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Comment from the book world in January 2018


'I will and must be published'

14 May 2018

'I think I am starving for publication: I love to get published; it maddens me not to get published. I feel at times like getting every publisher in the world by the scruff of the neck, forcing his jaws open, and cramming the Mss down his throat -- 'God-damn you, here it is - I will and must be published.

You know what it means - you're a writer and you understand it. It's not just 'the satisfaction of being published.' Great God! It's the satisfaction of getting it out, or having that, so far as you're concerned, gone through with it! That good or ill, for better or for worse, it's over, done with, finished, out of your life forever and that, come what may, you can at least, as far as this thing is concerned, get the merciful damned easement of oblivion and forgetfulness.'

Tom Wolfe, journalist extraordinaire and author of The Right Stuff, From Bauhaus to Our House and The Bonfire of the Vanities, who died this week

'My subconscious would find ways to tie it together'

30 April 2018

'I discovered that if I trusted my subconscious, or imagination, whatever you want to call it, and if I made the characters as real and honest as I could, then no matter how complex the pattern being woven, my subconscious would find ways to tie it together - often doing things far more complicated and sophisticated than I could with brute conscious effort. I would have ideas for 'nodes', as I think of them - story or character details that have lots of potential connections to other such nodes - and even though I didn't quite understand, I would plunk them in. Two hundred pages later, everything would back-fit, and I'd say, "Ah, that's why I wrote that."'

Tad Williams, author of 20 novels, including the Witchwood, Bobby Dollar and Shadowmarch series, and three short story collections


From crime editor to crime writer

23 April 2018

‘I think one of the reasons I was attracted to Highsmith is that most crime fiction is morally educative: morals will be upheld, justice will be doled out, wrongdoers will be caught and punished. But that did not happen with Tom Ripley and it fascinated me to see this character get away with stuff. It fascinated me more to find myself rooting for him. I still think this is a pretty nifty trick...

For a long time, probably since 1988 when The Silence of the Lambs was published, the crime market was dominated by books about serial killers. I like a good serial-killer thriller, but, probably happily, I do not have one in me. Then Gone Girl changed the game. Psychological suspense is what I had studied and what I thought I would be able to write...

The publishing process is reactive. Whereas writing is almost wholly creative. I needed to keep the two apart...

Writing a book, for me, was a lot like assembling a puzzle. That satisfying click when the last pieces fall into place.'

Daniel Mallory, who under the pseudonym A J Finn, published his much-heralded debut crime novel The Woman in the Window after a career in crime publishing.

'The good guys mostly win'

16 April 2018

‘When times are stressful and it looks like the bad is winning out over the good, along comes the genre of crime novels to put the balance back in life. People inherently don't like folks who do bad to get away with it. In real life they do all the time, because of a variety of factors. But in novels, evil is punished, and the good guys mostly win, after solving the puzzle...

People don't want to watch the news every day. I'm a news freak, but I get burnt out too.'

David Baldacci, author of Absolute Power, Memory Man and The Fallen, in The Times


'Words shrink things'

9 April 2018

'The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.'

Stephen King, author of a large number of novels, including Carrie and The Dark Tower

From dyspraxia to publication

2 April 2018

‘I was given the audio versions of some Harry Potters, read by Stephen Fry, and realised I could match the sound of the words to their shape on the page... Once I heard those Harry Potter books, I could then memorise them. To this day, I know the first three pretty well perfectly...

I submitted three chapters online to her (his agent Felicity Blunt at Curtis BrownSee Curtis Brown listing), and got an email back saying that she loved it and wanted more. We then worked on some rewriting before the book deal.'

Leo Carew, whose much-heralded fantasy first novel The Wolf has just been published by Headline and whose website features wild places he's visited, with fabulous photos.


'Is this for real?'

26 March 2018

‘For the past 10 months I've spent a lot of time thinking, is this for real? I had a lot of different reasons for writing the book but at its core was the desire to write for black teenage girls growing up reading books they were absent from. That was my experience as a child. Children of Blood and Bone is a chance to address this. To say you are seen...

In my perfect world, we'd have one black girl fantasy book every month. We need them, and we need fantasy stories about black boys as well...

That's why the success of (the recent Marvel movie) Black Panther has been so significant - black and marginalised audiences have the chance to see themselves as heroes depicted in a beautiful and empowering way, and white audiences get to see new stories told, and it becomes easier for them to picture a black superhero. Imagination is a funny thing - we sometimes need to see something before we can truly picture it.

