31 October, 2014

Happy Halloween (again)!

In an act of sheer laziness, I am re-posting this "poem" from last year. Actually, I'm posting it a day early because it's not so much a Halloween poem as an All Saints' Day poem. I wrote it last year for a blog series Simon P Clark (author of new hit children's novel, Eren) was running, and I think you'll agree it's something pretty special...

Sean, Who Thought Not Going to Bed Was Funny But Found Out It’s Really Not Funny At All If You Happen To Be A Zombie.

Sean was an almost-perfect child –
He wasn’t loud, mad, bad or wild.
He’d just one flaw (it has to be said):
Sean would never go to bed.
On All Saints’ Day, when they’d had their fun
And the Undead New Year had just begun
While his Zombie pals returned to the grave,
Sean laughed and said, “I’m feeling brave!
“I’m off to mock vampires, turning to stone,
And terrify old ladies who live on their own.”
What he couldn’t have known (but should have guessed)
Is that on November the 1st Saints come off best.
Down they came to eat up sinners,
With cheese graters, knives and salad spinners.
They swooped Sean up with the Hound of Hell
And made him in to a b├ęchamel.
So next Halloween, if you’re a ghost or a ghoul,
Try to remember this one simple rule:
Be sure to be back in your grave by dawn,
Or you’ll end up in lasagne, just like Sean.

28 October, 2014

Thanks for Being a Writer

Have you ever been thanked for being a writer?

I recently sent out a few copies of my novel The Art of Letting Go as part of a giveaway I was running. Yesterday I receieved a lovely postcard from one of the people who got a copy, and I thought I'd share it. Not only was it wonderful to get a thank-you card at all - all the way from Canada as well - but the card itself was a special "thanks for writing" card.

Here's what it looks like...

On the back are these words:

Magic is all around us
But it takes special eyes

to pull it from the everyday
and turn it into something that
will make a child smile.

All this technology
all these advancements

yet the very best time of day
is when I curl up with a book,
a child, and our imaginations,

Keep writing,
what more can I say?

So if you're a writer who has written a book I've enjoyed, shared the journey of writing with me, or simply encouraged and inspired other writers and readers through what you do... Thank-you for writing!

20 October, 2014

Back to Future Books

Before the winner of the Man Booker Prize was announced this year, The Guardian released an interesting infographic on their Twitter feed showing when the previous winning novels were set. I think you should be able to see it here, whether or not you are on Twitter, but just in case, here are the stats in list form:

  • Set in the present: 16 winners
  • Set in a mixture of past and present: 10 winners
  • Set in the recent past: 9 winners
  • Set in the historical past: 12 winners
  • Set in the future: 0 winners
That's right - no Booker-winning novel has ever been set in the future. And, to be honest, I can't think of many good books that are set in the future. Can you? Within the last year or so I did read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, however, which is set in the not-too-distant future and, as with all her books, it was brilliant.

I think I associate the future with sci-fi - slick technology and metallic jumpsuits. That's not the sort of book I'm interested in. But - as The Handmaid's Tale proves - the future, and books set in it, might not be anything like that at all. In fact, I suppose one of my favourite books - 1984 - is set in the future (or it was when it was written) and is definitely not about some glorious age of adventure!

So my mission for the next six months is to read at least one book set in the future. Do you have any recommendations for me?

16 October, 2014

Quotable Friday (37)

The Man Booker Prize was awarded this week. It went to the Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan for his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Anyone read it?

Immediately after the award ceremony, the thing everyone was talking about was his speech. You can read it in full on The Guardian website here (it's short), but I thought I'd pick out a couple of the best quotations from it for a topical Quotable Friday.

"Novels are not content. Nor are they are a mirror to life or an explanation of life or a guide to life.
Novels are life, or they are nothing."

"To be a writer is to journey into humility. It is to be defeated by ever greater things."

08 October, 2014

Influential Books

In Writing Magazine this month there is a little news article about a list that's been drawn up of the top 20 most influential books written by women. The #ThisBook campaign was created by the organisers of the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction and voted for by members of the public.

We are all used to seeing lists like these - most popular/ best-selling/ most loved/ most donated to charity/ most borrowed from the library etc. etc. But the word "influential" interested me. According to this prize, an influential book is one that has "impacted, shaped or changed readers' lives". Can you think of a novel that has done this for you? I find it hard to think of one that has shaped or changed by life, although there are many books that have impacted me - haunted me for days or weeks (or more) after I've read them. On this blog I've run a blog series on "The Book..." - guest posts on books that have impacted the reader, from Roger Red Hat to The Great Divorce (click on 'The Book' tag below to see all the posts).

As a writer, influence is a different matter. In any art form, people talk about an artist's influences as something that can be seen through their work. It has become a cliche now for authors to say they don't want to be "the next JK Rowling/Iain Banks/Stephen King/whoever", they want to be the first one of themselves. I think it's obvious enough that we all want to be good writers in our own right, and not seen as jumping on any stylistic bandwagon. But that doesn't mean it's bad to be influenced by great writers. It's OK for political writers to be influenced by Orwell, or fantasy writers to adopt a flippant tone reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, so long as it's not an imitation.

So, are you influenced in your writing? I don't think I have any particular authors that have a deep impact on my (current!) style, but I have conciously tried to learn from published authors when it comes to certain aspects of my writing: the stark, brilliant descriptive power of John Steinbeck; the poetic prose of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; the gripping familiarity of Lionel Shriver; the suspense of Gillian Flynn. I wouldn't say any of that is obvious in my writing yet though!

So, back to the list of influential women writers. I have read the 13 green ones on the list and loved most of them. How about you? Am I missing out on the books I haven't read yet?

  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  • The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  • Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  • Harry Potter - JK Rowling
  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  • Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  • Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
  • Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
  • The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  • I Capture The Castle - Dodie Smith
  • The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  • Beloved - Toni Morrison
  • Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
  • The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  • Middlemarch - George Eliot
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
  • The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
  • The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
  • The Women's Room - Marilyn French