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Comment from the book world in January 2023


'Never use a metaphor and then explain it'

22 May 2023

'For God's sake, never use a metaphor and then explain it...

You can assume a world from so little and readers will. So I'm more interested economy than encyclopaedism, in how little you can get away with rather than how much you can cram in...

I don't want to write puzzle stories that can be decoded to the correct answer...

I wanted to write a book about writing a book...'

M John Harrison, author of The Pastel City, Light, Nova Swing, A Storm of Wings and the Virconium sequence, amongst his 16 novels and short story collections, in an interview about his new book, Wish I was Here, in The Times


A publisher turned author

8 May 2023

‘I tried to get the seat at the front of the bus on the top deck - there's a shelf where you can put your coat and bag, and then you can open your laptop properly. So I had two hours a day when I could write, and it proved to me that my hunger to do it was there. I didn't have the luxury of a day a week where I could do it. That was the time I had, so I had to make it work for me...

There isn't always a correlation between the greatest works of fiction and the biggest sellers. If that was the case, David Almond would be selling a million copies. Sometimes it's a happy coincidence that something you're working on seems to be doing well elsewhere. But I try not to join the dots, because the single most important thing is writing the book that you want. That's what I try and do, first and foremost...

I'm obsessed with underdogs. The kids I was working with had been written off, and they had experienced horrific things that the vast majority of the population won't go through as long as they live. That is something that fundamentally really drives my writing. With a lot of these books, it's about empathy, trying to work out how someone who's been abandoned would feel, for example. It's about writing to make sense.'

Phil Earle, author of When the Sky Falls, While the Storm Rages, Demolition Dad and 16 other books for children, and 6 for older readers, in Bookbrunch


'A big, fat doorstep of a novel'

24 April 2023

‘My favourite reading experience, if I was going to choose one, would be a big, fat doorstep of a novel, so I always had in my mind that I would try to write the kind of book that I liked to read, the kind of multi-generational, big bed of a novel that you sink into...

When I do my research, I am always looking for the granular detail - the smell of the food, say - and I tried to inhabit it as much as I could...

I think with a big novel it's hard to get far enough away from it that you can see the whole, particularly if you are trying to juggle writing with jobs and family stuff. You tend to write in quite small chunks and you're just writing what is right in front of you.

The Whalebone Theatre is also about carrying on despite loss, continuing to put on a show and celebrating when you can. It's quite a poignant lesson, and a strange one, to think that fiction characters that you have made up entirely have something to teach you.'

British novelist Joanna Quinn, whose first novel The Whalebone Theatre was published last year, in the Bookseller

'Stories stay with us'

10 April 2023

'Stories stay with us: tales of bravery visit us when fear peeps round the corner, comedies sprinkle us in smiles on a train ride to work. Characters become our friends and our confidantes, and worlds explored through the imagination, incredibly, share space with our memories. A story shared transports reader and listeners alike on a joint adventure never to be forgotten. When we open a book there's no telling where it may take us or the profound impact it may have on our lives, and so, it is an honour to mark World Book Day by talking to Her Majesty about the meaning and memories of stories, and a love of reading.'

Joseph Coelho, UK Children's Laureate and author of Werewolf Club Rules, the Luna Loves series Overheard in a Tower Block and How To Write Poems, after a conversation with Queen Camilla on World Book Day, in Bookbrunch

‘When I first started out I wasn't even allowed to kill anyone.'

27 March 2023

‘When I first started out I wasn't even allowed to kill anyone. People were worried about it. And then it got more and more daring as we went along...

I would never do real-world fears. A kid has to know it's fantasy. If I establish that, then I can go pretty far with the scares. One thing kids insist on is a happy ending I did this book called The Best Friend where the good girl is taken away as the murderer and the murderer gets off scot-free. And kids hated this book. The mail was amazing: "Dear R L Stine, You idiot - how can you do that?" They just couldn't accept it. I never tried it again. That book haunted me...

Until fairly recently the characters in children's publishing had to learn and grow. Why can't kids have books that are just entertaining? In my books the parents are nearly always useless. The kids face these big challenges on their own and they have to use their wits to get themselves out of the jam. That's all, though. I don't do any other kind of moral message.'

