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Comment from the book world in January 2020


'When I was five, I thought I was a writer'

10 August 2020

‘We say to girls, "you can have ambition, but not too much" When I was five, I thought I was a writer. I didn't just want to be, I thought I was.

One of the things of being pregnant and having a child was that it was a reflective time for me, and I am happiest when I'm creating. I am slowly coming back, but haven't quite settled. When my writing is going well, it's fully absorbing, so it's not "When do you find the time to write?" It's "When do you find the time to take a shower?"'

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, and very successful TED talks, including 'The Danger of a Single Story', in the Sunday Times magazine

Writing in a lockdown

3 August 2020

'Well, the first six weeks I was not doing any writing at all. It was all about making sure the kids were all right and everyone was in a good mental state. Then, I thought maybe I can work for an hour or two a day and it was really hard work getting back in the groove. But, hey, the books aren't going to write themselves. The way I think about it is, what if I got struck down by plague or lightning? I'd rather finish the book than not...

There were a lot of small absurdities amid the psychological horror of the pandemic - people fighting over supplies in the grocery store, subway drivers having to breathe in the same air that their passengers were breathing out. That's the stuff of plague fiction. Then, there's the perversity of coughing in someone's face to ridicule them because they're wearing a mask and you're not. These are the kind of irrational things that, as a writer, you couldn't really think up. The strangeness of human nature outdoes you.'

Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad, The Nickel Boys and seven other novels in the Observer.

‘Dear Aspiring Writer, you are not ready.'

27 July 2020

‘Dear Aspiring Writer, you are not ready. Stop. Put that finished story away and start another one. In a month, go back and look at the first story. RE-EDIT it. Then send it to a person you respect in the field who will be hard on you. Pray for many many many red marks. Fix them. Then put it away for two weeks. Work on something else. Finally, edit one last time. Now you are ready to sub your first work.

Criticism is hard to take at first. Trust me, I've been there. But learn to think of crit marks as a knife. Each one is designed to cut away the bad and leave a scar. Scars prove you've lived, learned and walked away a winner. Any writer who tells you they don't need edits is lying. I don't care if they have 100 books out. Edits make you grow and if you aren't growing as a writer, you are dead.'

Inez Kelley, author of 16 novels, romance and general fiction, including Beauty and the Badge and If Only in Our Dreams.


Bestselling book to major TV series

20 July 2020

‘If something in the script did not ring true in the context of early post-independence India - and how could Andrew possibly have known every detail of that? - I pointed it out, and he took it on board. As for plot cuts and changes; it had been a long time since I wrote A Suitable Boy, so I was somewhat teflonised against what happened to every minor incident or character.

I would not compromise with the essence, the core of the book, but I was less bothered about the periphery. There were several occasions where I thought: "That's brilliant, Andrew. It really works. It may not be what I wrote; but it's true to the spirit of the book and the characters.'

Vikram Seth, author of three novels, A Suitable Boy, The Golden Gate and An Equal Music, three non-fiction books, including From Heaven Lake, and eight books of poetry, talking in The Times about his working relationship with scriptwriter Andrew Davies on the dramatisation of A Suitable Boy which is just about to be shown by the BBC in the UK and by Netflix in India.


'Poetry has had an amazing impact'

13 July 2020

‘People have been washing their hands while reciting 20-second poems and lifting their spirits with longer ones. It's clear from social media that poetry has had an amazing impact during the pandemic, offering solace and inspiration. People have been reading poetry, writing poetry, learning it by heart. It's been a grim time in so many ways, but there's no question; the pick-me-up of poetry has made a powerful and positive difference.'

Gyles Brandreth talking in Bookbrunch about his daily Twitter recitals of favourite poems, many from his anthology, Dancing by the Light of the Moon, which have drawn 1.65 million views since March. Online poetry performances by actors Andrew Scott, Patrick Stewart and Helena Bonham Carter have drawn audiences exceeding 20 million since then.

Writing has so much to give

6 July 2020

‘I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is.

Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do - the actual act of writing - turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.'

Anne Lamott, author of seven non-fiction books, and the forthcoming Hallelujah Anyway, and two novels, Imperfect Birds and Rosie.


Why and How Writers Should Embrace Twitter

29 June 2020

Like any social media platform, the more you use Twitter the more you will get out of it. So keeping your account as active as possible-i.e. tweeting as often as possible-is perhaps the most valuable tip of all. But that raises a common anti-Twitter excuse: "Oh, I wouldn't know what to talk about..."

