With the Man Booker Prize winner announced tonight, my fingers are crossed for Washington Black, although I’d raise a cheer for either of the other contenders I’ve reviewed (The Mars Room and Milkman). Right now, my thoughts are also with those authors who not only don’t succeed in dazzling the judges, but don’t even get the chance to step onto the stage.
You’re familiar with those email scams, aren’t you? Congratulations, you’ve won a prize! Just send us a cheque to cover administration costs, and we’ll deliver it. Feels good, doesn’t it? Until you wonder whether the winnings will cover your fees. But that wouldn’t happen in the literary world, would it? Awards are dispensed purely on merit, surely? No paying for prizes there?
Is satire redundant when the World’s Most Powerful Narcissist tweets his outrage at the slightest scratch on his orange-tinged carapace, while She Who Should Be Humbled files for divorce from Europe in the full knowledge that this will leave her dependants economically and morally depleted, and literally humbles the Bejewelled Great-Grandmother by committing her to take her New Suitor for a spin in her horse-drawn carriage? Publication proceeding at a slower pace than populist politics, these two novels – the first set in a dystopian near-future and the second in 2013 – were conceived prior to the dystopia that was 2016 but can still evoke a shudder in these early days of 2017.
I’ve enjoyed these two novels from established female British writers exploring a possible future. The first speculates on the consequences of climate change and a low birthrate, whereas the second subverts gender politics imagining a world in which women have no reason to be afraid of men.
Read on, and see which takes your fancy!
A man who’s always been suspicious of computers goes to buy an iPad. Unfortunately, he’s also highly suspicious of people, especially the white-shirts who seem intent to frustrate him with paperwork. The ensuing argument almost has him evicted from the shop. Meet Ove: a crotchety old geezer who’s thwarted every way he turns. He can’t even be left in peace to end his own life.
I’m always intrigued when a novel worms its way so deeply under my skin I start behaving like the main character. So what if this was a million-copy bestseller, I wasn’t going to trust a writer who reckons the first thing I need to know is the age of his main character (fifty-nine), closely followed by the kind of car he drives (a Saab). To hell with the respectful approach I’d outlined in my post on my reading for reviews, this one was going to be a meditation on the minutiae of getting it wrong. Never mind that, in going to test drive a new car (not a Saab) recently, my husband and I found ourselves embroiled in a disagreement similar to the one Ove engenders in the computer shop. My grumpiness was nothing to do with me, or even the fact that I was reading the novel while still enraged about the result of the recent election.
Blogs, e-books and print-on-demand technology are heralding a new era in publishing, a democratisation in which anyone with access to the Internet may become a publisher or book reviewer. It’s perhaps too soon to tell whether this will be a curse or blessing for readers and writers, but there’s no doubt that we readers and writers live in interesting times. But this is nothing new: revolution and reinvention lie at the foundation of publishing, which makes a novel set in mid-fifteenth century Germany particularly pertinent today.
Peter is unhappy to be called home from Paris to corrupt and feuding Mainz, wrenched by his father from his vocation as a scribe copying sacred texts. He’s unhappier still when apprenticed to the blunt and ambitious Hans Gutenberg in a fetid workshop of hellish furnaces and tedious tasks. His introduction to his master’s mission is unsettling:
Each of those lines ended with an utter, chilling harmony, at precisely the same distance from the edge. What hand could write a line that straight, and end exactly underneath the one above? What human hand could possibly achieve a thing so strange? He felt his heart squeeze and his soul flood with an overwhelming dread. (p16-17)
Are there no bounds to my capacity to grapple with internet technology? Last month it was Facebook, now I'm making my first foray into - or should that be onto? - YouTube.
Okay, it doesn't quite do justice to the wondrous sight of the butterflies feeding on the buddleia in our front garden but, when summer's long gone, it will serve as a lovely reminder of what was. We'd been bemoaning the fact that it was rare to see more than a couple of butterflies in one place in England these days when, all of a sudden, swarms of peacocks started sunning themselves on the walls and using the paths through the long grass as an airport landing pad. They're joined now and then by a painted lady and a comma, along with the silver Y moth that flaps its wings as eagerly as a hummingbird, and the pesky small and large whites that lay their eggs inside my cabbages.
