Blog

Blog

Snobs kill books

Snobs.

I know I bang on about this, but I think it is important.Indeed, I think snobbery cripples the world of books.

Only this week a leading university creative writing course advertised itself by proudly boasting its students won’t write ‘mass market fiction’ or ‘children’s fiction’.

The week before – when the World Book Night list was announced (I’m honoured to be on it) – there were a few Twitter whinges about there being too many YA and ‘supermarket novels’ on there. This was doubly ironic as World Book Night is aimed at people who have been put off books, often because they feel they have been made to feel they aren’t for them.

These are just two tiny examples. I have more.

But many people are in denial. I believe STRONGLY that books are for everyone, in the same way that film and music can be.

Books are the backbone of society. They have founded religions and political viewpoints. They emancipate minds and imaginations, encourage empathy, and lead to better societies. Yet so many people of influence in the world of books seem to be anti certain people reading.

The very fact that ‘mass market’ is a negative term is telling. I mean, I bet some of these people who shun mass market fiction enjoy ‘mass market’ music like The Beatles and Bob Dylan and Bowie and the Arctic Monkeys, and ‘mass market’ films like Gravity. There is an automatic assumption with books that anything popular is bad.

Nonsense.

Here are a few ‘mass market’ writers I like – Graham Greene, Roald Dahl, William Shakespeare, Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King,  Jeanette Winterson, Patrick Ness. Whenever I write anything like this I get tons of people (snobs) say things like – well, the snobby tastemakers don’t have anything like the influence of supermarket chains and the people publishing thrillers that are often dross. My point is not that there should be more dross. My point is that taste is fine. But prejudice isn’t, because it leads to less readers and worse books. It leads to a two-tier publishing industry where you have publishers cynically publishing stuff because they think readers will buy ‘any old crap’, or they publish obscure and exotically difficult books for the kudos and the prizes. Meanwhile, proper intelligent and unsnobby storytelling falls through the middle.

So yes, have taste. Read, write and publish things because you genuinely like them. But snobbishness is never okay. When things like thrillers and women’s fiction and kids books are dismissed in a blanket way then that is wrong.

Intelligence doesn’t always have to be inaccessible. Even the most elaborate piece of architecture needs a door.

It is the easiest thing in the world to write a difficult book no-one likes except a handful of highbrow reviewers (I wrote one of those in 2008). A million times harder to write something that actually speaks to different kinds of people in a meaningful way. Whether those people are children or people who shop in a supermarket. Isn’t the purpose of art articulation? Anyway, I’ve said it before, if books ever die, snobbery will be standing over the corpse.

Blog

A blog about my son

My son is six, as of tomorrow.

He is very much looking forward to this. So I am trying to look forward to it with him. But a part of me feels sad. I think it is because he is no longer going to be five. And five, in case you don’t know, is the age. I mean, five rocks. Five is when the person inside your baby starts to emerge. Five is going to the cinema and telling the story of the film in a slightly longer space of time than the film lasted. Five is telling the most terrible of jokes (‘Why did the pig cross over the road?’ ‘Because he had a bottom.’) Five is laughing until you cannot stop at nothing in particular.

Today we were on the beach. We threw stones into the water. We made up stories on the train. We had a silly dance competition. ‘This has been my best day ever’,’ Lucas said. It was mine too.

I wish we could pickle and preserve such days. Yes, we can take photos and films on our phone. We can even write blogs about them. But we can’t FEEL them, again. Only as a memory. And a sweet moment in the present always becomes bittersweet when remembered in the future.

To be a parent is to be constantly losing the child that just was and gaining the one that is becoming. I never felt time before I was a Dad, but now I feel its ticktock all the time. I feel that there is such pressure for children to grow up too soon, so I feel immense pride in the fact that Lucas still likes Postman Pat and picture books, as well as Toy Story and comics.

I have no doubt he is the greatest boy who has ever lived. He continually surprises me, and seems to have a gentlemanly spirit inside him that must have been passed down via Victorian DNA. I am sure he will be as wonderful as a six-year-old as he is at five. I suppose the sadness comes from the fact that they are getting closer to the adult world, and the adult world is not quite as I would want it to be.

