My blog

Sunday 8 November 2020

The doors may be shut and we can no longer wander the shelves of our bookshops and libraries, but there are still plenty of books easily available to carry us through the next few weeks.

Reviews and recommendations will be even more valuable in finding the right titles to suit our moods and circumstances - and will perhaps prompt us to think about some Christmas purchases.

If you listened to my item on BBC Radio Suffolk last week, you'll have heard my suggestions for a few gift books. These are aimed at children but which will appeal to all ages. You can take a look here, or listen to my chat with presenter Lesley Dolphin here. I'll be adding more titles in the next few days and weeks.

As you get ideas for book purchases, please do remember to use your local high street bookshop. This is such a difficult time for them to be closed and they're all trying their best to find ways to allow us to shop safely.

But perhaps you've read about the new online bookshop initiative this week? It's called bookshop.org and has proved very successful in the USA where it was launched by former booksellers keen to provide an alternative to the global reach of a certain internet supplier.

There are curated booklists to browse, drawn up by booksellers and reviewers and, for every purchase made through the site, independent bookshops receive a commission. You can read more about it in the Guardian article here. I've linked the reviews on my website so that you can purchase online if you wish (and I will receive a small commission for each purchase, with a further commission going to all independent bookshops). You can also search for titles through my page here. However, please note that it is still best to order direct from your local high street bookshop!

Sunday 1 November 2020

With the American presidential election and the start of another national lockdown, we've got a big week ahead.

There will be plenty on the television and in the newspapers for us to gen up on the details, but sometimes the headlines are all I want to take on board.

Last week, though, an article in 'The New European' newspaper provided a welcome distraction. While it was essentially just like everything else at the moment, acknowledging  how the virus is affecting our lives, it also provided humorous respite.

Charlie Connolly was writing about authors missing out on the opportunity to meet their readers. With 'real life' festivals, talks or book signings all cancelled, the writer's solitary existence has been exacerbated. But these events weren't without their pitfalls.

He recalls the book signings when no one turned up, for example, and his feelings when sitting alongside fellow authors with bigger followings. And there were also the misunderstandings.

Names are easy to get wrong, so his policy in writing the dedication was always to ask for the spelling. "I usually check even the simplest of names," he says, "which can leave people walking away thinking it weird that I can write a whole book, apparently without being able to spell 'Dave'."

He also recalls the story of Monica Dickens at a signing in Australia when she inscribed a book placed in front of her to 'Emma Chisett' - when the person was actually enquiring what the book cost.

It may be a while before there will be any more moments like these, but this article certainly caused me to chuckle and to think back with fondness on the occasions of our own in Woodbridge. Read his article here.

Sunday 25 October 2020

With the days getting shorter and the weather getting wilder, we can usually console ourselves with the thought of retreating, in front of a roaring fire, tea and toast to hand as we lose ourselves in another good book.

We're fortunate to have so many brilliant books so easily accessible and lots of prizes and media programmes and clubs suggesting new titles to try.

Sometimes, though, all this choice brings another problem - there just isn't enough time to read all these great books.

There are different ways of approaching this 'problem'.

One well known publisher recently sent out an email to its readers giving 'tips' on how to conquer the pile of books you've accumulated but haven't yet read - make sure they're all in one place so that you can't escape the enormity of the task, it says, or 'curate' the pile by season/subject/topicality/genre, or set a 'goal' to read at least 50 pages a day. And so the 'advice' continues. Admittedly this was compiled from comments by book prize judges (you can take a look here). But doesn't this begin to sound like a chore?!

I remember reading about the writer David Nicholls who felt he was missing out on many great books, so set his alarm an hour earlier in the morning and, before he got on with his day, he would spend that time reading. It became something rather special.

This weekend, of course, we gained 'an extra hour' with the clocks going back, so this might be an opportunity to start a new habit, dedicating time each day to escape the winter months with some choice reading.

We can remember, though, that sometimes it's good just to take things more slowly, to pause and to consider rather than rush on to the next new thing. So, in a couple of weeks, we're going to have a meeting to discuss our favourite titles - the books we return to time and again, those which have stayed with us or the books we'd like to pass on. If you'd like to join in, reply to this email with the book you'd like to nominate and I'll be sending out more details next time.

