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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: The Guardian, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 13 of 13
1. Fifty Shades of Safe - Anna Wilson

In The Guardian last weekend Matt Haig commented on the publishing industry's obsession with jumping on bandwagons. I am not going to repeat everything he said, but one phrase in particular sent a chill of recognition through me and so prompted me to write this post. He said that we are heading towards a situation where 'the once kaleidoscopic book world risks becoming fifty shades of safe'.

Those words could so easily apply to the majority of books bearing my name, I thought. After all, I am the woman who has 'churned out' (as some would see it) fourteen animal books, and my publisher now wants more of the same. Or, failing that, the Next Big Thing, which frankly is rather an Unknown Unknown, so what I am supposed to do about that?

Thing is, I am not sure I want to try and second-guess the market; a fickle thing at the best of times. I am also clear I do not want to write more of the same, just as I am not convinced that readers necessarily want to read more of the same.

I know I am not alone as a writer in feeling that the industry seems to have changed in the blink of an eye. So much has happened so fast in the way that books are sold in to retailers and sold on to the public that it was bound to affect writers and the way that publishers deal with us. However, I suppose I was not prepared for the current approach which seems very much to be along the lines of 'books as product'. I am naive, I guess. The minute that supermarkets were in on the game it was unlikely that books would be perceived to be anything other than 'product'. If you are Mr Tesco and you are looking at what books to stock, you are only interested in how the last title from a particular author performed. In other words, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears went into your new novel, no matter how good it is, how exciting, how fresh, no matter how you have performed over a number of years in the market, if your last title did not shift a respectable number of units, you will not find your name on the shelves next time around. And you will certainly not have room to develop as a writer because the market views books much as it views tins of beans - if they taste good and sell well as they are, why change them?

Except that books are not tins of beans - we all know that.

It probably sounds as though I don't understand the publishers' point of view. I do. Things have changed for them, too, obviously. Faced with the demands of the Mr Tescos of this world, 'building an author' is sadly a luxury most publishers cannot now afford, so I can hardly blame them for wanting to make money out of 'fifty shades of safe'.

However, I wanted to write this post to see how others feel. Are you expected to come up with 'the next you', i.e. more of the same, reliable writing that conveniently places you where marketing and sales people are confident of how to pitch you in their publishing plan? Or are you throwing caution to the wind and using this climate to your advantage, to write what you really want to write, oblivious to the increasingly bland demands of the marketeers, and sending it out with all fingers and toes crossed? Is this the way forward: to write what we really want and hope it gets into the hands of readers? Or is this professional suicide?

I have decided to take the risk: to write a couple of books that have been swilling around in the back of my mind for a while, but which I have not had the confidence to develop. It may all end in a damp squib of disappointment and rejection. But I cannot sit around waiting for the crystal ball of the market place to make up its mind which tin of beans is going to be the next big thing. And I certainly do not want to be stocked on the shelves with 'fifty shades of safe'.

(with apologies to Matt Haig for nicking his excellent phrase)

Anna Wilson
www.annawilson.co.uk
www.acwilsonwriter.wordpress.com

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2. In Praise of the Pram in the Hall – Anna Wilson

Last Thursday, a fellow Bath author, Clare Furniss, launched her first novel for teens, The Year of the Rat, at Mr B’s. The little shop was heaving with friends, family and well-wishers as Clare talked about how she had come to write the book, before reading a tantalizing extract, which now has me itching to read my copy.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the novel as it has already received high praise, and was also announced as one of Radio 2’s Book Club choices the very day of the launch.

Almost more remarkable, some might comment, is the fact that Clare wrote this book whilst looking after two pre-school children. Almost as if to illustrate the enormity of this task, her two young sons were at Mr B’s with her, clambering over her while she spoke, evidently keen to share the limelight. Clare did a fantastic job in delivering a speech while encumbered in this way, and it led her to make a passing comment on ‘the pram in the hall’; a phrase which, more often than not, is used negatively as a metaphor for how motherhood can prevent women from reaching their full potential in their careers. However, as Clare said, for her, ‘the pram in the hall’ actively helped her to achieve her dream of writing a novel, as it meant she had to concentrate her efforts into the small amount of free time she had available.

