Back To Work

The Goldfinch

Actually, this summer has been busier than I expected workwise. But I did have very lovely breaks in Stockholm, Berlin, and the Isle of Wight, and I did get some good reading done, and also adored Orange Is The New Black. And yay, we had sun! Decent summer weather was gratefully received.

Going back to my last post, my reading highlight must have been Donna Tartt’s new novel The Goldfinch, which is FANTASTIC. Maybe I’ll say something about its many wondrous wonders anon, but it’s one of those books where (probably) nothing should be known in advance, so duck the reviews and just get hold of a copy (coming to a bookstore near you in October, and yes, I’m very grateful for friends in high – and lowly – places in publishers, especially when they have access to very desirable advance reading copies). The Goldfinch was for me one of those (increasingly rare) experiences that was really all about the pleasure of reading. I cleared the decks of work and television and friends, and really made time for this great fat book (771 pages), and I finished it in the garden one sunny Friday morning, and the ending made me cry. That pretty little bird, that sweet little bird. I just got teary looking at the end again.

Tomorrow I’m off to the Writers’ Workshop’s Festival of Writing in York. I’m finally catching my breath after typing up notes for thirty one-on-one book doctor sessions, and I’m just here procrastinating before I finish handouts for the workshops on Editing For Writers and How To Write A Sentence. I’m also running a mini-course on the Four Elements of Creativity (woo woo, a bit hippie there, bring on the patchouli) and taking part in a panel on fantasy and science fiction.

And if you’re reading this while thinking about getting feedback from myself or anyone else at York (or most anywhere else, for that matter), don’t be anxious! (Not that you are, of course. But some people can be, especially if they’ve not attended such an event before.) The point of giving and getting feedback in such contexts is finding ways to improve the writing. Some people get nice strokes to the ego too, and sometimes even agents and book deals. But for most people such rewards are further down the line. Usually we’ll be having discussions like: This has a lot of this, but maybe not much of that. Or: This works well, so why don’t you do more of it, or let it stand out more clearly. Or:┬áHave you maybe thought of trying this? Or: Why did you do that? Or: Concrete and specific details, please. Or: Don’t forget to paginate your manuscript. Or: Publishers might HATE this, but do it anyway, because much of the time they don’t know what the hell they’re doing (only kidding – maybe …). So: it’s a dialogue, and it’s pretty relaxed, and intended most of all to be helpful.

And beyond your book doctor sessions and the workshops and keynote speeches and literary competitions that are intended to give you professional insights and fire you with inspiration, you’ll be enjoying the company of writers and readers – and after all, good editors and agents are simply good readers, so they are included there too. It’s likely that there’ll be more work to do, after the weekend, but something that can come immediately is the forming of new friendships with like-minded booklovers, and they will be there in droves.

I’ll report back next week, when regular blog service will resume. Not sure I’ll be doing Friday Writing Experiments, or even posting weekly, but I’ll make regular-ish posts of some sort or other.


Summer Hiatus: R&R (Reading and Refreshment)

Summer is here. Ah! There’s nothing quite like the feel of warm sun on your face at last.

I’m unplugging a bit for the coming months. The writing experiments are on hiatus until the autumn. But over the summer you might like to do some active reading. Maybe put your writing to one side for now, and use this as the chance to explore your genre. Look out bestsellers in your field, and maybe read some of the classics too. Read far and wide too: read works in other genres, maybe finding examples of things you can bring across to your own work. Read like a writer (Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose might be helpful for this), and understand what makes the writing tick. Soak up these books, and free yourself of thinking about your own work; you’ll return to it the stronger later on, and it’s likely that good ideas will emerge for you anyway.

Good writing can’t be rushed, but needs to percolate. Slow down. (If you are one of those restless types, just console yourself that summers are quiet in publishing anyway.) Okay, I’m lazy, but trying too hard can make writing feel as if it’s, um, trying too hard, and what’s probably more important is possessing ease: an ease of voice, a natural balance in the writing. Perhaps set a vague long-term goal, if you really have to, but meanwhile rest in the moment and let your sensibility grow through becoming a better reader, a reader more useful to your own writing.

Most of all, have fun. Don’t task yourself too hard: no To Do lists of books you must read, but simply a stack on the bedside table to dip into, or on standby on your ereader. (Yes, relaxing can be the hardest task of all for some people.)

And beyond that, take a break from some of the noise (as well as creating it?). A holiday from Facebook? A little less Twitter? Yes, you know it makes sense. (Do 24% of British women really check their pages at least ten times a day, as I read this morning? I think I used to be a British woman. Maybe two British women, even three.) We don’t need Likes this summer. Just licks of a nice ice lolly, time with friends and family, trips to magical places, and good food and good books.

My own summer reading recommendations include the novel The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. It’s one of those books that really makes me aware of how much I love great American writers writing great American stories. It has a brilliant first chapter that establishes everything we need to know about the characters, setting, and dramatic situation that will lead us into a compelling story. (When you’re ready to submit your own work to an agent or publisher, read that first chapter and ask yourself if you’re close to achieving what’s accomplished there; if you can say yes, you must be in with a chance.)

And if you’ve not yet read George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s about time. Perfect summer reading.

Enjoy the summer!