Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Judges for Man Booker 2011 - win signed 2010 shortlisted books

Judges for the 2011 Man Booker Prize have just been announced: Matthew d'Ancona, writer and journalist; Susan Hill, author; Chris Mullin, author and politican and Gaby Wood, Head of Books at the Daily Telegraph. Former Director-General of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington takes the Chair.

Literary Director of the Prizes, Ion Trewin said: 'Every year we look for a different mix of judges and I'm particularly delighted by the breadth and range of interests of the 2011 team.'

Dame Stella Rimington commented how much she looked forward to chairing the distinguished panel. 'I am sure we will have many stimulating debates and will come up with a worthy winner of next year's prize.'

Howard Jacobson won the 2010 Prize with The Finkler Question (published by Bloomsbury) and the 2011 longlist will be announced in July. The longlist, or 'Booker Dozen' as it's known, comprises 12 or 13 titles out of which the shortlist of six books will be announced in September. The winner will be announced on the BBC from London's Guildhall at the awards ceremony on 18 October 2011.

Win a set of signed copies on the 2010 Man Booker Prize shortlist

And now's your chance to win a full signed set of the Man Booker Prize 2010 shortlist:

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)

Emma Donoghue, Room (Picador - Pan Macmillan)

Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room (Atlantic Books - Grove Atlantic)

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)

Andrea Levy, The Long Song (Headline Review - Headline Publishing Group)

Tom McCarthy, C (Jonathan Cape - Random House)

All you have to do is log on to www.themanbookerprize.com/news/vote and enter. Good luck!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Writing for the love of writing, says Case Histories author, Kate Atkinson

Author Kate Atkinson

The New York Times wrote of author Kate Atkinson that she begins her story, grabs the reader and doesn't let go. I loved her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1995 and also enjoyed Human Croquet but didn't get round to reading any more of her work until I laid my hands on Case Histories and When Will There Be Good News? Both books feature private eye Jackson Brodie in detective stories. The New York Times is exactly right for I did find them beautifully written and impossible to put down, even though the bulging cast lists had me so confused that I resorted to writing down names and brief notes about the characters to avoid having to flip back and forth to remind myself who they were and who was married to whom. But hey, that's what age does to you when you reach, er...

The plots of both stories are intricately worked out and it was probably their complexity that hooked me and compelled me to read on. Atkinson weaves her stories around chunks of exposition so that the plots unfold as you plunge into each character's back story as they appear; it's something I advise my students not to do, probably because they can't pull it off as effectively as she can and once the plot has frozen, I tend to forget what was going on before that. Sometimes I find it irritating when the narrator throws out anecdotes and memories about someone's relative or friend or some minor scene that has no bearing on the story. It's rather like a flash of lightning with jagged points firing out in all directions in rapid succession so you can't stop looking. But the stories come out of the characters and fully-rounded three-dimensional people they are.

It's all about love and loss. In Case Histories the four sisters were beautifully drawn and to say anything about them would be to give away too much; Sylvia, the leader is the ugly duckling who hears the voice of God and Joan of Arc and has fainting fits; attention-seeking Julia, the outrageous flirt seems to have bagged Brodie and discarded him for another by the next book, Amelia, more bookish has a crush on him and poor Olivia, their mother's favourite, at the age of three, is murdered.

Theo is morbidly obese and dotes on Laura, one of his two daughters who agrees to work in his law practice before university. She is brutally murdered in his offices by a knife-wielding maniac and Theo spends the rest of his life trying to find the murderer before turning the job over to Jackson.

Michelle, a housewife lives in a country cottage with her baby and husband and is secretly studying. In a moment of madness when interrupted, she murders him with an axe.

Jackson, meanwhile, has been hired to follow Nicola, whose husband thinks she's cheating on him and here and there we follow Jackson's own turbulent private life so we don't regard him as an automaton and are aware that he's a real person with emotional problems of his own.

So you can see how complex his task is going to be with a dramatis personae that long and yours too if you haven't already read it. I'm still halfway through the second book but am finding it even more difficult to follow than this one and haven't made a note of anything, having developed right arm rotator cuff impairment from hunkering over the keyboard for too long without a break, hence my absence from the blog for a while.