‘I worked while the boys were sleeping, or while my parents took them off me for short periods; I wrote late into the night – I took any and every opportunity I could to sit and write,’ she said.

This resonated strongly with me, for I share Clare’s conviction that if it were not for that pram in the hall, I too would not have found the drive necessary to get on with it and become a writer.

When my son was born and my daughter was just two years old, my husband’s career took us to France. I had been working in London and had to give up my job to go with him. I found myself thinking I should use my enforced career break to finally do something about being the writer I knew, deep down, I had always wanted to be.

It was tough. I was exhausted a lot of the time and had no friends or family to call on. My husband worked long hours and often travelled, leaving me with the kids for days and nights at a time. Although my daughter went to a little garderie des enfants a couple of times a week, I still had a newborn baby to look after. 

I decided that the only way to get anything done was to use the children’s rest times to my advantage. Luckily my son was a good sleeper, so while his sister was out, I would feed him, put him in his car seat and rock it gently with my foot while I sat at my computer. He would eventually drop off to sleep while I tapped away at the keyboard.

Recently Maggie O’Farrellwrote an article in the Guardian on how she combines motherhood with her working day:

‘How to write looking after a very young baby: get a sling . . . Walk to your desk, averting your eyes from the heaps of laundry on the stairs, the drifts of cat hair on the carpets, the flotsam of toys in every doorway . . . Do not check your email, do not click on your favourites . . . do not be tempted to see how your eBay auctions are faring: go to work, go directly to work . . . Write. The clickety-clackety of the keyboard will soothe [the baby] and you. Write without looking back, write without rereading . . . Write until you feel her twisting her head from side to side, until you lift her out and into your arms. You might be in the middle of a sentence, but no matter. Type “HERE” in capitals and then push yourself away from the desk, carrying her out of the room, shutting the door until next time.’

I am sure many mothers will recognize this description of making the most of the free time they can grab for themselves. O’Farrell’s experience mirrors my own: this is pretty much how I wrote my first picture book, my first short stories and it is how I began to see myself as a writer rather than a mother taking a break from work. The added bonus of motherhood was that it actively contributed to my writing life: I was seeing the world through my children’s eyes on a daily basis, and realizing that was how I wanted to write it.

The kids are teens now, so I have a lot more time to myself than I did when they were babies. The demands are different and sometimes writing time is still broken up, particularly in the school holidays when I am asked to drive them here and there and everywhere. And of course I still have to walk past the laundry, the drifts of cat hair, the piles of washing up . . .

It hasn’t always been an easy ride, mixing writing with motherhood, and I am certain I would not want to go back to those sleep-deprived days, those snatched half hours of writing time interspersed with breast-feeding, nappy-changing and Lego-building. Yet there is no doubt that having only tiny amounts of time to write did focus the mind and keep me keen, not to mention giving me valuable material. I agree with Clare Furniss: in the end, it was the pram in the hall that set me on the road to being the writer I had always wanted to be.

So if you want to write, but think, ‘I haven't got the time’, draw strength from the fact that it can be done, how ever little time you have. I have learnt that one concentrated hour (or even thirty minutes) is a golden opportunity, not to be wasted; and all thanks to the pram in the hall.

Anna Wilson

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3. It's That Man Again... Celia Rees


Lucy Coats has already blogged (Wednesday, 9th Feb) about the remarks that Martin Amis made when he was interviewed by Sebastian Faulks for the BBC 2 programme, Faulks on Fiction. Her blog has attracted 60 comments and the outrage felt has resonated as far as the national press and the Huffington Post. Martin Amis, as the Guardian on Saturday pointed out, is no stranger to controversy.