The late R L Stine, author of 530 books for children and young people, including the Goosebumps and Fear Street series, in the Sunday Times Culture


The importance of the characters in cosy crime novels

13 March 2023

‘At their core, cosy crimes are very character-driven stories about unlikely and everyday heroes, and the tone of them is very humorous. The detectives are people who are underestimated - older characters or slightly bumbling eccentrics who make mistakes along the way and get themselves into trouble. The sense of rooting for an underdog and seeing them triumph through setbacks in their investigations is an aspect people seem to have really responded to, and they have a real focus on the communities in which they live as well, something which I think is appealing.'

Siân Heap, editor at Canelo, in Bookbrunch


Brexit - ‘a gigantic nightmare' for small publishers

27 February 2023

‘It is a gigantic nightmare. Where to start? It's increased print costs. It's made it harder for printers to source the materials they need. It's disrupted everything in the UK, helped wreck the economy, and that of course has a big impact on people's ability to buy books. It's made us an international laughing stock and made the UK look unreliable, unpleasant and stupid - and that makes it harder to do foreign rights deals. It's made travel in Europe harder, with longer queues and worse exchange rates. On top of all that it's given us seven years of uncertainty and disruption and I'm sure there's still more pain to come. There is no new normal. There is just ongoing agony.'

Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar Press puts what other indie publishers are feeling into words in a wide-ranging article in Bookbrunch, which regrettably is behind the paywall

Publishers taking on successful self-published authors

13 February 2023

‘The level of talent and success we're seeing from self-published authors speaks for itself, so publishers have definitely had to take notice and adapt. I'm sure it's shifted attitudes towards self-publishing but I also think it's shifting attitudes towards our own work: when you're approaching an author who has already had huge success on their own, you have to be very clear and confident about what extra value you're bringing to the table. I've found it makes for very collaborative partnerships with authors who have incredible hands-on publishing experience and a forensic understanding of what works for their audience.'

Celia Killen, commissioning editor at Orion Fiction in London, who signed 10 books by Jessa Hastings in October, including her initially self-published Magnolia Parks romance series which went viral on TikTok earlier in 2022, in the Bookseller

'Go for broke'

30 January 2023

'Go for broke. Always try and do too much. Dispense with safety nets. Take a deep breath before you begin talking. Aim for the stars. Keep grinning. Be bloody-minded. Argue with the world. And never forget that writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things - childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves-that go on slipping, like sand, through our fingers.'

Salman Rushdie, author of 13 novels, including Quichottte, The Satanic Verses, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, The Moor's Last Sigh and the Booker-winning Midnight's Children.


Agents offering authors emotional support

16 January 2023

‘It's a big part of the job. Being able to put yourself in their shoes is really important. I'm not a writer, but I watch a lot of author content online and I read a lot of stuff from authors. Having that perspective is really important for me to be able to give my authors context. Their emotions are important. If they're disappointed we didn't sell, so am I. Being able to sit in that space is important, but my job as an agent is to move the author from despair to strategy, asking questions like: what are we doing to do next? What do we learn from this? It's a skill to sit in the darkness with them, and to get ourselves out into what's next...

Although it's common sense, when you're a young agent and every deal feels like make or break for your career, it's important to be aware that there will always be more avenues, and there will be always more opportunities. You can't just say yes or get into something that is not actually going to serve the author.'

Hannah Schofield, literary agent at LBA in London in Bookbrunch


The most interesting trends in publishing

2 January 2023

'Marrying the Victorian tradition of serialisation with the best of modern interactive technology has been one. In terms of the actual content of the books that are being published, it is keeping some sort of equilibrium between the virtues of free speech and protecting sensitivities. The descendants of those who inscribed words in forest clearings or the catacombs in Rome, or wrote clandestinely in Siberian gulags, now have an unprecedented scope for freedom of expression, a limitless potential audience. Yet most of us would accept that the global village green is not a vision of paradise but more of a Tower of Babel - undisciplined and polyglot. But because people's need to understand the world is undiminished, and so is their curiosity about entering a new world, created or re-created by both fiction and non-fiction, there remains no greater medium than books to explain it.'

Alan Samson, Non-fiction Publisher at Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing, in Bookbrunch