Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sandy togs

I wondered briefly if I should take Byron to read in Byron Bay. Settled instead on Christos.

Now wondering whether one should take one's e-reader to the beach. Paperbacks really do seem somehow more beachy.

So as usual the suitcase contains five books plus I have something silly to read on the plane - plus the e-reader. Luggage no lighter than normal. But I do have more than a hundred books to choose from when I get to the usual day two "I don't feel like reading any of these" phase.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lately I've been...

  • Crafty TV Writing (Alex Epstein - because you never know)
  • Electricity (Victoria Glendinning - one of my heroes)
  • The Library at Night (Alberto Manguel - another one)
  • The Thief Taker (Janet Gleeson - not - why do so many writers of historical fiction cram an encyclopedia of period detail into the first chapter?)
  • Essentials of Screenwriting (Richard Walter)
  • Critique of Criminal Reason (Michael Gregorio, the pseudonym of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio, and not bad really)
  • Women in Seventeenth Century France (Wendy Gibson, who seems to have written an entire book without mentioning the most interesting woman in seventeenth century France, but never mind)
  • The Seven Ages of Paris (Alistair Horne)
  • The Three Musketeers (Dumas, of course - one more time).

  • My author's note for Act of Faith, which took far longer than it should have because I kept wanting to look up all my references all over again - it heads off for typesetting shortly
  • Third person present tense [sigh]

  • Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (but I might have mentioned that once or twice already). Mind you, Glee and The Good Wife come back this week so some semblance of sanity may return
  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole in 3, which I have to say was pretty funny - if you get all the references to war movies, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.
Listening to
  • French - Earworms CDs
  • My girlfriend playing Justin Timberlake over and over.

Planning trips to
  • Byron Bay, next week
  • Amsterdam and Cambridge, for research
  • France, this time next year, for research.
  • The days until the next Harry Potter film opens.

Friday, October 08, 2010


Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.

~ Colette

Thursday, October 07, 2010

All present and accounted for

Well, I didn't know it was a stupid trend.

The prevalence of the historic present tense is but one symptom of an itch for formal trickery that has been evident in British fiction for a couple of decades. It belongs with multiple narrators, fragmented or reversed chronology, inadequate or inarticulate narrators, and all the other tricks of the trade. It might or might not be a passing fad, it can certainly be used thoughtlessly, but it is a form of narration that has been employed with great intelligence in some of the best novels of recent years.

But now I think about it...



My current novel (the PhD project) alternates between first person and third person, present tense. Kind of like Bleak House. Yet not.

But by the time it's finished, present tense will be horribly passe. Or perhaps it already is. On the up-side, maybe that means it could swing back into fashion by the time anybody reads my attempt.

Philip Pullman hates the historical present:

I want all the young present-tense storytellers (the old ones have won prizes and are incorrigible) to allow themselves to stand back and show me a wider temporal perspective. I want them to feel able to say what happened, what usually happened, what sometimes happened, what had happened before something else happened, what might happen later, what actually did happen later, and so on: to use the full range of English tenses.

I don't think I'm guilty of the crimes he describes. (Also, I'm already old - though I was perversely pleased to learn I'm still younger than enfant terrible Jonathan Franzen.)

I haven't used it before, and it seemed to me the natural and perfect way to convey action - swordfights, arguments, and looking in through a lamplit window into the life of the first person narrator. The third person view contradicts the first person a few times. She's talking it up, as she (Mademoiselle Maupin) is wont to do, but we see it differently. I've got a complex structure built around the idea, aligned with the five act structure of one of her operas.

"Writing is vivid if it is vivid," says Philip Hensher, quite rightly. "A shift of tense won’t do that for you."

I didn't know it was going to blow up into a major debate. Or, perhaps worse, be done to death. See, there's another reason to read all those Booker nominees.

Anyway, it's tedious. Now I have to think about what to do.

I hate that.

Go girl

Love this rant from Rachel over at Forever Young Adult:

Important Literary Journals and Established Intellectual News Sources say I should be ashamed of my reading habits. I’m the reason the publishing world is in such a state, me and my crummy stupid YA books, and it has nothing to do with shitty, self-important authors who are working out their issues in their “plots” rather than with a therapist, because the book isn’t actually a book - it’s the author dealing with the fact that he (and Important Adult Literary authors are almost always men) didn’t win the box car derby when he was nine, and that pain has haunted him for his entire life!

What she said.

And also:
Why the pages and pages of review inches and breathless feature articles for books only ever read to the end by twelve geeks, and virtually none allocated to books read endlessly and adored by thousands of young people?

Anything that smacks of self-importance never even gets opened in this house. So authors, choose your covers and promo blurbs very carefully. Because sometimes we do judge a book by its cover.

Martin Amis has a lot to answer for.