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THOUGHT

Adding anxiety to depression is a bit like adding cocaine to alcohol. It presses fast-forward on the whole experience.
You don’t have a second. You don’t have a single waking second outside of the fear. You crave a moment, a single second of not being terrified, but the moment never comes. The illness that you have isn’t the illness of a single body part, something you can think outside of. If you have a bad back you can say, ‘my back is killing me’, and there will be a kind of separation between the pain and the self. The pain is something other. It attacks and annoys and even eats away at the self but it is still not the self.
But with depression and anxiety the pain isn’t something you think about because it is thought. You are not your back but you are your thoughts. If your back hurts it might hurt more by sitting down. If your mind hurts it hurts by thinking. And there is no real easy equivalent of standing back up.

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HOW TO GET PUBLISHED

1. Write a really good book.

2. By good, I mean the book you actually want to write, written the way you want to write it. If that means writing War and Peace with talking squirrels, then do it. Just write the thing you are going to believe in the most, because that belief will be the wind in the sails of your words.

3. Expect rejections. Agents and publishers expect to reject you so, in turn, you should expect them to. If publishers published every single book that has been written we would all have to live in the sea because there would be no room because of all the books. We’d have to live on a big ship paid for by Lee Child.

4. Do not get jealous. Okay, this is hard. But do not assume that publishers/agents/readers are stupid. Do not automatically assume that if a book does well it is because they were best mates with the publisher or something. Sometimes, things succeed because they are good and people like them.

5. Look for doors, not walls. Stop blaming the system. Yes, prejudices exist. But if you are a) good enough and b) want it enough and c) stop trying to see walls instead of doors, your chances can be as good as anyone’s.

6.  It is entirely self-defeating – though quite easy – to say ‘Oh, I’m not published because my book is above people’s heads’, ‘I’m not published because I didn’t go to Oxbridge’, ‘I’m not published because I write fantasy/sci-fi/about talking squirrels’, ‘I’m too exotic’, ‘I’m not posh/exotically working class enough’, ‘It’s Amazon’s fault’, ‘I’m too ordinary,’ ‘I don’t write middlebrow reading group tat’, ‘I was born with the wrong genitals’, ‘I’m too northern’, ‘I’m not famous/a columnist’, ‘I’m not published because I’m not an alien lizard and everyone who runs the world is an alien lizard’.

7. Ignore the title of this article. Stop thinking about ‘how’ to get published, and start trying to be objective about ‘why’ your book should be.

8. Be persistent and determined and practical. I got 17 rejection letters for my first novel. I used to put them in to two categories -‘contains useful information’ and ‘contains paper that is flammable’.

9. Don’t take it personally. Okay, I admit this one is bullshit. If you have written something you care about, if you have put yourself in it, then having people reject or criticise it is personal.

10. Be realistic about what you are aiming for. Being published is great, but it is no wardrobe to Narnia. Your brain chemistry will not be altered for ever. You will still have to work exactly as hard on your next book too (for every new author, an old one falls off the other end of the conveyor belt). Writers are generally not rich. Except the rich ones. But they are all in therapy. And rejection letters don’t disappear, they just evolve into bad reviews. Oh, and remember, if you want a long-term career, with a predictable income, become a publisher. Actually, even better, invent Grand Theft Auto. And only write because you love it, because you have to do it even when it hurts, because you have a story inside you that you would genuinely want to read if it was written by you.

11. Good luck. You could always do with some of that.

 

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WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU WEAKER

It’s hard to explain depression to people who haven’t suffered from it.

It is like explaining life on Earth to an alien. The reference points just aren’t there. You just have to resort to metaphors. You are at the bottom of the ocean. You are on fire. The main thing is the intensity of it. It does not fit within the normal spectrum of emotions. When you are in it, you are really in it. You can’t step outside it without stepping outside of life, because it is life. It is your life. Every single thing you experience is filtered through it. Consequently it magnifies everything. At its most extreme, things which an everyday normal person wouldn’t even hardly notice, have overwhelming effects. The sun sinks behind a cloud, and you feel that slight change in weather as if a friend has died. You feel the difference between inside and outside as a baby feels the difference between womb and world. You swallow an ibuprofen and your neurotic brain acts like it has taken an overdose of methamphetamine.