I, too, saw the programme and after the first dropping of the jaw, I thought that he actually had a point. Just in case anybody doesn't know, or does not want to scroll down the page and see his words in purple 18 point type, he said:

'People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say: "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book."'

So far, so insulting. He then went on to say:

'The idea of being conscious of who you are directing the story to is anathema to me because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.'

Once I heard that, I could see where he was coming from. I did not think he was saying 'all children's writers have half a brain', that would be false logic. He was just explaining his own writing stance and he is entitled to do that. He writes literary fiction for adults, as such he sees it as his task to write to the top of his register and would not, could not accept any restraints on that.

The disregard for the reader that Amis expresses is just not possible when one is writing for children. Children's writers, and I include writers of Young Adult fiction, are ALWAYS aware of what their readers will and will not tolerate, or will or will not understand. Anyone who denies this is being disingenuous. Quite apart from the target readers themselves, there are other agencies involved. We have to worry about things that would not trouble writers of adult fiction in the least - see Leslie Wilson's blog below. How many writers for adults would feel the need to explain and justify their use of swear words or the incidence of sex in a novel? How much we take these factors into consideration, how much we allow them to limit our fiction, is up to us, but those limitations are there. We do not use our full palate, as Patrick Ness would say. How can we? We have to write at a lower register because we are adults and our readers are children.

There are other pressures on us, too. Pressures that have nothing to do with our writing but everything to do with the market place. In a squeezed market, there is more and more demand from publishers for novels that will sell. Books that fit into an obvious, popular genre - action, dark romance, whatever. A book that is perceived as 'too literary' is seen as problematic. The equivalent of the literary novel is a rare beast, and becoming more endangered by the minute. If one or two do sneak through, they usually turn out to have been written for adults in the first place and tweaked a bit in a bid to capture that holy grail, the crossover market.

In an interview in the Observer Review (13th February, 2011)) Nicole Krauss attests that the comment she heard most frequently on a U.S. book tour for her novel, The History of Love, was: 'this book is difficult'. Krauss worries that 'we are moving towards the end of effort'. Readers don't want to have to think too hard, it appears, whatever their age. That is the spectre that frightens me. In the hope of keeping that at bay, I actually want Martin Amis to write to the limit

15 Comments on It's That Man Again... Celia Rees, last added: 2/15/2011
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4. historical fiction as a way of living now

These brilliant words on historical fiction—what it should do, why it matters—come by way of Andrew Miller, by way of the Guardian, by way of Shelf Awareness.  In all that I write that looks back, I am, like Miller, looking at now.  He says it better than I ever could:

As a boy I understood perfectly that history is not something apart from us, sealed off. It is in our blood, our music, our language, the buildings we pass on the way to work. And at its best, historical fiction is never a turning away from the Now but one of the ways in which our experience of the contemporary is revived. Janus-like, such books look both to the past and to the present, and there is no need to laboriously draw out the parallels for they suggest themselves, inevitably and plentifully.

1 Comments on historical fiction as a way of living now, last added: 6/30/2011
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5. From the Guardian

The Guardian - The British newspaper, not the defunct TV series - has offered us all a joyful online Advent Calendar centered on books for children and teens.  These are British books, mind, but a whole lot of those have captured the American readers' attention - Harry Potter, for instance.

The selection for Dec. 2 is a slide show about Raymond Briggs.
Click here and then bookmark the page so you can check back every day for quizzes and author interviews and other fun for us older fans of kids' lit.

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6. A Very Short Film competition

The Very Short Film competition was launched in partnership with The Guardian in October 2012. The longlisted entries are now available for the public vote which will produce four finalists. After a live final in March, the winner will receive £9000 towards their university education.

By Chloe Foster


After more than three months of students carefully planning and creating their entries, the Very Short Film competition has closed and the longlisted submissions have been announced.

The competition asked entrants to create a short film which would inform and inspire us. Students were free to base their entry on any subject they were passionate about. There was just one rule: films could be no longer than 60 seconds in length.

