Most 'big' books will have a theme and that's what I mean by politics.
This is not to say that theme belongs to a party-driven agenda - a book should not be in my opinion a vehicle for an organized group. Party = partie, in French, parted or departed, divided, to one side. Taking a position which is aligned to any established group degrades the author and the reader. (I hate to see authors' politics trumpeted on social media, it puts me off reading their books. No one wants their nose pushed into the swill of the trough.) Readers are intelligent people who form their own opinions and many will have experiences and opinions quite different to yours and if you only wish to speak to those who agree with you, then you should stick to social media and keep hitting the unfriend button.
'Big' books fast-forward our collective thinking, usually by crushing or condemning a commonly accepted truth or way of life. They trample on convenient, fast-food commonplace ideas.
We have now passed the halfway mark for the year 2018 so it's time to round up our members' news.
The majority of members entered The Firestarter (first chapter) competition in February which encouraged them to work on those all-important first chapters, to make them lean and keen. We put a lot of effort into preparing the 'hook' of the story in March with members using The Novelry process and submitting their one-liner concepts until the idea for their story was singular, stark, tight and ironic.
Once the idea is sound, the writing is the easy part and using our process unfolds daily with lesser or greater pain depending on what's going on with the family. Work seems to be the least of it, as in real life, work, but moving home and family illnesses blow us wide of the white page, and Kritikme members offer their help and support to each other, knowing that, well, life happens....
In April many members embarked upon the new Classic Course and emerged slightly...
'I think being a woman is like being Irish... Everyone says you're important and nice, but you take second place all the time.' Iris Murdoch.
The Man Booker 2007 winner, Anne Enright has spoken out on how books by women are rarely reviewed by men, while books by men are appraised by critics of both genders. The implication is that literary editors believe books by male writers express universal concerns while those by women are regarded as much narrower in scope, lacking the subtlety needed to engage the mind of the cerebral male. Anne Enright has also observed that The International Dublin Literary Award (formerly known as the Impac), the richest on the literary landscape with a purse of €100,000, has been won by a man each year for the last 16 years.
New York Times Bestseller List - Gender Representation Over Time:
In the 1990s, women finally made steady gains on the list over ten years. 2001 saw the...
Sometime back in the 2000's 'literary' became a dirty word.
My first book was published in 2004. My work was hailed as 'the opposite of chick lit' but that was a double-edged sword ...
I didn't see myself as conforming to any genre. I had never considered genre at all. My first novel was a dark comedy, written in quite a light-hearted tone of voice entirely and purposely unsuited to the subject matter of a man trying to die with dignity. My second was, if you like, 'historical fiction', set in Belfast during The Troubles of 1979-1981. The third was another black comedy, concerning a hapless Englishman 'living the good life', a pharmaceuticals salesman selling anti-depressants to the African continent and enjoying sex with strangers. The fourth was a quainter comedy, an old man determined to claw his way back into the bosom of the family who do not want him.
It's 2010. I'd produced four novels, one every one and a half years.
I went to see my agent. 'How...
At more than halfway through writing this novel, I pulled into the writer's layby to check tone of voice as I was worried that in the darker parts I'd let the humourous voice slip. (As you all know, there comes a gloomy writing day usually followed by a brighter one.)
I took a reading break to spoon feed myself some literary Haagen-Dazs courtesy of 'A Man Called Ove'. The irascible but loveable contrary main character offers a comic touch that's as pleasing as raspberry ripple.
I went back and checked my work through. I went back to the first chapter. By coarsening the main character, being certain about her flaw, I was able to maintain the tone of voice better throughout, so I needed to tweak the beginning to make it more 'declaratory'.
So tone of voice and character go hand in hand. This guy/girl's bad, but it's ok, you and me can see it.
Getting tone of voice right and keeping it as the North star throughout your writing, occasionally stopping when the night is...
Humbling, yet humble. A combination that made Philip Roth great.
His books were like knives we couldn’t put down despite them cutting our hands.
With the sad passing of Philip Roth this week, I am publishing below an article I wrote for The Independent in 2008 when asked to choose my book of a lifetime, which was 'Everyman' by Mr Roth.
Philip Roth retired from writing in 2012, appending a Post-It note to his computer which read simply 'The struggle with writing is done.'
Philip Roth has left us, but he has left us with an inspiring body of work and the humble reminder that every novel is new. Every time you write it, you learn how to write all lover again.
'You begin every book as an amateur. ... Gradually, by writing sentence after sentence, the book, as it were, reveals itself to you. ... Each and every sentence is a revelation.' (Philip Roth 2006).
I am now some 34,000 words into...
There is one reason I write.
There is a reason I write and will always write until they take the pencil away from me. The mystery.
The mystery of what’s going to happen on the page.
The mystery of what’s happening off the page.
Things occur to you differently. You see like a child, you're suddenly shocked at things you didn't see a certain way before and you're seeing them differently because of your emotional attachment to the theme of your book which was not the one you chose. You had an idea and a theme and you began to write, but then something mysterious happened. A wolf whistle in the dark. You were called away from your plodder's work to see behind a wall. You went. That's the main thing, you went.
I never expected the book I am writing to take the turn it has taken. I am now at 25,000 words and have had to regroup and revise the first part to take the beautiful blow of a change of theme and reassess where I've been and where I'm going with the...
'Why haven't you done anything with the book you wrote last year?' My son asked me.
'Because it's not important. I needed to write it but the world doesn't need it.'
'I would read it.'
'You can't because it's not published. I'm not publishing it.'
This is the nub of the matter for a writer; importance. I know it's hard to confess it. But it's true.
It's only a sense of its 'importance' that will drive you all the way to the end to publishing that book. Or it is with me.
I have wrestled with myself to pinpoint the importance of the book I am writing. At first I began wanting it to be adorable, then I knew it had to also be important but I was only half sure why. After all, why should my time on this earth, my experience, my opinions lead me to any discoveries or convictions or ideas of any importance to others?
I had a premise and a plan for the book, and was armed with materials and ideas thanks to the studies of the Classic course which would stand a chance of the work...
'There was a man who... ' This person has a flaw, a failing, either moral (a tendency that will bring them and others misery) or cosmic (a hole in his or her fortune). They can't see it. Well, I can't see mine, but Robbie Burns was right to bemoan the fact that we cannot see ourselves as others see us. It would save us a lot of grief. But a tale is the closest we ever come, like Narcissus, to gazing at our own reflection.
The action of the book sets the flaw straight, or shows it in dreadful relief.
At the denouement the protagonist takes one of two paths - he sees it and corrects it or stands corrected, or - and perhaps wonderfully, embraces it. This latter is a very rare outcome (The Godfather is much quoted as one of these, and I do rather like the idea of playing with the usual form.)
So your hook must posit - person with flaw, and the outcome of this flaw being corrected. That my darlings is...
"Alas,” said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.”
“You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.
Franz Kafka: “A Little Fable”
As you read in the last blog, Coelho wrote his 45,00 word 'The Alchemist' in two weeks, as it was 'written in his soul.' It is 'a fable about following your dream.'
As those taking the new Classic course have been discovering, what you write can come true. In the very first chapters of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' JR Rowling declares that Harry Potter will become famous worldwide.
In this way, the book is a spell. Of course...
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