I know I can't compete with dancing kittens – and nor do I aspire to – but I'm pleased to have a record, albeit a shaky one, of this beautiful phenomena, and grateful for the background music courtesy of YouTube to play over the rumble of the traffic. And, of course, if I ever need to upload a more writerly video, I've got a head start as to how to go about it.
Do share your own experiences, as well as what you think of my tentative first steps.
I'm not given to risk-taking, especially not on something as scary as the net where trolls can monitor your every move, so I thought long and hard before starting my blog. Mostly what I thought was: No, that's not for me. Quick, draw the curtains, you never know who might be peering in.
Then, all of a sudden, I had a new computer and a brand-new blog. Learning my way round both Windows 8 and Weebly at the same time, perhaps I should be grateful that it was the computer and not me that went into meltdown (miraculously only a couple of days shy of the end of the no-quibbles return period). Aside from the first post, which seems a bit pointless, but I'm leaving up as part of my ten-step programme for combatting shame (not that ten steps are anywhere near sufficient), I'm glad I've done it, but I'm still not sure what it's for. There's a part of me still thinks it's quite mad – but that might be the same part that thinks that any project not set up with the explicit purpose of pleasing my mother is mad, I'm not sure how seriously to take it.
Yet I’m seriously addicted and, I think, in a good way, so read on if you want to know the three reasons why I got into blogging and kept going.
I've been doing some maintenance on the website to smarten up the visuals, although I may have overdone it. Having conceded that readers are as likely to make as many assumptions from the absence of a mugshot as from a poor one, I've gone from hiding myself away just behind the homepage to cloning a mini-me beside the title on every single page. And that outfit, while it's a step up from the five fleeces I've been wearing all winter, whether or not I've just come back from a walk, is going to be a little toasty once summer finally arrives.
I'm not sure about the books in the header either, although pretty nifty to have that subtle difference between the website and the blog, eh? Obviously I've selected some of my heroes (of both genders), but will it look as if I'm trying to emulate rather than admire?
Nevertheless, I'm always impressed when I tackle a new bit of technology, although I seem to have left it rather late to find out about SEO keywords for a Google search. I wish I knew how to spring clean my website categories.
I'll leave you with Here comes the sun with George Harrison and my short story Spring Cleaning. A more reflective, writerly post coming very soon.
With comparison sites and online databases
to help with everything from choosing a utility company to finding a magazine for your short story, it’s no surprise to find someone’s come up with a database of author’s agents and publishers. But do these things deliver what they promise?
Renewing our household contents insurance recently, my husband diligently
entered the details of my newly acquired painting, considered the available
options, pressed buy, only to find a few days later that it wasn’t included on
the insurance schedule and we had to start the whole process again.
And why does my search through hundreds of holiday cottages never secure
me the idyllic hideaway with uninterrupted views of mountains and sea, full of character but not lacking in creature comforts and only a ten minute walk from a charming gastropub and artisan bakery?
Agent Hunter is presented as a comprehensive list of British agents and publishers, and I’m not in a position to argue. There’s handy background information about many of them and links to websites and articles the agent’s role and how to submit. But as a tool for honing in on the best bet for your novel, it does suffer from glitches not so dissimilar from those insurance comparison websites. And while I wouldn’t expect to secure an agent without doing some more research of my own behind the scenes, I was disappointed that it lacked our basic facility that even the holiday cottage websites had: the option to highlight favourites or to delete
items from a search.
Nevertheless, with a novel seeking an agent, I’ll certainly be making use of this tool. I just wish they’d called it Agent Lister.
Read on for a more detailed account of what I was hoping for, how I set about looking for it and what I found.
… by playing them at their own game.
That’s the phone ringing. No, not your mobile, the landline. Don’t tell me you forgot you still had a landline,
just answer the damn thing!
I know it’ll only be your mother or some guy with a strong Indian accent who introduces himself as Gary and says your computer’s caught a virus. How does he know? Did he sneeze in its direction? He doesn’t quite say, but he wants you to think he’s calling on behalf of Bill Gates.