We certainly had many who managed to do this. The standard of films was impressive. How were we to whittle down the entries and choose just 12 for the longlist?

We received a real range of films from a variety of ages, characters and subjects — everything from scuba diving to the economic state of the housing market. It was great to see a mixture of academic subjects and topics of personal interest.

It must be said that the quality of the filmmaking itself was very high in some entries. However not all of these could be put through to the longlist; although artistic and clever, they didn’t inform us in the way our criteria specified.

When choosing the longlisted entries, judges looked for students who were clearly on top of their subject. We were most impressed by films that conveyed a topic’s key information in a concise way, were delivered with passion and verve, and left us wanting to find out more. By the end of our selection process, we felt that each of the films had taught us something new or made us think about a subject in a way we hadn’t before.

The sheer amount of information filmmakers managed to convey was astounding. As the Very Short Introductions editor Andrea Keegan says: “I thought condensing a large topic into 35,000 words, as we do in the Very Short Introductions books was difficult enough, but I think that this challenge was even harder. I was very impressed with the quality and variety of videos which were submitted.

“Ranging from artistic to zany, I learned a lot, and had lots of fun watching them. The longlist represents both a wide range of subjects — from the history of film to quantum locking — and a huge range in the approaches taken to get the subjects across in just one minute.”

We hope the entrants enjoyed thinking about and creating their films as much as we enjoyed watching them. We asked a few of the longlisted students what they made of the experience. Mahshad Torkan, studying at the London School of Film, tackled the political power of film: “I am very thankful for this amazing opportunity that has allowed me to reflect my values and beliefs and share my dreams with other people.  I believe that the future is not something we enter, the future is something we create.”

Maia Krall Fry is reading geology at St Andrews: “It seemed highly important to discuss a topic that has really captured my curiosity and sense of adventure. I strongly believe that knowledge of the history of the earth should be accessible to everyone.”

Matt Burnett, who is studying for an MSc in biological and bioprocess engineering at Sheffield, used his film to explore the challenges of creating cost-effective therapeutic drugs: “I felt that in a minute it would be very hard to explain my research in enough detail just using speech, and it would be difficult to demonstrate or act out. I simplify difficult concepts for myself by drawing diagrams, often spending a lot of time on them. For me it is the most enjoyable part of learning, and so I thought it would be fun to draw an animated video. If I get the chance to do it again I think I’d use lots of colours.”

So, what are you waiting for? Take a look at the 12 films and pick your favourite of these amazingly creative and intelligent entries.

Chloe Foster is from the Very Short Introductions team at Oxford University Press. This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk.

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7. I just hope they are selling those books in other places besides bookstores

It's probably a futile hope, but I just hope books are selling in other places besides bookstores. Because PW reports that while retail sales overall grew 4% through June, bookstore sales have dropped a total of 4.6% in the same time period.

My gut says people are spending more time on the Internet, and that has to come from someplace.

What do you think?



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8. Friday Fun: Meeting Quentin Blake















"Quentin Blake is one of Britain's most famous children's illustrators, with over 300 books published and still working into his 70s. Hogarth Brown is a young artist with no books (so far) but a passion for the artist he has never met ... until now."


A young illustrator from The Guardian gets to meet Quentin Blake. I like the part where Blake comments-- "...What's good is that you actually draw things."

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9. Top 10 Lists

Just popping in to let you know the Guardian has published a slew of fun top 10 lists:

ETA:
Enjoy!

6 Comments on Top 10 Lists, last added: 7/30/2008
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10. Those Brits crack me up

I stumbled upon the following "advert" for a DVD on The Guardian's website. (Where you can also buy a "space-saving water butt." See what I mean? Those guys across the pond are a riot!):

New restored BFI version of 'Night Mail' with lots of extras for only £12.99.

You can buy 'Night Mail' on DVD, the critically acclaimed film which remains one of the most popular and instantly recognised films in British film history. (That's my boldfacing. Such high praise! Let's see what it's about...)