Our books aren't there to magically fix publishing but maybe they'll start the changes moving so that in six months we'll have even more great stories, where we see ourselves and are heard.'

Tomi Adeyemi, author of debut YA novel Children of Blood and Bone in the Observer


Becoming Children's Laureate

19 March 2018

'Becoming children's laureate has given me a voice. I'm determined to change the snobby attitude around picture books. Children's illustration is viewed as the poor relation to fine-art painting, yet it's children's first introduction to art and can have a profound effect on how they view the world. John Burningham's Granpa, which deals with the loss of a loved one, explains grief to a child far better than anything else...

I experienced failure until my thirties. I always knew I wanted to do something art-related, but I had no idea what. After art school I did everything from mixing colours for Damien Hirst to starting a chandelier company, all the while writing and inventing characters for books, films, TV, but getting rejections. It took five years before Clarice Bean was published, and that was the turning-point. It took a long time to support myself solely on illustration.'

Lauren Child, UK Children's Laureate and author of the Charlie and Lola picture books and the Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort novels in the Sunday Times magazine

'A new counter-culture'

12 March 2018

‘Books begin to feel more and more like a new counter-culture. There seems a new power animating books that was absent for many years, and that has to do with the form. It's said that reality has outstripped fiction but I don't think that's true. We need fiction more than ever to define reality afresh.

Politics has collapsed as a place where questions can be asked. The media has largely collapsed and in that space, books remain to ask the questions. Even if they do it badly, they still do it.'

Richard Flanagan, author of The Narrow Road to the Deep South, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2014, First Person and four other novels, in the Bookseller


‘A mouthpiece for race, gender and culture’?

5 March 2018

‘I never conceived of myself as a mouthpiece. Nor do I think of myself as telling "my stories", exactly. I think of myself as thinking about all sorts of things, on the page, in public. I try to point out the idiosyncratic way I think and the commonality I'm seeking. Something like: "I'm thinking this - are you, reader?" But I don't mind if the answer turns out to be no. I'm less interested in convincing people of an argument than in modelling a style of thinking. That's what's important to me in the literary world: ways of seeing and thinking...

I like to hear a variety of voices, but they don't have to be personal stories. What I'm really interested in is other conceptions. People have radically different minds, in my view, and I want to be exposed to as many of them as possible. I think there can be almost as much difference, experientially speaking, between you and the person next to you on the bus as there is between me and my pug. And if, as too often happens, publishing houses choose only writers they recognise, from their own milieu, their own backgrounds, class, perceived community etc, well, then you get far less variety in this pool of minds and we all miss out. Writers principally - but readers too.'

Zadie Smith, author of the book of essays Feel Free and the novels White Teeth and Saving Time in the Observer


Writing 'because you have to'

26 February 2018

'The best books come from someplace deep inside. You don't write because you want to, but because you have to. Become emotionally involved. If you don't care about your characters, your readers won't either.

Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being. If you're that kind of writer, never give up! If you start a story and it isn't going well, put it aside. (We're not talking about school assignments here.) You can start as many as you like because you're writing for yourself. With each story you'll learn more. One day it will all come together for you.'

Judy Blume, author of Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Forever, Wifey and 25 other books, which have sold over 85 million copies worldwide, but often been banned.



Crime fiction today from a Waterstones buyer and crime writer

19 February 2018

‘It's in rude health. I would never try to predict a trend, I think it's a false game. The public appetite leads you one way then another, and recently we've rocked from the Scandinavian craze to psychological thrillers. Some people say the crime novel is not a social novel - that it's just entertainment. I would totally dispute that: it's exactly where society is at the moment. Psychological thrillers are usually written by women, with a female protagonist and male villain, often in a domestic setting. For many men, the experience of women is being illuminated for the first time via #MeToo, and that it's not a problem that exists just at the top of Hollywood but everywhere. Crime fiction is reflecting that...

On the new Staunch Prize, a new literary award for thrillers that don't feature violence against women. ‘My inclination is if Val McDermid says something listen to her. In response to this prize, she said that in pretending that the problems of sexual violence don't exist, are we really helping, or is it better to expose it? At the same time, I think there's room for different prizes. Undoubtedly someone has and will write a great crime novel where a woman isn't killed. I know my books wouldn't be welcome, but there's space for everyone.'

Joseph Knobbs, crime fiction buyer at Waterstones, whose crime novels Sirens and The Smiling Man (published in March) have been published under the name Joseph Knox, in Bookbrunch