As a parent, you can play God. You can edit the world and present it to children. The world in Lucas’s eyes is one in which Father Christmas looks over everybody, checking they’re all being nice to siblings and friends. It is one where the most obvious career options are astronaut and superhero. Or, at a pinch, being in the Beatles. It is one where everyone says ‘please’ and gives money to homeless people and where everyone is kind and where the only crime that happens is exactly like that depicted in Burglar Bill. It is a world where literally everything – cardboard boxes, bird poo, hand dryers in toilets – is a source of infinite wonder.

Is the role of a parent to usher in the adult or to preserve the child? I think we live in an overcomplicated age, where kids are being facebooked and iphoned and GTA’d out of their childhoods too fast. I think we lose as much as we gain as we grow older, and maybe we should keep hold of that wonder for as long as possible. Maybe we need more of it.

As John Lennon said: ‘When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They said I didn’t understand the assignment. I said they didn’t understand life.’

I hope Lucas retains enough of his five-year-old self to realise that any assignment that doesn’t have his or other peoples’ happiness as its goal, is never really an assignment worth worrying about.

 

 

Blog

HOW TO BE A WRITER: EXERCISES IN MISERY


1) Stare out of the window.

2) Feel a bit hungover.

3) Wonder if you had enough love as a child.

4) Make toast.

5) Sleep badly.

6) Have trust issues.

7) Resist physical contact.

8) Fight anxiety with Merlot.

9) Eat peanut butter.

10) Speak to geese.

11) Stare at a Word document until nothing happens. Hold that moment for seventeen minutes. Then go on Twitter and annoy people.

12) Write some words.

13) Look at the words.

14) Delete the words.

15) Sigh.

16) Get drunk.

17) Punch your computer in the face.
18) Have bad hair.
19) Get stomach pains when another writer wins something.
20) Be lonely.

21) Sit in front of a Word document for 7 hrs. Write 860 words. Delete 920 words. Then drink half a bottle of gin.

22) Watch unfunny Youtube videos.

23) Google illnesses you might have.

24) Forget to call your parents.

25) Eat stale pretzels.

26) Turn up at an event where only one person shows up. Have her be a friend of your mother.

27) Feel tired.

28) And grumpy.

29) Take an hour and a half to sort the recycling.

30) Wish you were Neil Gaiman/Stephen King/Jonathan fucking Franzen.

31) Think about dying a lot.

32) Ignore deadlines.

33) Stare at rain.

34) Write another pointless blog.

35) Silently recite the author’s mantra: I’m a genius. I’m useless. I’m a genius. I’m useless. I’m a genius. I’m useless. I’m a genius. I’m useless. I want some toast.

36) Wonder why your agent hasn’t called in a while. Wonder if you actually have an agent.

37) Be a liability on white wine.

38) Be wrapped up in yourself.

39) Look at your royalty statement. Keep looking.

40) Consider every book you read to be a little bit overrated.

41) Feel the melancholy wonder of train stations.

42) Phone your mother.

43) Imagine what it would be like to win the Booker Prize. Give a little imaginary acceptance speech.

44)  Wear a dressing gown at all times.

45) Think about writing more of your book.

46) Be scared of pylons.

47) Tense up when someone hugs you.

48) Be slightly bipolar.

49) Eat peanut butter.

50) Want to be a cat.

51) Be terrible with money.

52) Hide from window cleaners.

53) Forget to eat breakfast.

54) Be generally quite worried.

55) And slightly unbalanced.

56) Create awkward vibes.

57) Stare at people without realising.

58) Have back pain.

59) Eat  some more toast.

60) Write.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog

MORE FUCKING WRITING TIPS

Writing tips are fucking everywhere. Every fucker from Elmore Leonard down has written the fuckers. If Shakespeare was alive now he’d be blogging about where to place a fucking apostrophe. Even I’ve written some. They drive me fucking mad, but they are easier than getting on with my next fucking novel. So here’s some fucking more.

