gay, they were not defined by it...

I never wrote to be successful, so success was a happy surprise. But I don't particularly live the life of a rich person - no flash cars, no ridiculous jewellery, and I used to buy most of my shirts from Debenhams.'

Val McDermid, whose latest book is 1979, and who is the author of 45 books, nearly all of them crime novels, which have sold over 17 million copies worldwide, in the Sunday Times magazine


'The internet has been a lifeline'

9 August 2021

‘The outlook may sound bleak. But the internet has been a lifeline, enabling authors to lean on their peers. With fewer events and chances to meet face-to-face, the virtual author community has never been more important. And boy, have we needed moral support the past year or so!...

More people turned to reading during the pandemic, in particular using their e-readers when they couldn't get to physical stores. A lot of authors I know have seen this reflected in their digital sales, which have positively boomed during this time.'

Tracy Buchanan, creator of Savvy Writers, a blog which offers help and resources for published authors, in Bookbrunch


'The relationship between agent and editor cannot be conducted via Zoom'

29 July 2021

‘The pandemic has been a period of caution, safe bets and, understandably due to the restrictions in distribution, a time of low experimentation. I hope this will change over the summer and through the personal connections that will infuse a new energy in the business...

One thing the lockdown has proven without any doubt is that the relationship between agent and editor cannot be conducted via Zoom. We need to know what is going on in editorial commissioning rooms and understand the changing tastes of acquiring editors. They are not merely names on a sheet that you email your submission to. I would encourage every agent and editor to use this 'freedom' to re-connect, put back some energy and dynamism in the submissions process.'

Jonny Geller, CEO at Curtis BrownSee Curtis Brown listing UK, in the Bookseller



‘The impact of Amazon'

12 July 2021

‘The impact of Amazon dwarfs all the other changes, even the rise of digital. Of course, the idea of ordering a book in the morning and having it delivered in the afternoon still thrills and amazes me. But it has led to the erosion of earnings for most authors and smaller publishers, and that should worry all of us who want a diverse and healthy ecosystem for books...

I am encouraged by the way (mostly) independent publishers are beginning to innovate in their direct-to-reader offerings. Subscription services, crowd-funding, exquisitely produced merchandise: the communities that Rough Trade, Galley Beggar, Influx Press and others are building offer a commercially viable alternative to the Amazonian race to the bottom...

I think we'll see even more opportunities for online recommendation that isn't based on algorithms but on the taste of people who read. Podcasts. Substack. BookTok. The word-of-mouth revolution.'

John Mitchinson, publisher and co-founder of Unbound, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year. Despite the challenges of lockdown and high street closures, it has reported trade sales growth of 58% year on year, in Bookbrunch

'Each character is different'

29 June 2021

‘When people come together - let's say they come to a little party or something - you always hear them discuss character. They will say this one has a bad character, this one has a good character, this one is a fool, this one is a miser. Gossip makes the conversation. They all analyze character. It seems that the analysis of character is the highest human entertainment. And literature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning real names.

The writers who don't discuss character but problems -social problems or any problems - take away from literature its very essence. They stop being entertaining. We, for some reason, always love to discuss and discover character. This is because each character is different, and human character is the greatest of puzzles.'

Isaac Bashevis Singer, distinguished author of The Magician of Lublin, The Slave, The Family Moskat, 16 other novels and many other works

Walter Mosley on rewriting

14 June 2021

'Writing is rewriting. The first draft is the jabber you forced on that blind date. She was hoping for someone to ask her what she was feeling, but all you said was, and then I, and then I, and then I, and then . . . The first draft is meant to be discarded. The first draft is the beginning of the idea, the slender thread of a story. The second draft is little better, as is the third, and the fourth and fifth. Writing is rewriting - a lot of rewriting. You think you know what you should have said on that job interview, but in truth it might have been a mistake even to go after that job. You said the wrong things on the date, but if you had said what you thought of the next day the ensuing relationship would have been a fiasco. You know it. You do. [...]'

Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress, The Long Fall, Blood Grove and dozens of other books, in Lit Hub