Friday 29 January 2010

'Literary' fiction

I was reading a piece today by P D James in which she asks the question: what defines a literary novel? She doesn't have the answer, but I've always found this an interesting question. Is it one of those things you recognise when you see it? Or is it more specific? Is the Booker prize (for example) limited to writers of literary fiction, or does winning the Booker make them so? The Life of Pi won the Booker, but while I loved it, I would never describe it as a literary novel. There are Booker winners which I haven't especially enjoyed, but have recognised as being literary fiction. The well-known 19th century novelists all seem to be considered to be literary (Austen, Dickens, Gaskell, George Elliot, the Brontes etc). Genre novels are rarely considered to be literary; why not? Blockbusting best-sellers never seem to be literary (or is it that literary novels are never blockbusting best-sellers?). Any thoughts?

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Thoughts on fiction

I have recently come to realise that a disproportionate amount of my time is taken up with fiction in one form or another, and I wonder whether this is healthy, living as I do in the real world. I write fiction, I spend a lot of my spare time reading it, and am in danger of becoming addicted to DVDs of films (more fiction). I haven't worked out the percentage of my time taken up by fiction, nor shall I, as I'm rather afraid of what the answer might be.

Fiction is something which is so built into our culture (and most others), that it's difficult to imagine life without it, but why are we so attracted to something which is, by definition, untrue? And although this may seem an obvious question, what is the real attraction? For me, I don't think it's escapism (unless life is being particularly difficult), and there are other things I could and ought to do with my time. I read non-fiction as well, but the pull of a good novel is hard to resist.

Thursday 14 January 2010


I have just finished one of the best books I have read in a long time; Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan. It's a stunning first novel - the kind of book that makes me wonder why I bother trying to write at all. In some ways, it's not unlike Anne's Rachel Dupree. If anyone reading this hasn't come across it, do. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Friday 8 January 2010


Here it is at last - the paperback cover design for The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets. I've waited a long time for this (the hardback came out in August 2008, and the paperback isn't due out until May 7th.) but I think it's lovely. I just hope the punters (not to mention hard-to-please W H Smiths) like it too!

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Literary prizes

So Colm Toibin has won the Costa fiction prize for his novel Brooklynn. This interests me as I read it recently, and it made so little impression on me that when I was given it for Christmas, I was delighted to have it, was looking forward to reading it, and then remembered that I'd already read it. I am bemused at the success of what I have heard described by critics as a 'slight book', for that is (for me) what it is. Well-written, certainly; atmospheric, yes; but with a plot which barely registered in my mind. The Sea by John Banville (Booker Prize winner) had the same effect on me. Both these novels are quite short, but both are, I think, short on plot. I don't need a rip-roaring story every time, but I do like a book which grips me, with characters I really care about.

Has anyone else read Brooklynn, and if so, what did you think? Am I missing something?

Sunday 3 January 2010

New Year Resolutions

These should probably be private, but they seem more set in stone if I write them here.
1. Write every day. Not just blogging or replying to emails, but the WIP. Even if what I write is dreadful. Especially if what I write is dreadful.
2. Write to my death row prisoner strictly every fortnight. I more or less do this anyway, but it sometimes gets left for three weeks. It's surprisingly difficult to think of things to write about, as I want to cheer him up, but not sound too jolly. Christmas is difficult. He lives on reclaimed turkey meat all the time, so turkey is a no-no, as are merry family gatherings (his family rarely visit him). So I try to write about interesting things but nothing which underlines the fact that I'm free and he isn't. He in his turn writes very funny letters, though they're a bit short on information.
3. Do one horrible job a week. These are mounting up as they are always being put off, and include things like mucking out the room which would be a garden shed if we had room for one, or a utility room if we had room for one of those. There is a washing machine, but other things get dumped in it as well, spiders live there, old bicycles, a duvet (not sure why), cardboard boxes which might come in useful (but never do), plastic flower pots etc. etc. Oh - and lots of spanners (we never ever use spanners).
4. Stop wasting time on the internet.
5. Cut down on alcohol.
6. Keep a notebook for good ideas. I had a brilliant idea yesterday - the kind you know you can't possibly forget, because it's so brilliant - and I've forgotten it. It's a bit like those times when you forget what you were going to say; the more I can't remember it, the more wonderful I know it must have been. And now I'm sure the WIP will shrivel and die without it.

There were other resolutions, but I can't remember what they were, which is not a good start. Maybe they'll come back to me...