Depression, for me, wasn’t a dulling but a sharpening, an intensifying, as though I had been living my life in a shell and now the shell wasn’t there. It was total exposure. A red-raw naked mind. A skinned personality. A brain in a jar full of the acid that is experience. What I didn’t realise, at the time, what would have seemed incomprehensible to me, was that this state of mind would end up having positive effects as well as negative effects.

I’m not talking about all that What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger mythology. No. That’s simply not true. What doesn’t kill you very often makes you weaker. What doesn’t kill you can leave you limping for the rest of your days. What doesn’t kill you can make you scared to leave your house, or even your bedroom, and have you trembling, or mumbling incoherently, or leaning with your head on a window-pane, wishing you could return to the time before the thing that didn’t kill you.

No.

What I’m talking about isn’t strength. Not the stoic, get-on-with-stuff-without-thinking-too-much kind of strength anyway. It’s more about the reverse of what I was saying about that intensity. That sharpening. That switch from the prosaic to the poetic. You know, before the age of 24 I hadn’t known how bad things could feel, but I hadn’t realised how good they could feel either. That shell might be protecting you, but it’s also stopping you feel the full force of that good stuff.

From, I suppose, April 2000, that good stuff started to become availiable. The bad stuff was still there. At the start, the bad stuff was there most of the time. The good stuff probably amounted to about 0.0001 per cent of that April. The good stuff was just warm sunshine on my face as me and Andrea walked from our flat in the suburbs to the city centre. It lasted as long as the sunshine was there and then it disappeared. But from that point on I knew it could be accessed. I knew life was available to me again.  And so in May 0.0001 per cent became about 0.1 per cent.

Then, at the start of June, we moved to a flat in the city centre. It was one of those soulless modern flats that were becoming an increasing feature of cities in the North. At eight hundred pounds a month it was too expensive for two people who were in debt and getting more in debt, though it was financially better than the previous situation. (The previous situation had been renting an office for £800 and a flat in the Hyde Park area of Leeds for £400 when our ‘company’ was earning £1000 a month.)

But the thing I liked about it was the light. I liked that the walls were white and that the unnatural laminated floor mimicked the blondest wood and that the square modern windows made up most of the walls and that the low-grade sofa the landlord had put in was turquoise. Of course, it was still England. It was still Yorkshire. Light was severely rationed. But this was as good as it got on our budget, or just above our budget, and it was certainly better than the Hyde Park student flat with its burgundy carpets and its brown kitchen. Turquoise sofa beat turquoise mould.

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30 Things to Tell A Book Snob (Revisited)


A while ago, on the Booktrust website, I wrote a blog about book snobs. It was quite popular and – not being a snob – I like popularity, but I also got into a lot of arguments online with book snobs who said that I was on the wrong side, because books were getting dumber. So, here’s an updated version, just for them.

1. Snobbery makes people worry about what they read. And people who worry about something stop enjoying it.

2. Snobbery leads to worse books. It plays to the idea that most people are dumb and want dumb books, and that only certain (posh/educated/cool) people like good books.

3. If something is popular it can still be good. Just ask Shakespeare. Or the Beatles. Or peanut butter.

4. Teenagers have more active brain cells than adults. And more fun. (Don’t knock YA.)

5. Being on Radio Four or being in The New York Times does not automatically make something better. It just means that it probably isn’t about zombies.

6. The book is very often not better than the film. (Jaws. The Godfather. But okay snobs, we’ll give you Alice in Wonderland.)

7. Wonder is universal. There isn’t a human in the world who wouldn’t enter the Sistine Chapel and not want to look up. Does that make Michelangelo a low-brow populist?

8. E-books, like paper books, are as good as the words they contain.

9. Snobbery pretends to be about books but really it is about people. It is about people trying to feel better than other people by belittling their taste.

10. To dismiss a book because of its type, not its content, is book racism.

11. Snobbery is about class. Virginia Woolf, the patron saint of book snobs, illustrated this when she was snobby about Ulysses. She called it an ‘illiterate underbred book’ written by a ‘self-taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are’.

12. You are one of 7,000,000,000 people in the world. You can never be above all of them. But you can be happy to belong.

