Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Mark Thornton and selling to indies

Mark Thornton's seminar at the Society of Authors today was inspirational. His fundamental message to writers who want to persuade independent bookshops to stock their books was to think like a bookseller (not like a writer trying to persuade a bookseller to stock her book). And as soon as you start to think like that you begin to think how you would like to be approached, what you would like to know about the book you're being sold and why your bookshop is likely to be able to sell it. Brilliant, and so simple. And, of course, he filled our minds with hundreds of ideas and suggestions, which I shan't give away because they are his not mine. But he runs a one-day course on the subject, called Shelf Secrets, at Mostly Books in Abingdon (click on courses). Today that link doesn't list future courses, but in the handout Mark gave us today there were two dates: one on 19 August and one on 2 September. You can ring to reserve your place on 01235 525880. I have. Thank you, Mark.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Arvon Foundation and Mostly Books

One hundred years ago I went to Totleigh Barton on my first Arvon course. It was run by two writers, only one of whose names can I remember - David Benedictus (who was famous at the time for his first novel, The Fourth of June). But the thing about Arvon and the writers who teach on their courses is that they're inspirational. I wrote a scrap about the way a conversation about colours affects a blind woman. I can barely remember a thing about it now, except that David Benedictus thought it good and encouraged me. When you're just beginning to make marks on paper and you're feeling horrendously self-conscious about them, the smallest piece of encouragement works like a wellspring for years. Arvon's tutors have dug wellsprings for me since then and on the days when writing is proving more difficult than carving my initials in granite, I let the bucket down into one of those wells and drink.

And Mostly Books escaped the floods. Hurrah!

Monday, 23 July 2007

Selling a first novel, and writing

I've been thinking about Mostly Books ever since I typed 'sell my novel' into Google (it came up with 15,500,000 sites so I don't know now how I happened upon Mostly Books, but I am so glad I did). Because I discovered that Mark Thornton at Mostly Books runs a course which gently explains to writers how (and how not) to persuade a bookseller to stock a book. (I just missed the course he ran at the end of June, but he's coming to talk to the Society of Authors this week on the same subject so I shall be listening extremely carefully.) I sent him a - probably quite ridiculous - email suggesting that he stock SPEAKING of LOVE to which he, quite rightly, has never replied. I'm sure I made every mistake in the book(shop), so I'm looking forward to finding out what he suggests. (And, yes, just because a book is published - in my case by the wonderful indie publisher Beautiful Books - it doesn't mean that the writer can hand over responsibility for sales of her book. There's lots she can do.)

Anyway, today I'm thinking about Mostly Books because of the floods. The bookshop is in Abingdon and the waters are rising. According to Mostly Books's blog they're moving books from the lower shelves, so keep your fingers crossed for them.

And yes, I did write today. And I didn't start this blog until I had written. Hurrah! It was JB Priestley, I think, who when asked what he liked about writing, said, 'Having written.' He's right. It's a wonderful feeling, as long as you remain reasonably confident that what you've written is not one hundred miles in the opposite direction from the one you intended to write in; or at least that it remains so until the next time you pick up your pen/turn on your computer. I feel, though, a little as if I'm cheating because I am writing a short story which, until January, I had thought was a novel. But when I realised, as William Trevor said, that I had the 'art of the glimpse' in my hands and not the whole shebang I stopped writing the what-was-a-novel and, recently, I began turning it into the short story that it really is. This means I know what to leave out and the struggle of finding my material is (more or less) over.

I should be thankful. I know I should.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Thomas Keneally and the fear that haunts all writers

Did you hear Thomas Keneally this morning on Desert Island Discs? He was magnificent. He didn't mention MATs (multiple avoidance - of writing - techniques), but he talked about the most stultifying thing for a writer: FEAR. He said, I can't quote him exactly because you can't listen again to Desert Island Discs, but here's the sense of what he said:

The fear that haunts all writers is the fear that they can't write.

So that's what sends me into all my MAT-activity frenzies then. He also said that writing is a drug, a spirit to which writers are addicted. He said that real writers HAVE to write. And sometimes, he said, the writing does deliver on its spiritual promise. (It's true. I know that I'm a miserable old bag if I'm not writing, and I also know that sometimes my writing does reach what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls 'emotional truth'.)

