Category Archives: Writing & Publishing

Writer or Rockstar?

According to the Guardian, a new YouGov poll suggests that writer is the most wanted job in the UK, closely followed by among other things, event organiser. Meaning I kind of have the two most wanted jobs in the UK.

I’m not sure how event organiser got on there. Its hard work, incredibly stressful and the rewards are limited. Maybe they mean organising proper events like international trade fairs and party political conventions. Maybe thats more fun than book launches and writing weekends, I’m sure its harder work.

The writing answer I can understand, but given that YouGov was set up with the explicit purpose of fabricating an opinion poll lead for the Tories at the election before last you have to question the validity of anything that comes from them. In this case I would guess that most participants would use the terms ‘Writer’ and ‘Middle Class Hero’ fairly interchangeably. Maybe I’m just a bitter old genre reader but I can’t shake the feeling that writing in this case is more about social climbing than either art or craft.

And then lo and behold my suspicions were confirmed by encountering this junior Guardianista’s weak ass attack on multi-millionaire novelist Stephen King. Hating Stephen King is such a article of faith amongst second rate literati wannabes that I’m amazed anyone would identify themselves as such by doing it. How much more surprising would it be to read a Guardian article seriously measuring a writer like King against acclaimed literary figures like Updike or DeLilo? So much more that if I ever do see such a thing in the Guardian I will find a hat, claim it as my own and then eat it.

Kids Know Best

When it comes to reading, kids are way ahead of adults in telling a good book from a bad one. Yes or no?

SF Signal posts some extracts from a recent Stephen King article defending the latest H.Potter from her critics. My favourite quote is:

…reading was never dead with the kids. Au contraire, right now it’s probably healthier than the adult version, which has to cope with what seems like at least 400 boring and pretentious “literary novels” each year. While the bigheads have been predicting (and bemoaning) the post-literate society, the kids have been supplementing their Potter with [insert long list of good kids books]…

This is certainly my experience of encouraging reading with young people. They already read…loads. Perhaps not the sporty kids, but then as good as reading is it isn’t the right thing to force on everyone. The sporty kids should read a bit, but then the bookish kids should do a bit of sport. But kids who do read, REALLY read. I hold up Rowling’s, Pullman’s and Wilson’s bank account statements as evidence. What adults are really bemoaning isn’t the state of kids reading, its the state of their own reading.

I would guess at there being way more the 400 boring literary novels each year. And boring is the word. Masterpieces of intellectual endeavour they maybe, but a thrill / laugh a minute they aren’t. In a sane world I would defend the literary novel to the death, were it kept in its rightful place as a minority interest. But like some uncontrolable weed the literary novel has grown to dominate the public understanging of what a grown-up novel should be. It’s as though the cinema only showed Bergman, Goddard and Lynch clones. While the critics would be overjoyed, the audience would soon go elsewhere. And thats exactly what has happened with books. Its hardly surprising that peole are less than enthusiatic about reading when they are faced with a slew  of specialised literary fiction and made to feel more than a little freakish if they happen to wander off into the romance, crime or science fiction section where they might actualy find something they want to read. Or the kids section, which is where lots of the best books are, which is why they get remarketed in adult covers and critics spend pages explaining their deeper adult meaning just so they can enjoy a good story without losing their intellectual cachet.

What we need is the equivalent of literary weed killer. Any idea what that might be?

Gough’s Ghetto

An interesting post from Julian Gough that nails the problem afflicting not just literary fiction but many other genres as well, the ghetto mentality.

This strikes me as something that needs defining:

Gough’s Ghetto – the act of a devotee of one literary genre assuming assuming that no literature exists beyond their limited viewpoint.

Hmm…that might suggest Gough was guilty of this however…I shall have to ponder an alternative!

I Want My E-Book Now!

Charlie Stross has yet more interesting things to say about E-Books. I’m very interested in Mr Stross at the moment having really, really enjoyed The Atrocity Archives, and he had already managed to win me aroind from my very negative stance on E-Books with his earlier article on the subject.

I bought my first E-Book last month, or rather my first e-magazine. The american SF digests are difficult to find in the UK, so I read my forst copy of Asimov’s in electronic format (it hasn’t won me over to getting a subscription). E-Books still don’t work with my reading pattern however, a laptop is just too much effort to take to bed with me. It also just isn’t relaxing in the way a book is. Computer screens flicker at 60mhz of some such, imperceptible perhaps but I think it impacts on the subconscious entirely differently from the static calmness of a printed page. However, I can see myself buying more E-Books of stock i can’t easily get in the UK. Of course I could go on Amazon, but these are often impulse purchases and no one wants to wait three days for an impulse purchase to arrive. The immidiacy of E-Books may be the quality that gains them an audience.