At The Guardian Hay Festival in 2009, Atkinson said that she would prefer to have enough money just to write books and not have to write for publication. A lot of my past students say they want to write so they can go into bookshops and see the spines of their books lined up on the shelves showing their names, or because they have boring jobs in IT and think the life of a writer would be more exciting, or they want to be the next JK Rowling, or they want to be rich and famous.  How refreshing to hear an author actually saying that they write for the love of writing, which is the reason most of us do this; anything else is a bonus.

Case Histories will be televised as a six-part BBC1 series adapted from the book itself, One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? Case Histories won the Saltire Book of the Year Award and the Prix Westminster. Atkinson's latest Jackson Brodie novel, Started Early - Took My Dog is now on sale. I've a feeling I need to catch up. Her website, http://www.kateatkinson.co.uk/ has lots of resources and help for reading groups. 

Sunday, 14 November 2010

York Festival of Writing open for bookings

Just back from an exhausting day at the Open College of the Arts headquarters in Barnsley (Yorkshire) observing the stalwart tutors who assess students' assignments for their grades. Up at 5am to catch an early train to Sheffield and a helpful tip to change trains instead at Meadowhall, as the connection left from the same platform. It didn't, of course but we won't go into that and suffice it to say that I missed the same connection on the way back. Consequently, the blog has been neglected for a few days while I've caught up with other things, like sleeping or detaching Black Bertha, the spare cat from Harry the Cat's nose at regular intervals when he catches her with his stash of tuna.

So this seemed like a good time to invite my first guest blogger to contribute to BforB. Harry Bingham writes about the Festival of Writing at York which he initiated a couple of years ago and describes how it all began and where it's going. Next year's event will soon be upon us, from 25-27 March 2011 at York University and bookings are now being taken. Phone 0845 459 9560 or email info@writersworkshop.co.uk You can also book via the website at http://www.festivalofwriting.com/

Harry Bingham is a best-selling author of novels and non-fiction and author of Getting Published. His co-organiser is Kate Allan, author, agent and books industry publicist.

Guest Blogger Harry Bingham

We writers are crazy. About two years ago, a friend of mine asked if I’d be interested in setting up a festival of writing. Like a literary festival, only this one would be exclusively for writers … and instead of filling the event with media-celebrities, we’d bring along agents and publishers and top-selling authors to pass on their knowledge and know-how.

Like an idiot, I said yes.

So we started to research venues, and realised that we needed a place which could offer overnight accommodation for several hundred people. And a restaurant to feed them. And lecture halls which could hold anywhere from 30 to 800 people. And all on a campus which was pretty, but modern, and compact, and disability-friendly, and well-run. There just aren’t all that many places in the UK which could fit that brief, but the University of York ticked all the right boxes. But did we realise that our booking would involve a large deposit? And that we’d be on the hook for all the rest of the (even larger) amount of money, whether or not we sold the first ticket? And did we want to go ahead and make the booking?

Like an idiot, I said yes.

And I’m so pleased I did. There were quite a few nerve-wracking moments during the planning phase (would anyone come? would anyone come?) but the event was an absolute smash hit. We had some brilliant, brilliant speakers (my personal favourites: Katie Fforde for her warmth and general loveliness. Roger Ellory for the inspiration. Simon Trewin for telling it straight.)

We also had some wonderful agents and book doctors, who gave tough, realistic but constructive feedback to all and sundry.

Better still, the delegates who came were just wonderful. So warm, so enthusiastic, so keen to learn. I don’t think I’ve ever spent a weekend with so many people and so much buzz. It was exhausting, but inspiring.

And this year, it’s the same again, only bigger and better … and without the vague terror that no one is going to turn up. We’re pretty sure that the 2011 event will be a sell-out, so we’re encouraging everyone who’s interested to book as soon as they can.

Patrick Jansen-Smith
 This year again, we’ve got some fab people coming. The event I’m looking forward to most of all is Patrick Janson-Smith’s talk. (He’s the chap who made bestsellers out of Andy McNab, Joanna Trollope, Bill Bryson, Sophie Kinsella, and many many more). Also Philippa Pride, who is Stephen King’s British editor. Also, if I could, I’d want to go to the Emma Darwin and Debi Alper double-act on Friday afternoon: they’re doing a mini-course on voice. But alas I’m running my own mini-course on Getting Published, so that’s out.