1. Don’t ever start a novel with the fucking weather. Unless you want to start a novel with the fucking weather. In which case, fucking do it.

2. ‘Adverbs are fucking shit. Except when they’re not,’ he said, un-fucking-helpfully.

3. Don’t be fucking boring. Ever. Most books are 100 pages too fucking long.

4. Pretend your mother will never fucking read it. (Sorry Mum, I’m having a sweary day.)

5. All genres are fucking fake. Especially the genre of literary fucking fiction.

6. Don’t write to get laid. Unless you’re already James fucking Franco.

7. Be a thin-skinned fucking weirdo when you write your book. And a thick-skinned fucking bastard when it gets published.

8. If you’re hungover, don’t even fucking try.

9. Don’t fall in fucking love with yourself. (If you write ten words, delete fucking five.)

10. If you are only writing for fucking money you probably won’t make any. Don’t write for the market.  Books aren’t fucking corn flakes. Write for fucking you. Write because you fucking have to. Write because the whole world is conspiring to kill our imaginations and only books can save them. Write because in a world where governments and corporations don’t want us to fucking think, writing is a revolutionary fucking act.

(11. Just fucking write.)

 

Blog

12 YEARS A WRITER

I have been a published writer for twelve years this month. Here are some things I have learnt in that time.

1. Agents know the best restaurants.

2. E-books didn’t exist 12 years ago. They do now. No biggie.

3. Social media is the best thing that has ever happened to writers. (See point 10.)

4. I will never write more than one 90,000 word book a year. Twelve years = ten books.

5. The word ‘philosophical’ can be used as an insult, providing you are an Amazon reviewer.

6. If you write what people want you to write your career will be a lot shorter that if you write what you KNOW you should write.

7. If you can get yourself readers – and get them to like your work – you have yourself a career. It’s not about knowing the right people. It’s about knowing yourself.

8. They say that to be a writer you need a thick skin. This is true. But the bummer is that to write well you need to be a hypersensitive freak.

9.You will never write more than one 90,000 word book a year.You will never write more than one 90,000 word book a year.

10.Social media is the worst thing that has ever happened to writers. (See point 3.)

 11. We like stories because time moves us forward, when what we want to do is move sideways. We want to live every possible life, not just ours. Stories are how we can window shop other possible lives without committing to them. They teach us everything. This was true 12 years ago. It is true now.

12. Bigger advances are just bigger reasons to be dropped next time around. If you get an advance of, say, £60,000, and that book sells 2000 you will get probably get dropped by that publisher, like I did for my third novel. When my agent found me a new publisher I actually said ‘I don’t want too high an advance. At first’.

13. For every new writer arriving on the conveyor belt, another one drops off it. You can’t just be good ONCE you have to stay good. Every book is a debut.

14. Learn to say ‘No’. I have only recently become good at this. I said ‘no’ when asked to do a Dr Who story because I am not a Dr Who fan. If you don’t want to do something, and you do it, it probably won’t be very good.

15. Said it before – ‘foreign rights = free money.’

16. Selling the film rights does not mean a film will be made. Just pray they ask you to write the screenplay, because screenplays are short.

17. People who work in publishing are generally very nice. I think this is because they read a lot of books. (Books make you better.)

18. After twelve years of making a living from your imagination, you are entirely useless for any other kind of employment. This is scary.

19. Being published makes you paranoid. Bookshops stop being bookshops and start being ‘Writers Doing Better Than Me Shops’.

20. Twelve years ago editors were essential. Now they are even more essential.

21. Quasimodo was just a man who sat down to write for twelve years. Do some yoga.

22. Twelve years ago there was no real way for me to get people to read my books. Now there are lots.

23. But even with Twitter, writing remains the loneliest job in the universe. But also the most magical. (‘I’m off to work.’ ‘Oh, where are you commuting to?’ ‘NARNIA!’)

24. Twelve years ago I was teetotal. Now I am not.

(12+12=24. Let’s end.)