Oh dear, I can see the smoke coming out of your ears as you join me back on the sofa. Your mother then? Honestly, I was trying to hold her off till Sunday. Not your mother, you say? Another nuisance call?
Sit yourself down and have a read of this little story, for who hasn’t fantasised a
Cold Calling revenge? Or if you’d rather have a song I’ve found one with both a mother and a telephone: Sylvia’s mother. What more could you ask for?
But don’t get too comfortable. Two gentle stories in two consecutive posts can only mean one thing. That’s right, I’m softening you up for the darkness to come.
Over to you: how do you deal with cold callers? And how do you like your fiction on a scale from light to dark?
Not being an early adopter of all things technological, I wasn't in a great hurry to join the blogging bandwagon. Except for the fact that both involve using ideas to construct sentences, I didn't see much overlap between writing fiction and a blog. Would it be worth the time and effort if no one were to read it? Would I be opening myself up to spiteful anonymous attacks? Might I, through the mysterious machinations of playground politics (sorry, the freedom of the internet), be simultaneously lambasted and overlooked, and still be no further forward with what I consider to be my real writing?
Ten days in, I'm beginning to revise my opinion. The similarities are
greater than I'd – naïvely, glibbly – imagined. Because, in any kind of writing, there are always choices to be made about how to present oneself. There's always the question of narrative voice.
I'm writing as me, but as a particular version of me. Perhaps that's why I adopted the playful/witty/irritating/endearing username Annecdotist (delete as appropriate, but before you judge, please consider what it's like to spend your whole life answering to an indefinite article). It's me, with a tale on the end.
Unlike creating a narrator for my fiction, I'm not burdened with designing the details of Annecdotist's appearance and habits as these, for better or worse, are fixed. Or should they change, they do so in negotiation with me. No need to file reminders about the colour of her bedsheets or that she needs to stand on a chair to reach the spare mugs on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboards. But this doesn't mean I have no decisions to make about how I present my narrator. Far from it. It merely draws my attention to the more subtle aspects of narrative voice, that are perhaps more important but harder to pin down:
Or it may be because a voice admits us to a mind, a spirit and soul, which is distant from our own and yet the voice makes us live and breathe it. It doesn't mean that your narrator must be narrating explosions or heartbreaks, it means that your narrator must be someone we keep listening to. 'Listen!' s/he says, and we do.
How chatty should I try to make Annecdotist to entice you to listen? How authoritative? How humorous? How open? If I allow her to be too opinionated will I alienate some potential readers, but if I don't take that risk will the whole thing be altogether too bland?
I ought to be asking these same questions of the narrators of my fiction, but it seems more acute here, where I'm developing the voice in public (I wish!) right from the start. I'm curious as to how Annecdotist will develop over time and how she will feed into my fiction, if at all. Even though I do all my writing directly onto the computer, it's only Annecdotist that I identify strongly with the digital world. She's like one of those people kids used to think lived in the telly or one of those sophisticated androids from films like Blade Runner and if only I could locate the screen on my computer to fine-tune her settings, I'd have nothing to worry about.
Perhaps other more experienced writer-bloggers have sussed this one out yonks ago, or maybe your personalities are so well integrated your one-size-fits-all personas will serve you well at anything from a job interview to a beach barbecue. Whatever you think, perhaps you'd like to enlighten me?
I've recently bought a new laptop. Presumably the updated technology will make my writing life easier in the long term but, in the short term, I find the whole thing a pain. Even with my husband taking on most of the donkey work, time spent weighing up the virtues of different models followed by
learning the quirks of a new operating system is time away from writing, as far as I'm concerned, and that's before I get started on the guilt at what the rich world's lust for progress does to the impoverished south.
I wonder if creative writing would be so popular these days if we didn't have
such easy access to word processing technology. I doubt I could've managed several drafts of a 100,000 word novel on my mother's old Olivetti portable where, if I got overexcited and typed too fast, the keys clumped together in the middle. I suppose if you were to develop RSI in those days, you'd either have to hire a secretary or fall by the wayside. One way of weeding out the competition.
Due to RSI, which crept up on me in the middle of an MA course (not a writing MA) over ten years ago, I'm dependent upon voice recognition software for all my writing.
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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