Friday, 16 January 2015

Telling a story, and telling it well

Ok, another moan.

I've been reading more novels than usual lately, partly to inspire me, to check out what other people are doing, and (I suppose) to see what makes the grade these days; how good does something have to be to be published?

I have had a good run; since Christmas I've read eight novels. One of them I found poor, with typos a-plenty - even at one point a misspelling of one word twice in different ways on the same page - and with a predictable plot and some fairly glaring problems. However, it seems to be doing well. Another three I thought were entertaining, quick and easy and well-deserving of their place on a bookshelf.

And then, another - ah. It's so good that I find myself despairing. Why bother, when there are such skilled storytellers out there? When someone has had an idea so original, so intelligently told, with such complexity and confidence? The characters are three dimensional, beautifully brought to life and I actually care about them.

Sigh. My story looks pastel coloured and simple in contrast with the vibrancy and life of this novel. I am consumed by the story; I want to know what happens next. I've found myself tucking this book in my bag in case I have a chance to read a few pages waiting for the children outside school, rather than checking Facebook on my phone, or browsing pictures on Pinterest. It's like the old days!

With novel no 1, the poor editing pushed me right out of the story, even before the poor story did that too. I was too aware of the quotation marks that opened and never closed, the missing question marks, the misspellings, to get caught up in the story.

Some books have the same effect for a different reason - if the author tries to be too clever with the writing, using words that are too unwieldy or too high-brow, then I find myself pushed out of the world she's trying to draw me into. It can be too self-consciously intellectual.

This novel is neither of those things.

The writing is intelligent and the plot satisfyingly multi-layered, and the author does me the courtesy of assuming that I am capable of coming along for the ride without patronising me or trying to impress.

She tells a story, and tells it well. Isn't that exactly what you want from a novel?

I so want to write a book as good as this. I have no idea whatsoever whether I'm capable of it, though I rather doubt it at the moment. It just seems so hard. I know that everyone has a different voice, and I am (for the most part) content with mine, but now and again I read something that is just so good that it brings a wry smile and I wonder if there's any space for beginners at this game.

I should say that the novel I'm talking about was this lady's debut novel.


I would go so far as to say that I'd rather not write a book at all than write a bad one. Or even a mediocre one.

Someone asked me whether, given the choice, I would rather write a Booker Prize winner, or a bestseller (I can't have both). Of course I'd like to make a fortune from my writing. I'd like to know that someone will publish my books without the awful angst that I might be putting in all these hours and all this soul-searching for nothing but rejection slips. But a bestseller for the sake of being a bestseller? Only if it's GOOD.

The Booker Prize? In my experience those books are so intellectual and high-brow that research has been done on whether anyone actually reads them. As the owner of several Booker Prize winning novels I can attest that I have on occasion reached a point several hundred pages in and still decided that life was too short  and given up.

So, I'd like to write a book that will be read by people, and enjoyed.  That the reviewers like, and that my former English teacher likes. I would like to impress her; this hasn't changed in the last thirty years.

I want it to be a grown up novel that makes people think, but not so much that it's too heavy to read on a sun-lounger on holiday where a person has gone to relax and be entertained. Something that people put a bookmark in and anticipate getting back to. Something that makes an early night with a cuppa something to look forward to.

Can I do that? Is it possible?


  1. Yes! Definitely possible :) You can do it... Still cheering with pom-poms! Xx

  2. Yes you can. And I'd much rather read something by you than any previous Booker prize winner. I used The Famished Road as a doorstop. xx

    1. Thanks, Keren. I think I did the same with 'A Suitable Boy'.