Keneally was eloquent about subject matter too. He said that love across racial or spiritual divides makes for a good novel and that the best stories are those in which love flourishes where once there was hate. And, of course, that human imperfection is essential to the novel.

I agree. I agree. I agree. I just wish I could cut down on my MAT-activity-fuelled fear that I can't write. (The only way I know how to do that, by the way, is to write. There is no other cure.) Today my MAT-activity has consisted of putting on a load of washing that could have waited for more; making and then unmaking a bed (don't ask); looking at pages for the website for my first novel; eating; making cups of tea (Clive James, in North Face of Soho writes that if anyone could see him writing, they would see a man pointlessly making a cup of tea and then, in a desultory fashion, pointlessly changing his mind and making a cup of coffee. But I'm not drinking coffee at the moment); and then remembering that it's Sunday and I hardly ever write on a Sunday. (To give myself a day off from my MAT-activity, you understand.)

But Keneally was an inspiration. As is Adichie. So tomorrow it's back to the drawing board under which I shall find my writing boots, pull them on and get writing. I promise I will.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Speaking of sales figures

I have just discovered that my first novel Speaking of Love (published by the utterly wonderful Beautiful Books) has sold five copies in a week, in my local cafe, Il Molino, on Battersea Park Road.

These sales figures will not, self-evidently, make so much as a mizzle in the mugglemist of today's HP publication celebration, but to me they are reason for joyous celebration. It's difficult to get first novels into bookshops because bookshops find it difficult to make space for first novels unless they have been reviewed, and first novels tend not to get reviewed unless the author or the publisher are well-known. Beautiful Books are not yet well-known, although they surely will be, and I do not wish to be well-known for anything other than my writing (asituation), but perhaps Il Molino will gently spread the word from the lavender hills of Battersea, sweet-s(m)elling bookshops on the streets of London, so that the trail leads to bookshop booknoses in other towns and cities, perhaps even in Auld Reekie.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Book Quiz, literary blogs, life ...

I just did the Book Quiz (at Blue Pyramid) which I found on BooksPlease's blog (thank you) and I find I am this:

You're One Hundred Years of Solitude!

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Lonely and struggling, you've been around for a very long time. Conflict has filled most of your life and torn apart nearly everyone you know. Yet there is something majestic and even epic about your presence in the world. You love life all the more for having seen its decimation. After all, it takes a village.

Which probably explains a lot ... I was just thinking this morning that it's not what I do, but the mood that I do it in. It's not what I think (or feel) but the mood that I think (or feel) in. The thing is, which comes first? Obviously after the
Books Quiz result I am going to have to pay serious attention to the mood I find myself in to prevent epic devastation.

I'd planned to post about what it was like writing my first (epic? certainly in the number of years it took) novel this morning, but the best-laid plans ... . But I have been reading some lovely literary blogs this morning (a welcome relief from trying to grasp html which I find very slippery - see weird typefaces above) which I'm loving: dovegreyreader; and Stuck in a Book which I found at Susan Hill's Blog; and Bookmark My Heart which I found through So Many Books which, in turn, I found at the Guardian top 10 literary blogs. I'm feeling full, but deliciously so.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Life in my writing room

The walls are covered with quotations, this is one of my favourites: 'A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.' Thomas Mann. My head is always full of words but, this afternoon, they seem to be mixing with each other and making a grey sludge, rather than mixing with me and making black marks on white. So I'm avoiding writing the short story that I'm somewhere lost in the middle of, and posting my first blog instead.

The thing a writer learns the quickest (and probably knew even before she knew she was going to spend her life putting one word after another), is multiple avoidance techniques, or MATs. These, when listed end to end, would circle the universe at least once, but of course they are never listed, that would be too much like writing, they are simply done. (I never knew how much I liked staring through the window, for instance.) Posting a blog, you could argue, is a MAT, but it's not a true MAT because it requires me to put one word after another, even if in the wrong direction.

Anyone else out there suffering from an acute case of the MATs?