Are book readers a dying breed?

When did you last see someone reading a book? Not someone you know, just someone you happened to pass who was reading.

Of course, I know it’s not a spectator sport, there wasn’t some point in history where the public used to gather in concert halls or football stadiums and hold mass book reading ceremonies. It’s always been a private activity, which takes place behind closed doors in small groups or in isolation, almost as though there is something shameful about it.

But I do feel that these days I just don’t see people reading books as much as I used to.

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Reviews for sale

Sigh – I came across a new low recently in the rapidly evolving book world – reviews for sale.

A random Twitter follower sent me a direct message asking if she might review one of my books on her blog. I didn’t know her, but then I have close to 27,000 Twitter followers so that’s not unusual. I checked out her book blog, it seemed superficially legit – there were reviews on there, it seemed to be regularly updated.

She didn’t use her name, just a pseudonym concerning her hair colour, but that didn’t seem too fishy – not everyone wants to be a public face. She described herself as a military wife, living somewhere in the USA, with a young family.

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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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Why we write

write-2When people ask me why I write fiction, as sometimes they do, I’m kind of at a loss. So full of words usually I find I have none.

So I have a stock response which is to say that I don’t know why I write except that I feel compelled to. I don’t necessarily enjoy writing so much as I find I need to do it, because it’s part of me.

So that deflects the question but doesn’t really answer it.

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Why we need writers like Caroline Aherne

UK_Outline_and_Flag.svgI was watching an old repeat on TV recently of a sitcom called The Royle Family. It was being shown because its creator, Caroline Aherne, died recently from cancer, tragically young at 52.

Neither Caroline nor her work will mean a great deal to people outside the UK I don’t suppose but here for a while, in the nineties and noughties, she was something of a force of nature and brought a type of writing to television that we don’t really see any more and that, right at the moment, we really need.

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Five tips to win short story competitions

imageI was delighted this week to give a talk at the Evesham Festival of Words in the UK  about writing to win short story competitions. I won a big one in the UK some years ago called the Bridport Prize and more recently I have also become a judge for story competitions.

So I was asked for my suggestions about what a writer can do to improve their chances of winning these big writing contests.

I offered five simple tips I think can put people on the right track towards doing well in these competitions. During the conversation we all had after my talk a fellow writer added an important bonus tip – which is to seek out the competition anthologies which publish the winning stories in these competitions and read them, so getting an important insight into what it takes to win.

Here are my original five tips:

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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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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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