The value of authors

Recently I was interviewed by the amazing and successful author Jane Howard for her website, you can find that interview if you click here. And among other things she asked me which authors inspire me.

And what I said was this:

All authors inspire me – all of them, good ones, bad ones, self-published, small press, big publisher. I think writing books and stories is a tremendous thing for people to be doing, we hold a mirror up to society, we are its conscience and its soul. That’s no small thing to be involved in.

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Top tips from famous writers

If you are an author of any great fame sooner or later someone is going to ask you for writing tips. It’s the law.
Does this happen in other professions? Do top plumbers get asked for plumbing tips which then appear in plumbing blogs? I’ve led too sheltered an existence to know for sure but I certainly hope those blogs exist, and in my heart I believe they do. Plumbing tips would probably be a lot more use than writing tips anyway. Advice for writers tends to be subjective whereas, if your toilet is overflowing and you need to stop it – that’s very much objective.

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Where do you get your ideas from?

When people ask me about writing, which sometimes they do, one of the questions they are most likely to ask is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’

It’s a tough one to answer, partly because I don’t think about the process very much and also because there isn’t just one place where ideas are floating around and we writers gather with our butterfly nets and haul them in. At least, I’m saying there is no such place, if there is let me know, it will make things a whole lot easier.

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Why Bob Dylan shouldn’t have won the Nobel Prize for Literature

bob_dylan_in_november_1963First thing I want to say is I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan, have been for years, nobody enjoys a bit of Blonde and Blonde or Blood on the Tracks more than me. But I don’t believe he should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature – it’s not the right award for him.

Fans supporting his win are talking about what a wonderful poet he is and what fantastic lyrics he writes, and I couldn’t agree more. He writes and performs wonderful work.

And he has received countless relevant awards for that, endless Grammys, an Oscar, you name it, probably had to build a new wing on his mansion to keep them in. Plus he’s had his mouth stuffed with gold, and he’s been feted for all kinds of stuff he’s not much good at, he’s been lauded as an actor when he can’t act, as a painter when he can’t paint worth a damn.

Why give him this as well?

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Bookshop shenanigans

10421449_674248686040606_4388219743124469781_nI was in a branch of Waterstones the other day, which is the big bookshop chain in the UK, and I noticed that, where the face-out copy of J.K Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy should have been something else had appeared.

Another book was sitting there, taking the glory, and, to make things worse, it was a pretty shoddy looking book. It was skinny, barely more than a pamphlet, and it had a dull maroon cover with a white line drawing on the front. It reminded me of school text books from the 1970s. How could this cuckoo in the nest have got there? Well, I’m not Raymond Chandler, I wasn’t even in the detective fiction aisle, but I’m guessing we need look no further than the author of the ‘misplaced’ book.

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Thinking of writing fiction for a living? Think again.

A wise old rocker once said: “There are only two types of money to be made in rock and roll, less than you might think and more than you can possibly imagine.”

US_Dollar_banknotesThere are not many ways in which writing is like rock and roll, but this is one.

It was recently suggested that authors effectively live in a third world economy because, like such economies, the wealth is pooled at the very top of the pile and there is no middle class.

You are either very rich or very poor as an author and the poor outnumber the rich at about the same sky-high rates that the dead outnumber the living.

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Man out of time

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Newspaper printing, photo: Sunderland Echo

Sometimes I feel I was born in the wrong century – not in terms of technology, (I like iPhones and I’m looking forward to a car which drives itself) but professionally. I’m a man out of time.

I spent years as a print journalist and then newspapers suddenly and unexpectedly imploded into a puff of dust. When I started as a reporter, and even later as a news editor and editor, it was a reasonable profession akin to others such as teaching in its pay and prospects. These days it seems a dying trade, it’s a children’s crusade and those lured into it often end up desperate either to hang on or to get out. I’ve moved into PR now, there’s plenty of life in that thankfully!

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Should authors be paid for festivals?

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Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literature Festival. Photograph by Adrian Hon

Lots of debate this week as to whether authors should be paid for their appearances at literary festivals.

It’s come about because acclaimed author Philip Pullman took the principled decision to step down from his role as Patron of the Oxford Literature Festival over its failure to pay authors for appearances. Here’s the full story on that in the Bookseller

My view, for what it’s worth, is a big cheer for Pullman and a big pantomime boo for the Oxford festival. I can’t make the basic point better than Pullman did himself. The Oxford festival isn’t some new event, it’s well established. And it pays everybody else involved in the thing. It pays for the marquees it uses, the electricity, the catering, the drinks receptions. It pays salaries to administrators, and publicists and to the people who design and print the programmes.

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The worst book I ever read

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Photo by Infrogmation

I don’t read that many bad books, I take no pleasure in them. People sometimes talk about how they are going to gorge on book-junk as though a bad novel is a messy burger and there is a special joy to be gained from swallowing it. Not me.

I like many kinds of fiction and there are great writers in any genre, but I would rather seek out the glittering best of any given type rather than read that which is merely mediocre or indeed plain awful. So I do some research, take advice from people whose taste I trust. Hence I read very few bad books.

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Are story-tellers born not made?

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© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been reading The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, the case notes of the recently departed neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks. It’s a fascinating book and deeply humane, dealing with the amazing curve balls our complex brains can throw at us when they go wrong.

It’s also very well written by someone who was clearly a great story-teller as well as a great scientist.

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