In which I have a brand new book

A very brief post today, just to say that I have a brand new book coming out very soon. This is very exciting for a number of reasons, which I shall innumerate for you now.

1. It has the most beautiful cover anyone anywhere in the whole wide world has ever seen. Look at it. Just look. See how simple, yet elegant it is…

All That Was Lost_High Res cover

I properly love this cover and am thinking of asking it to run away with me to the South of France and open a guest house near the sea. It really is that pretty.

2. This book is a proper book of the heart. It’s a book I’ve had bubbling away in the back of my head for years and years and years. Because of the weird two-speed way in which publishing works – either lightening fast or fossilization slow – I actually finished the bulk of  the writing and revising two years ago. So it’s been a long journey, and now it’s nearly here. I’m super excited for the world to meet Patience, and Patrice, and Leo and… anyway, here’s the blurb:

In 1967 Patience Bickersleigh is a teenager who discovers a talent for telling people what they want to hear. Fifty years later she is Patrice Leigh, a nationally celebrated medium. But cracks are forming in the carefully constructed barriers that keep her real history at bay.   

Leo is the journalist hired to write Patrice’s biography. Struggling to reconcile the demands of his family, his grief for his lost son, and his need to understand his own background, Leo becomes more and more frustrated at Patrice’s refusal to open up. 

Because behind closed doors, Patrice is hiding more than one secret. And it seems that now, her past is finally catching up with her.

3. It was the first book my fantastic agent, Julia Silk, sold for me and it was the book she offered me representation based on. And Julia is a very wise and very brilliant so for her to love this book was a proper moment of joy in my life.

I’m excited to be getting close to being able to share All That Was Lost with readers. It’s out on September 6th in ebook and paperback, and you can order your copy right now.

In which I read a Bad Book

It is one of the small sadnesses of writing fiction, that doing so can break the pleasure of reading. It’s like being a magician at a magic show. You can be impressed at the skill on display. You can feel professional respect for the fellow conjurer on the stage, but if you can see too much of the craft you don’t actually get the thrill of feeling the magic. Occasionally, a book comes along that’s so good, or so far outside your own writing experience, or both, that it forces you to switch off your analytical writing brain and just enjoy the story, but a lot of the time you find yourself thinking, “Oh. Very good. I see what you did there, ” rather than just “Wow!”

Occasionally the opposite happens. A book so bad comes along that rather than thinking “Wow,” or “I see how that works,” you just think “How?” How did this get past an editor? How did this get published in its current form? Just how? I am currently reading just such a book, and, rather churlishly you might think, I’m not going to tell you what it is. There are reasons. Firstly, any book review is subjective and I resolved when I started this blog that I would only post reviews that were at least 51% positive. Secondly, I’m a member of more than one professional organisation for authors. I meet other writers. I’m also English and middle-class and therefore prepared to do pretty much anything to avoid potential future confrontation or social discomfort.

Anyway, this book is a mainstream published book by a successful “Sunday Times bestselling” author. It’s not a debut. It’s not a poorly edited self-published tome by an enthusiastic newbie to the writing game. Looking at it’s Amazon reviews, it’s a book some people have loved. As I said, my opinion is entirely subjective. However, what I don’t think is subjective is that this book almost certainly wouldn’t have attracted the attention of a publisher or agent if it was a debut. It commits many of the sins that newbie writers pay good money to conference organisers, creative writing teachers and writing consultancies to be warned against. The setup for the story is long, so long, too long, taking up about a third of the book. Then about halfway through the style of the story changes so you’re not reading the sort of book you thought you were at all. The writer headhops – jumps between the points of view of different characters – abruptly and without obvious reason. Headhopping isn’t a writing sin because it’s inelegant; it’s because it’s really confusing for the reader, and as a reader, in this case, I was really confused.

And in a sense, so what? A debut novel doesn’t just have to be as good as the general malaise of stuff out there in your genre. It has to stand out. I know plenty of talented writers who had novels rejected not because they weren’t good, but because they weren’t stand out enough to be a debut novel. Some of those “not good enough for a debut” books were then published very successfully as novel 2, 3 or 4.