To pro-Twitters like me, this is perhaps the most frustrating excuse of all, especially when it comes from otherwise idea-rich writers and authors! But admittedly, it's an understandable one: Twitter (if not social media as a whole) finds it hard to convince its detractors that it isn't merely full of cat videos, Star Trek memes, and everyone's everyday inanities...

Paul Jones, author of The British Isles: A Trivia Gazetteer, Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons and its sequel, Jedburgh Justice & Kentish Fire.

A female children’s writer with a boy hero

22 June 2020

‘It was more difficult. I believe very fervently that we overstate gender differences, so a kid that is brave and tough, but panicked, will, in either gender, I think, act in extremis in similar ways. But I was reading about the 1920s and 1930s, and to be a boy in that period was to have demands made of you that I didn't want to blur. Fred's father wanted him to be manly...

The demands that are made of women can be ferocious, but the demands made of men can be equally tough. I don't know what it is to be a boy. I have a lot of male friends and my best friend when I was nine was a boy, but there is an extra imaginative leap you have to make, I know intricately what it means to be a girl and I don't know who gets to say whether a character is real. Do only boys get to say if a boy character is real and a girl if a girl character is?'

Katherine Rundell, author of The Explorer, which she writes about here, Rooftoppers, Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, The Wolf Wilder and The Good Thieves in The Times.


Independent publishers will ‘not only survive but thrive’

8 June 2020

‘Sales have been down at least 50% for April and May compared to previous years, and even more compared to our forecast (we're still waiting for the final numbers)...

As bad as the last couple months have been, the underlying publishing industry is strong. There will undoubtedly continue to be many challenges through the rest of this year and beyond, but we have large numbers of wonderful books across all our imprints coming up in the second half of this year and next year...

I feel optimistic about the sector. Independents are well placed as they've been for a number of years now. We are small, flexible and nimble businesses with relatively low overheads, and as long as we can continue to find and successfully publish wonderful authors and their books I'm sure we'll not only survive but thrive no matter what the future landscape looks like.'

Adam Freudenheim, publisher and managing director of London-based Pushkin Press in Bookbrunch (behind paywall)

Write like you'll live forever

1 June 2020

'1. Write like you'll live forever - fear is a bad editor.
2. Write like you'll croak today - death is the best editor.
3. Fooling others is fun. Fooling yourself is a lethal mistake.
4. Pick one - fame or delight.
5. The archer knows the target. The poet knows the wastebasket.
6. Cunning and excess are your friends.
7. TV and liquor are your enemies.
8. Everything eternal happens in a spare room at 3 a.m.
9. You're done when the crows sing.'

Ron Dakron, author of the novels Hello Devilfish, Mantids, infra and Newt and three collections of poetry


Writing under lockdown

26 May 2020

‘Stay off the booze. Just before he died, Dylan Thomas claimed he had drunk 18 whiskies, an act described by the coroner as "an insult to the brain". If you want your brain to work at all during this period, don't insult it. Yes, he wrote the most amazing work while being a famous drunkard, but think of how much more he might have written...

The rules for writing under lockdown are no different to other times. It won't happen unless you make it happen. It's incremental and frustrating, and your chances of being paid for it are tiny, but it's a fascinating process, with all the glamour and excitement of an affair but with less chance of divorce. One you discover the joys of it, and the pains, it will bring you the deepest pleasure. Good luck. And save that whisky for when you've typed "the end".'

Louise Doughty, author of nine novels including Platform Seven, Apple Tree Yard and Black Water, and the how-to-write guide A Novel in a Year, in the Sunday Times Magazine

'Gripping, compelling reads'

18 May 2020

‘It's difficult to envision what will appeal post-Covid19; however, the current trend for uplifting reads is bound to continue, with readers looking for distraction and escape from a fairly dire reality - warm humour, salvation, (stories of) unexpected success, happiness, or beating the odds release tension and provide solace...

A staple diet of Netflix thrillers should increase the appetite for more of the same but, perhaps most importantly, crime has always done well in darker times, perhaps because readers are able to take comfort in the fact that their own lives seem comparatively less bleak. A lot of people have mentioned that they are struggling to read at the moment, with so much going on in their minds and homes, and an overwhelming concern about health, finances and the future dominating. Gripping, compelling reads are most likely to help overcome this.'

Karen Sullivan, founder of Orenda Books, in the Bookseller