Of course tomorrow evening we'll be talking about this month's book group title, 'The Forest of Wool and Steel', a gentle, slow and thoughtful read. Let me know if you'd like the details for joining in - everyone's welcome!

Finally, though - did you catch the artist Maggi Hambling on BBC 2 last night? There was a fabulous documentary celebrating her career, as she marks her 75th birthday. Her approach to her work and her use of time is hugely inspiring and entertaining. Take a look at the programme here, or my interview with Maggi here. And her visit to Woodbridge here.

Sunday 18 October 2020

When I meet or listen to authors I'm always interested to find out about the mechanics of how they write - not just the inspiration, but the process, motivation and discipline.

The biography of the hugely successful thriller writer, Lee Child, published this month, is therefore an astonishing and fascinating read, detailing as it does his meticulous and almost scientific approach.

He started writing when he lost his fulfilling and lucrative job in television in his early 40s. Recognising novels as 'the purest form of entertainment' he resolved to become not just a writer, but a bestselling writer.

Approaching that first book, he listed his calculations on the ideal number of words per line, lines per page, pages per chapter and chapters in the book to achieve the best storytelling momentum to gather and appeal to the most readers. Sentences would be sparse and clipped and the narrative would read as if there was a voice in your head telling you the story.

He had his audience in mind throughout, and worked hard to appeal to a mosaic of different types of readers.

"If you write for a large audience, it's perceived as being easier than writing for a small audience," he says. But avid readers are forgiving and will try anything. People who hardly read at all might never pick up a book again if they have a bad experience. He says the greatest compliment he can receive in a booksigning is when someone tells him they loved his book, because they finished it.

The biography is called 'The Reacher Guy', after Jack Reacher, the hero of Child's 25 books (each of which he began to write on the anniversary of losing his tv job). It has been released as Lee Child has declared his retirement from writing any further novels, having sold 100 million copies worldwide, achieving a personal wealth believed to be $50m. You can read more about the book below.

For a quick fix of author insight, though, why not take a look at what some of our favourite writers are reading at the moment. Each week, the Browsers newsletter is including a message from a well known writer with their recommended new release. If you aren't yet receiving the newsletter, you can sign up here.

And we'll be holding our own recommendations evening in a few weeks - in good time for some Christmas purchases perhaps!

Sunday 11 October 2020

Do you remember all the talk in the early days of lockdown when we were being urged to make good use of the time by achieving some long-held ambition or task? It became a pressure in itself, didn't it. Learn a language! Paint with watercolours! Play a musical instrument!

But perhaps you stepped up to the plate and embarked on that novel you've always been meaning to write?

So now you need an agent.

Suffolk's first literary agency has been launched in Laxfield by Emily Shercliff to help East Anglian authors get their big break.

After 20 years' experience of publishing in Iran, Nigeria, the United States and Australia, Emily is now working in Suffolk, and she is inviting entries for an inaugural New Anglia Manuscript Prize.

Sponsored by the National Centre for Writing in Norwich, the competition will look for the best new writer from Suffolk and Norfolk in the form of a debut novel from an unpublished writer. The winner will receive a cash prize of £500, and an offer of representation from Laxfield Literary Associates.

This is a marvellous opportunity. You never know where it might lead.

On a slightly different tack, take Susie Dent's experience. She was in the right place at the right time when, as a young graduate, just a few weeks into her first job in publishing, she was invited to step into the role of presenter of Dictionary Corner on TV's 'Countdown'. She's now a household name, having been on our screens for 28 years!

We met Susie last week when she joined me online to talk about her new book 'Word Perfect'. We all had a wonderful time learning new words, giggling about her exploits on the TV programmes, and commiserating with her about the issues surrounding the publication of her book last week.

Thank you to everyone who's given me such fabulous feedback about the event: "it was such a fun evening" - "it may have been Zoom but it felt like a night out" - "excellent, please do more!" - "really enjoyable" - "fascinating"

I hope to announce more events like this one, soon.

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