13. The only people who fear people understanding what they are saying are people who have nothing really to say.

14. Books are not better for being misunderstood, any more than a building is better for having no door.

15. Shakespeare didn’t go to university, and spelt his name six different ways. He also told jokes. (Bad ones, true, but you can’t knock him for trying.)

16. Plot is not a dirty word. Plot is beautiful. Plot is the old criminal finding redemption. Plot is the quest to victory, or to love. Plot is the desire for action that is symptomatic of thinking and moving and being alive.

17. Book bloggers are not killing literary criticism. They are kneeling over its body, giving it CPR.

18. There can be as much beauty in short (words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters) as long. Sparrows fly higher than peacocks.

19. Book prizes are the result of six people getting in a room and compromising.

20. The book I am least proud of, that I didn’t work hard enough on, was my most ostentatiously highbrow one. The one the New York Times liked.

21. Reading a certain book doesn’t make you more intelligent any more than drinking absinthe makes you Van Gogh. It’s how you read, as much as what you read.

22. Never make someone feel bad for not having read or not read something. Books are there to heal, not hurt.

23. Don’t be proud of only liking realism. It is like being proud of not having an imagination.

24. Just because something is a detective story doesn’t mean it was written for cynical reasons. It might mean the writer likes detective stories.

25. Simplicity is harder work than complexity. That is why editors exist.

26. Amazon is evil. Yeah, okay, we get it. But don’t be snobby about people using Amazon if you use a supermarket. Only if you actually live in the Amazon. Then it is allowed.

27. Don’t go on about the smell of books. It is like going on about the sound of chocolate.

28. If you worry about the ‘type’ of book you are writing, or the ‘type’ of person who will read it, you won’t be freeing your imagination, you’ll be trapping it in a VIP room where nothing is happening.

29. For me, personally, the point of writing is to connect me to this world, to my fellow humans. We are all miles apart. We have no real means of connecting except via language. And the deepest form of language is storytelling.

30. The greatest stories appeal to our deepest selves, the parts of us snobbery can’t reach, the parts that connect the child to the adult and the brain to the heart and reality to dreams. Stories, at their essence, are enemies of snobbery. And a book snob is the enemy of the book.

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GOD’S WRITING TIPS

People think that if you are a writer giving writing tips  then you are annoying and probably getting too big for your writer boots. I know this because of all the letters I get saying ‘you are annoying and too big for your writer boots’.

People hate writing tips so much that on the day Elmore Leonard died a load of talentless whiners went on Twitter to say that he was wrong to say you shouldn’t start a book with weather, because lots of great books started with weather.

Anyway, I am not too big for my boots. And to prove it, here are some writing tips God gave, and sent to me, his earthly messenger:

 

-Never start a book with weather.

– Don’t beat yourself up over plot. I wrote the world’s greatest bestseller. It sold shitloads, and we even got it into every hotel room in the world (I love my publishers). But there are plot holes all over the place.

-The best bit in the Bible is the story of Noah’s Ark. I’m proud of it. I like to think it inspired Life of Pi.

– Short words are better than long words. And if you have to ask why, I’ll make you as unhappy as I made Will Self.

– Don’t write to get good reviews. Newspaper reviews are written by soulless people.

– Editing should never be censorship. That doesn’t mean you should keep that erotic love scene with the goat, because that wasn’t working.

– If you are in it for money alone you are an idiot. The more you chase Money, the more Money will run away from you, and the more Art will sneer from the sidelines, calling you a dick.

– Don’t write a book to get laid, unless you are already James Franco.

– ‘The road to Hell is paved with adverbs’, Stephen King. But Hell is quite a good place to hang out if you want to be a writer. Just ask Poe. Or Bukowski.

– Write what you bloody well want. Everyone is the God of the world they create. Only they are not a real God, because I am. And there is only one of me. I’m like the Kanye West of Gods.

– Don’t write a book to impress your parents. Become a lawyer to impress your parents. Or a doctor. Or a charismatic magician with a beard who can turn bread into wine.

– People will always misinterpret your work. See: the Bible. (And just for the record, I wrote Leviticus on an off day. My difficult third book. There was too much expectation, and the advance was nowhere near big enough.)

– Heaven is a library. Just like Borges said.