Plus of course, the usual host of agents and publishers and book doctors, all there to help first-time writers get better.

Last year, our star pupil was Shelley Harris who ended the Festival with six agents trying to sign her up … and who got a very juicy two book deal from a major publisher not long afterwards. This year, who knows what’ll happen? I’m sure of only two things: the first is that the weekend will be wonderful. The second is that by Monday morning, I’ll be so tired I won’t get out of bed until teatime.

I hope to see you all there …

Saturday, 6 November 2010

How to write a book in a month

Stuck in The Garret this week trying to develop an idea for a new book with a musical flavour that is supposed to be funny but isn't (yet). Humour is the hardest genre to work in and is so subjective. Kate has a piano lesson and when she's finished struggling through a Rag that has terrified the life out of her ('I'll never play that!) she turns to me and waits...and waits. 'Well?' she says, wanting approbation. When I don't reply she says 'Great, I can go to work tomorrow and tell everyone I sent my piano tutor into a coma.'

During this hiatus, I am engrossed in trying to work out a plot to insert into the theme of the interior world of piano teaching and the interractions between students and tutors. I have loads of material. By Monday afternoon, I have received six piano cancellations for a variety of reasons and I'm certain some grandpas have died twice. Paul has taken a month off as he's taken on too many things (I could have told him that); Elizabeth is going off to South America and will return in January; Isabella takes two weeks off just before her first exam and I give up a free afternoon to take her mock exam and scrape off the rust.

Write a book a month (BAM)

Someone sends me a slim book by Cyn Mobley called BAM or Book a Month. I wish! I'm already struggling with requests from two publishers for non-fiction ideas and I'm not in the mood for writing about blood pressure knowing the research will push mine up higher than it already is. I like following instructions so I look at BAM and it's basically a breakdown of the sort of preparation I would do anyway and how I learnt to develop a script at uni (although in truth this only fell into place when I read an out of print American book on their reading list called Film Scriptwriting - A Practical Manual by Dwight V Swain, which explained everything I needed to know that wasn't happening in lectures). Most of those were taken up by the tutor moaning about his lack of writing commissions.

BAM splits up the development into deadlines, a bit like having a life coach dividing up your tasks to success.
  • Finding the story and creating the logline (precis)
  • Looking for conflict
  • Developing the three act structure
  • Fly-to points (plot points or turning points)
  • Chapters divided up into acts and scenes and
  • Rewrites

Why development first is a good idea

Some writers prefer to begin with a blank screen and invent a character out of whose development a plot emerges; it then takes them over, as do the characters and they allow themselves to be transported into another world, usually to get lost halfway through; or they have three endings and don't know which to choose. Some well-known authors write that way. If I were going on a journey, I would want to know my destination before I set out or I would probably find three possible turnings and not know which to go down. A lot of writers have unfinished manuscripts in their desk drawers from losing control to their characters and not knowing where they are heading but as Cyn Mobley has over 40 books in print, I'm with her. However, as far as the deadlines for each action go, with the best intentions I have far too much going on in my life to reach them. I've never missed a publisher's deadline yet and the fastest I wrote a book was in three months but setting a deadline for myself is another thing. I've never taken much notice of myself.

The Snowflake Process

A few years ago, I remember reading something called The 'Snowflake' Process for Designing Novels by software architect Randy Ingermanson. He believes that good fiction is designed before it's written. He also follows the Three Act Structure technique. One idea sparks off another and since then, I've noticed a plethora of 'writing by number books' coming onto the market, so choose with care. I can recommend these two, which I think were the forerunners.

Randy's article can be downloaded free from his writing site at  http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ and BAM can be obtained through http://www.amazon.com/ or direct from Cyn Mobley http://www.cynmobley.com/ (don't be put off by the greyhounds; they're her passion).

And about humour, when I did my MA in scriptwriting, a fellow student was asked why she had left three blank spaces on every page of her script. 'Those are for the laughs,' she said. 'I'm going to fill them in later.' We had been told that for comedy, we needed to have three laughs to a page.