An account of the operation of the Postal Special - the Royal Mail train delivery service - it shows the various stages and procedures of that operation, through mail collection to sorting. (I'm all a-flutter!)

As the train nears its destination we see the best-known sequence, in which WH Auden's spoken verse and Benjamin Britten's music are combined over a montage of racing train wheels
(Well, no wonder. A montage of racing train wheels. With a literary connection, no less.)

How can you not love a country that's sort of one big nudge in the ribs? I mean, with the left-hand driving and all, and their funny words like "water butt."

Which reminds me. I need to go order mine...



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11. The Man Booker prize and its book publishing contemporaries are keeping book publishers and book literature afloat

The nights are drawing in and it’s book prize season – Nobel, Man Booker et al. This is the moment in the year, as the Flat draws to a close and as the National Hunt book publishing season gets into full swing, when literature becomes a horse race. That just might be the good news. John Steinbeck once observed that “the profession of book publishing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business”.

Many people who care about books are not so blithe. They worry that the turf accountants of our culture (tipsters who know the price of everything but the value of nothing) are reducing art to a crude cash value to publish a book. That’s one consequence of the credit crunch.

Every bookie is quoting literary odds now: Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power and Unibet are all at it. I can see some sense in giving the betting on Peter Carey or Howard Jacobson – they’re on a book publishers shortlist – but the whole point of the Nobel prize is that its shortlist is confidential. It beats me how anyone could come up with starting prices for it. According to its website, the Swedish academy makes its choice based on submissions from “professors of literature, book publishers and language, former Nobel laureates” and members of similar bodies, the Académie Française for example. The Swedes usually get about 350 nominations, all secret. How on earth can any bookie make sense of that?

Yet, such is the power of the market, and the importance of the prize, in a prize-conscious culture, that before the announcement of the great Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa as the long-overdue winner for 2010, both Ladbrokes and Unibet were quoting odds of Les Murray (8/1), AS Byatt (18/1), Vaclav Havel (35/1) and even Bob Dylan (150/1).

Mad as this seems, it is no more improbable than the founding of an important literary prize by a would-be poet who happened to invent dynamite. Alfred Nobel published a verse tragedy, Nemesis, inspired by Shelley’s The Cenci, just before his death in 1896.

Man Booker also has its roots in trade. Britain’s premier book prize was initially sponsored by a food conglomerate and is now backed by a hedge fund, the Man Group.

At this year’s Booker banquet in the Guildhall, there will be an awkward moment when a middle-aged bloke in a suit rehearses the trading achievements of his company to the assembled literati, makes a segue to his commitment to the arts and sits down to polite, slightly mystified, applause.

At such moments, it is hard not to recall Dr Johnson’s definition of the patron: “Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery.”

Under the coalition, it’s back to the 18th century. According to some, this is the worst crisis in books since Paternoster Row was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940. To paraphrase Macaulay, contemporary writers sometimes know luxury, and often face penury, but they never know comfort. Writers and self-publishing artists in austerity Britain will be grateful to sponsors such as Man and Costa.

The future may be Orange, but it’s hardly bright. The Arts Council, the British Council and the BBC, to name three traditional patrons, all face outright government hostility or death by a thousand cuts.

In this climate, writers may have to take their lead from George Gissing’s indigent hero Jasper Milvain who, more than 100 years ago, declared in New Grub Street: “I am the literary man (of 1882)… I a

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12. Chile Miners’ rescue: Random House Book Publishers has already signed a book deal to publish Chilean Miners Rescue Story

The long ordeal of the 33 trapped Chilean miners is finally at an end – and the buzz about book deals and film rights to the men’s dramatic story has already begun.

The miners themselves are reported to have made a pact to collaborate on their own book, but in the UK the first book was signed up on Monday, before the rescue had even begun. Freelance journalist Jonathan Franklin, who has covered the dramatic story for the Guardian from day one, is to pen an account of the saga, provisionally titled 33 Men, for book publisher Transworld.