I wonder though whether there’s a point of success where quality control ceases to be a consideration. Reading this book, my natural urge, as a writer, is to get a pen and a notepad and start to make editing and revision notes. It feels like an unedited draft, rather than a finished novel. More than anything I’m confused by that. I don’t understand how the novel got through an editing process in its current form. Maybe the writer is at a level of success where the publisher reckons their work will sell regardless. Maybe the writer knows it ain’t a great book, but was pressured by contractual and commercial obligations to put it out. I don’t know. Lack of editing though, is one of the criticisms used by mainstream publishers to bash the self-publishing sector. Sometimes that criticism is justified, but as a criticism of a whole sector of an industry it’s too much of a generalisation, especially when the big publishing houses are putting out their own, albeit possibly smaller, share of poorly edited material.

So that’s my confusion for this week. Feel free to chat about bookly things in the comments – particularly bad books, poorly edited books, books you wanted to chuck across the room. Off you go.

 

In which I think about settling down with a good book

Ahoy there and apologies for blogging tardiness. Unfortunately people keep luring me away from my nice safe sofa-laptop bubble by trying to give me money to teach people stuff, which is tiresome, but does lead to having money to buy things, which is nice.

Anyhow, you find me, dear readerist, in a time of great trauma, because, right at the moment, I don’t really have a book on the go.

Now some of you probably won’t appreciate why that’s traumatic. Some of you will be the sorts of people who dip in and out of a book as the mood takes them, and have no more emotional attachment to the idea of reading that they would to a passable movie or the end of a series of Grand Designs (although, I’m not sure series of Grand Designs ever actually end, they just morph without warning into repeats of older episodes). Anyhow, we are a very egalitarian and open-minded blog here. We welcome all sorts of people, regardless of race, gender or preference in flavour of fruit pastel. So you people who aren’t fully fledged Book Types are welcome along with everyone else. I do, however, reserve the right to give you very slightly suspicious glances from time to time, and pop a plastic cover down before I let you sit on the good chairs.

Part of the reason I am without book at the present time, is that I am in the midst of working through the plot for a new novel idea. When I’m deep in a first draft or in working through initial plot ideas, I quite often find that my reading tails off a bit. It’s as if my brain can only be fully immersed in one story at a time. For the same reason, I think, I only ever have one book on the go at any given moment. Some people can deal with more than one. EngineerBoy often has an “upstairs” and a “downstairs” book in progress at the same time. This causes me to peer at him suspiciously quite a lot, and occasionally look at bungalows on estate agency websites as a last resort to break him out of this bizarre and worrying habit.

Right now though, I need a book to read. I’m starting to get a bit twitchy for lack of book. It needs to be absorbing enough for me to get into easily but not so mentally taxing that it interferes with writer brain doing its important story development, and also not so light and frothy that I my brain isn’t engaged at all. It can be fiction or non-fiction. It might even be something that’s already on my not-as-big-as-it-sometimes-is To Read pile, all of which look interesting, but none of which are screaming “Read me now!” in a sufficiently loud voice.

to read pile

So please help me out with suggestions. What books have you properly loved recently and why? And, any writers out there, can you read and write alongside one another or are they just mutually exclusive activities?

Where I try to make the Internet pick my Desert Island Discs for me.

It’s Christmas! This means that party season is upon us. Fatness is growing (yeah, I know what I said here, and I’ll totally get back to that in January. Totally), and hungoverism is becoming the order of the day.

But internet I need your help, because tonight’s Christmas meal has A Theme. Desert Islands Discs, albeit a cutdown dinner party friendly version. So I have to select three tunes, one book and one luxury item that make me appear cool, witty and interesting by this evening.

This is a challenge. I’m not, generally speaking, a massive muso. I play music as a functional exercise to take the edge of the quiet, usually when I’m supposed to be writing and the crushing silence of an extended lack of typing becomes oppressive. So, for me, thinking of three tunes at all is a bit of a stretch.

And one book? ONE book? I own several hundred books, possibly into the thousands, and my favourite is generally whichever I’m looking at right now. How can I possibly be expected to commit to just one book for the rest of forever? The rest of forever is, potentially, ages.

And a luxury item. That could be anything. Am I allowed to pick a person? John Cleese picked Michael Palin, but specified that he would have him stuffed. I’m not sure that really helps. If I’m not allowed a person then what? I could be all dull and writerly and demand paper and pens, but that is very boring, isn’t it?

So help me out Internet? Three tunes. One book. One luxury. What would you pick? (And if you want to hear what I go for in the end, just subscribe or follow and you’ll get a little notification as soon as I get around to letting you all know).