I Hate the Booker Prize

And with good reason. Just take a look at the judges. These people look like the judging committee of a village fete. Can anybody say ‘White upper middle class conspiracy theory’.

The rumour is that the Booker Prize rewards the best literary fiction. What utter arse. If it did I would still loathe it, but my hatred would be irrational. The Booker is a clarion call of cultural elitism and I do not exaggerate when I say I would be happy to see all involved horrificaly mutilated and left for dead. (OK, I exagerate. But only slightly).

The Guardianista’s are speculating who will make the longlist. I’m going to join them by specualting about who defintely won’t be on the longlist…

M John Harrison, Iain Banks, John Courtenay Grimwood, China Mievile, Ian McDonald, Charles Stross, Alan Moore, oh soddit this could be a really, really long list…

…lets just say whatever wins it will almost certainly represent the antithesis of everything I find wonderful in the written word.

Romance vs. Realism

An great interview with George R R Martin over on the Weird Tales site. I’m in continual awe of GRRM’s skills as a writer, so I’m something of a hound for anything he says about his approach to crafting stories.

The real differences, to my mind, is between romantic fiction, which all these genres are a part of, and mimetic fiction, or naturalistic fiction.”

I’m interested by his use of the term romantic to describe whats more usually called fantastic or imaginative fiction. The modern definition of romance is quite far removed from the terms historical root.

The wikipedia entries for romance and romanticism are good reminders of the terms real meaning. Romance is about exploring the outer limits of human passions and emotions. Its that romantic tradition which has lost ground in contemporary literature and finds its home instead in genres like SF and Fantasy.

Mainstream-o-phobia

Or…please let me back into the ghetto!

There is a growing idea in the SFF world that the mainstream is the place to be. This excellent article by Robert J Sawyer explains why so I won’t bother repeating. This seems like a good move to me, although I think more ‘fantastic’ work, epic fantasy for instance, will still have a genre cubby hole. But for SF set in the real world the mainstream is calling. (The mainstream is also undergoing radical change, but thats a different post)

Prepare for scream of terror from the SF community. Not everyone adapted for the change and those less likely to survive aren’t going to prized out of their ghetto without a fight.

I’m predicting there will be a full and frank discussion of this at the Asimov’s forum.

Alt.Fiction Bulletin 1

Alt.Fiction 2007 gets off to a rousing start with talks from Mark Chadbourne, james Barcla, Stan Nichols and a bundle of other writers. There is a fantastic selection of book stalls that I’m yet to even get near – I’ve stepped out for a bit to eat lunch and let the brain cool down after all the listening. I’ve been making Ipod mic. recordings of the talks so far. Unfortunately they aren’t good enough quality to post as they wouldn’t do the writers involved justice but they will be useful to review later.

Highlights so far include Mr Chadbourne’s comments on fantasy genre and the marketing that surrounds it, and Stan Nichols critique of stiff, starchy prose in fantasy.

Still to come – writing workshops with Graham Joyce and Harry Harrison and the GoH Iain M Banks.

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Wangst

I wish I could have latched onto any of the more intelligent concepts in this gnarly, supremely accurate and well overdue article by Julian Gough, but the concept of Wangst has had me chorling with venemous glee all morning. I’m going to go a step further than my pal Julian and declare Wangst the new born genre of commercial fiction to be shelved in Waterstones just so – SF, Fantasy, Horror, Crime, Wangst. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

Wangst: (def) – minor, anxious, banal tragedies written to satisy the distanced emotional perspective of a ruling elite. The dominant literary form of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. For examples of Wangst see entry ‘Booker Prize’.

Dragon Smack

Today is good day in the world because George R R Martin is writing ‘A Dance with Dragons’. The next volume of of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is probably the most eagerly awaited book in the world. If you don’t believe me then pick up volume one, ‘A Game of Thrones’ and start reading. When you resurface some months later, blinking and shivering upon you’re return to reality, desperate to return to the realm of Westeros then you to will know the pain of the addict. These books are genuine masterpieces of popular fiction, made by the hand of a master craftsman, and distributed by the publisher with the ruthlessness of you’re friendly neighborhood crack dealer.

The thing that shines out of all of GRRM’s writing is the genuine love he has for his world of Weteros. Whatever the genre or style, one thing that writing always does is reveal the fundamental intentions of the writer. If someone really has something to say it can’t help coming out through the words, conversely if someone is mostly interested inhabiting the identity and status of a ‘writer’, that will make itself clear as well. GRRM is passionate about the world of Westeros, and its impossible not to be infected by that passion.