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/

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. 

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