Reading and writing

imageI was reading at the Evesham Festival of Words last night – lots of fun. What’s an Evesham I hear you ask? It’s a small town in Worcestershire, semi near to where I live in the UK.

I enjoyed it. The whole thing it was delightful. It was held at a wonderful museum in a 14th century building called the Almonry in the town, which is one of those places which we tend to overlook in the UK but are genuinely ancient and overflowing with stories. These are buildings with low beams because people used to be shorter. Listen, I’m going to say, without bothering to check on Google, that this building is older than America. (White people America). It was doing its thing before McDonalds, imagine that.

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Should we be sexy in print or not?

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Steady on! How raunchy should you be in print?

I was chatting to a fellow writer on Facebook recently who asked my advice on her work. She’s writing a few different things on the way to her first published novel but one project is a type of romance novel and essentially, she wanted my view on how spicy she should make it.

She said: “I’m not sure how far to go with it because I could get a little graphic in that one if I wanted to. I just don’t know if I should keep it PG or not?”

Well my view is basically this – nobody can tell you as a writer what you are comfortable with when it comes to sexual content – it really is up to you.

But one or two things did come to mind:

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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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Defining moments and unfortunate trousers

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Lederhosen. Photo: Claude Truong-Ngoc

An old mate of mine, we shall call him George, for that is his name, once told me a story about his childhood. His family was a long way from wealthy and foreign holidays were not on the agenda, but his aunt once made a trip abroad to Austria and returned to Glasgow with a gift for George.

He opened his parcel it to find, to his horror, that it contained a pair of lederhosen. To his even greater horror, his mother made him wear them to school the next morning. He had been hoping to get through the day by keeping a low profile but it wasn’t to be as his form teacher dragged him up in front of the class and made him model his outlandish attire.

“Look everyone,” she said. “George is wearing genuine Tyrolean Lederhosen.”

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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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Writing Resolutions

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Sydney on New Year’s Eve. Photo by: Ashish Lohorung

I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions as a rule. For the usual reason that I tend not to keep them beyond about the third week in January. In fact, for the most part, I suspect that making a resolution in public is a good way to ensure it is doomed.

I read an article somewhere which suggested that psychologically you are more likely to achieve aims you keep private. The theory is that by expressing your intention to other people you assuage your need to achieve it to an extent and so weaken your resolve. So scientifically, making a public resolution is probably something of a schoolboy error.

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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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Accidental Agony Uncle

450px-AntonioCanova_PsycheRevivedByCupidsKissOne of the curious side-effects of the publication of my latest book has been that it’s made me an accidental agony uncle.

The Pick-Up Artist is what might be called a sex-comedy, though there isn’t really any sex in it. It’s a mostly light-hearted book about relationships, what the Americans call ‘dating’, which is a nice neat term which covers a multitude of sins.

I doubt there’s anyone less suited to the role of dishing out advice in this arena than me since I can’t remember the last time I dated, having been happily married for about a thousand years.

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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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Lit festivals – but where is the literature?

CEjWv8uWMAAtSW4Literature festivals seem to be increasingly popular in the UK – big ones attracting thousands of punters, little ones popping up like mushrooms.

Over the last few years, as an author with a couple of books out, I’ve appeared at both kinds – and the first thing I want to say is that I think they are a force for good. Anything which encourages people to cherish books is on the side of the angels in my view. And the ones I have attended have allowed me to flog a few copies of my own books – what author wouldn’t like that?

But something has struck me about literature festivals in this country which is that, increasingly, they don’t bother too much with literature.

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