30 January, 2015

Quotable Friday (40)

Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (the pen name of mathematician Charles Dodgson). Alice is a bizarre and quirky children's story that has been loved for a century and a half. What better reason than that to celebrate with a couple of quotations?

There are so many famously odd lines in the book, but I've chosen two I think apply to writers in particular...

"'Begin at the beginning,' the king said, very gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'"

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

21 January, 2015

Book Adaptations

The BBC are getting excited over their upcoming television adaptation of the blockbuster books Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Hilary Mantel became the first woman and first Brit to win the Booker Prize twice (2009 and 2012) for these historical novels, which seem to have done the impossible and both won prestigious awards and proved enormously popular with "ordinary" readers. But will you be watching it on screen?

I find watching big or small screen adaptations of novels a bit of a Catch-22 (which, by the way, I've never seen, only read). If I haven't read the book, I don't want to watch the film/programme because I don't want to ruin it. If I have read the book, I don't want to watch because I know what's going to happen! Does anybody else find this? 

In the end I usually pick one or the other - book or screenplay. For example, I'd been meaning to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky for ages, but ended up watching the film instead. Now I have no interest in reading it. Similarly, I adored The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene, and therefore have no intention of seeing the film. On the other hand, I would never have read Philippa Gregory's book The White Queen, but the TV series was a good diversion for a few weeks.

There are exceptions. When the first of the Lord of the Rings films was released, I watched it with my mum. I loved it so much I read all the books straight away and still then enjoyed the other two films. I also spent much of my young childhood watching the BBC late-1980s/early-90s adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia, but still love to read the books for the subtlety and wit that CS Lewis gets into his writing. (I can also listen to almost endless repeats of Agatha Christie books on the radio!)

I've got plenty of books to read this year already, but should I make space for Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies too? They sound scary - over 100 characters and most of the important ones appear to be called Thomas (the perils of writing about real historical figures!) - but they also sound amazing. What do you think? Do you read first or watch first? And will you be watching along this spring?

13 January, 2015

Middle-of-the-Novel Mire

Let's talk Writer's Block. I'm one of those people who doesn't like the phrase and doesn't ever claim to be suffering from it. Medical emergencies aside, anyone who has time to write can write. However, that doesn't mean writing is equally easy or hard all the time. Sometimes the only writing we can do is complete crap, destined for the recycling bin - virtual or otherwise. And if we know our writing is going to be terrible, it's difficult to motivate ourselves to do it. This is where I find myself now.

Some people say writing is like any other job. Plumbers don't get plumbers block, they say. They have to get on with the job regardless, and so must writers. I have a lot of sympathy with this point of view - certainly more than I do for the Tortured Artist point of view. However, plumbers have a definite problem to solve. Writers have a definite problem to solve only after they've created the problem in the first place. As a writer of fiction it's easy to get to a point where moving the story forward feels so laborious it seems impossible. For me this happens almost invariably around the 40 000-point in the draft of a novel.

Middle-of-the-novel Mire is common stopping place for writers. A good idea will get you most of the way there, and the desire to bring things to a conclusion will carry you through the last 20 000 words. That middle bit is where you have to honestly decide whether you've got enough story to fill a book and/or whether your character is driving the plot or just a passive body who the plot happens to. (Writers who prefer not to plan at all and start off just with an initial idea, often talk of a much earlier sticking point - around chapter three).

Having a young baby has reduced my writing time dramatically. I now have to write in tiny spurts, often with little time to gather my thoughts beforehand. This is not making the situation easier. Despite this, I was plodding on and felt happy enough, finishing at Christmas at 38 000 words and ready to start afresh in 2015. And now I find I have no more words to come.

My comfort in this matter is remembering the past. My published novel The Art of Letting Go, started off as a 60 000 word mess with so little plot I had to make things up on the spot just to keep going. Eventually, it ended up a 90 000 novel, published and with a good handful of five-star reviews on Amazon. Even if what I write now is awful, nobody ever has to see it. Awful writing is at least writing that can be edited. Not-yet-written writing can't.

I don't know if this novel will work out, but I'm hoping to plough on through the mire for now and see if there is firmer ground in 10 000 words or so. Or perhaps I shall just take Raymond Chandler's advice - "If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun." What do you do when your stories stall?

07 January, 2015

2015 Reading

Following the ground-breaking news that the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is going to read some books this year, I would like to offer you the exclusive information that I, too, am going to read in 2015.

While Mr. Zuckerberg is aiming for 26 books before the end of the year, I am not setting myself a target - my book consumption dropped from about three a month to just over one a month on average after having a baby! And while he will read to learn about "different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies", I will read to have fun and relax (but a big cheer for Mark Zuckerberg for summing up one of the most important things reading can do for you!). If you are on Facebook, you can join in with his reading challenge here.

The first book Mark Zuckerberg has announced he's reading has already sold out. If he's reading this (and why wouldn't he be?) I'd like to humbly suggest my own novel, The Art of Letting Go for his next read!

But what about me? On top of a wonderful collection of books I received as Christmas presents I had a couple of years' worth of book vouchers from birthdays and Christmas to spend. I haven't spent them all, but my husband and I did go on a spree a week or so ago. The result of this shopping trip, plus Christmas, looks something like this*:

Have you read any of these? Any gems in there? What I love about this pile is the mix: light fiction, more literary fiction, non-fiction, authors I love, authors I don't know, authors I've always meant to read, books I've wanted for ages, books I've never heard of, books I've come across through reading reviews or the results of major competitions, and of course, a little bit of cosy crime at the top there (reading cosy crime is my delicious guilty pleasure!)

Missing from this photograph are the books we're currently reading - Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz for Paul, and The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude for me (more cosy crime!) I hope to get through most of the fiction in this pile this year, as well as browsing the non-fiction. I still have a to-be-read pile from last year to dip in and out of as well, plus I intend to read a couple more from the list of books you've been suggesting for me. What will you be reading in 2015?

For those who are interested, the youngest member of our household got plenty of books for Christmas too. This Little Monkey, Slinky Malinky, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Perky the Pukeko and the complete Beatrix Potter boxset to name but a few.

I'll leave you with a quotation from Mark Zuckerberg himself: "I've found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today."

*Something Borrowed, Someone Dead by MC Beaton / Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell / Perfect by Rachel Joyce / To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris / Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen / 1411 QI Facts to Knock You Sideways from the television programme / Where Was Rebecca Shot (Puzzles in Literature) by John Sutherland / The Broken  by Tamar Cohen / Wonderbook (The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction) by Jeff Vandermeer / Knowledge is Beautiful from the organisation Information is Beautiful.