Sunday 5th August 2018
Last Sunday I wrote about what I called a Turning Point. I pointed out that I had decided to change course. After six months of writing my current novel, a new approach was required. Changing the style of the novel – from something resembling a screenplay – to the more conventional format of a narrated story, told in the past tense. That is what I am doing. It was not a decision that I took lightly; it means a great deal of work; editing the text, changing the way dialogue is treated. While that is happening no new material is being created.
Have I done the right thing?
Part of me wants to be rebellious. Creative. Innovative. Committed to bringing about change in the way novels are written. Another part of me craves recognition. Getting my novel published – by an established publishing house – justifies the many, many hours of work involved. An author who has a string of credits, whose work sells well, who has a following of readers, can try something new. A writer who wants to get his first novel into print is enslaved to conventional ways of doing things.
My previous two novels stuck to the rules. They were written in a style that followed the conventions of writing fiction in English. Neither of them has yet been accepted; but then, I have not done much to get them accepted. The manuscripts have been sent to far few literary agents. All of those approaches have been rejected. Hardly surprising. Both works were too different. They would not have slotted easily into the pre-conceptions of British publishing. Rant as I may about the sad and sorry state of book publishing, there is little I can do to change it.
I thought I read somewhere that the British buy more books than do most of their European counterparts. A nation of readers, the British spend more time in front of a page than the Peoples of other countries. Even if that is correct, I am far from convinced that the reading public wants novels that are literary. The shelves of bookshops are piled high with works that stick to well-worn themes, recognisable stories and genres, formats and styles that play it safe.
What do I read?
Reading novels written by others takes up a lot of my time. On my desk are copies of books that have recently dropped through my letterbox (I buy all my books on the Internet – at a fraction of the cost of what is being charged by the established High Street retail outlets.)
Kipps, by H. G. Wells, was the last one to land on the doormat. A couple of days before it was Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin. And his A Single Man is on its way. As the pile increases, I realise I am still wading through John Braine’s The Crying Game. And Smut by Alan Bennett. And I still have not finished Brideshead Revisted. Or Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Even the bookmark slotted into the pages of Doctor Zhivago is nearer the front than the back. It’s all got rather silly.
But then I had been told that writers should read the works of other novelists. I think the Bennett is the newest work I have bought – having been published in 2011. I use it as a guide to contemporary typesetting. Frequently looking into it to see how things have been punctuated or laid out on the page. Would I buy a book published this year? Probably not. Apart from the price (too much for my meagre budget) I don’t like what stands for current fiction. Not based on what websites and newspapers are telling me. Expensive industrial pulp. In ten years time, many of these books will have been forgotten. Buy it. Read it. Bin it. Not my mantra.