Franklin, who is an American but has lived in the Chile’s capital Santiago for 15 years, spoke about the book on his mobile phone from Chile, after 48 sleepless hours covering the emotional scenes as the miners emerged.

“This is one of the great rescue stories of all time,” he said, admitting he himself had wept as the first miners were released on Tuesday night. “It’s the reason we all want to be reporters: a remarkable story of the world coming together for a good reason. It taps into human altruism, the desire to work together, perseverance, faith that good things happen, never giving up.” The early chapters of the book, he said, were already written.

As a journalist, Franklin had had “a backstage pass to the whole thing. I was allowed to tape record the psychologist talking to the [trapped] men, I spent last night in the hospital talking to the [newly freed] miners.” He intends his book to reveal the characters of the miners themselves (“You could probably do a book on every one of them”) and reflect their black humour: one of the men played dead, for a joke, during the first 17 days spent in the collapsed mine without food, while another attempted phone sex with the nurse who was attending to him 700m above.

Transworld book publishers, a division of Random House, which bought 33 Men at last week’s Frankfurt Book Fair, said: “As far as I’m aware, Franklin is the only print and publishers journalist in the inner circle at the mine, party to a lot of the strategy and to the stories of the relatives at the top, the wives and girlfriends.” He added: “What I think is really interesting, apart from the drama of the story itself, is the miners’ lives in this isolated outpost in Chile, which is a bit like the Wild West. People seem to live by their own rules, and it’s a very rugged existence – tough people living in a tough place.”

The publication date for the book is still to be confirmed. “It’ll be sooner rather than later, but I don’t want Franklin to compromise the depth and breadth of the story by making it a rush job,” Scott-Kerr said.

Literary agent Annabel Merullo at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, who is handling the book, said it had also sold to France and Germany, with self publishing film interest from the US.

“It’s happened so quickly,” she said. “When the story broke, we talked about it at the agency and said, ‘Is there a book in it?’ We decided there only was if we could get someone really good to write it. Jonathan’s coverage was so much better than everyone else’s. He has incredible access at the mines and he’s covered the story from day one.”

13. McClelland & Stewart to Publish Michael Ondaatje’s New Novel

McClelland & Stewart Book Publisher (Fiction) and Executive Vice President Ellen Seligman announced Michael Ondaatje’s highly anticipated new novel, The Cat’s Table, will go on sale on August 30, 2011. It will be published in the fall in the US by Knopf and in the UK by Jonathan Cape.

“I am completely blown away by Michael Ondaatje’s stunning and original new novel,” says Seligman. “The Cat’s Table is a surprise and a sheer delight — a brilliantly told story, with unforgettable moments and characters the reader comes to care deeply about. It is perhaps Ondaatje’s most thrilling and moving novel to date.”

The Cat’s Table has received enthusiastic and exited responses as well from Ondaatje’s book publishers around the world including:

“The Cat’s Table is written with wisdom and poignancy, filled with the superlative storytelling we’ve come to expect from Michael Ondaatje. I was completely moved by the way he inhabits the voice of his narrator and conjures the innocence of childhood and the challenges of making one’s home in a strange land. The novel resonates on many levels.” – Sonny Mehta, Chairman and Editor in Chief, Knopf Publishing Group

“What a book it is! In my view, the best thing Ondaatje has done.” – Robin Robertson, Jonathan Cape UK

“It is so beautiful, the way it unfolds and becomes more and more complex and becomes many types of a novel — memoir, Bildungsroman, adventure novel and something like 1001 Nights…” – Anna Leube, Hanser, Germany

Michael Ondaatje is the author of four previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. His most recent novel Divisadero won the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award and was a finalist for the Giller Prize. The English Patient won the Booker Prize and was an Academy Award-winning film; Anil’s Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Ondaatje now lives in Toronto.

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