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Comment from the book world in July 2004

July 2004

Writing for teenagers and 'the power of language'

26 July 2004

'The one thing you have to do for this age group is to be direct and get straight to the point. You can have deep, interesting ideas, but the story must be there. When I was trying to write for adults I thought people would just love the sound of the words, and that the story didn't matter at all. But it does. No one reads anything without a story to carry them through...

'Every culture throughout history has had stories, and very often anthropologists find that they're linked in ways that can't be explained by people travelling from one place to another. There seems to be almost a collective consciousness tying us all together, and I wanted to say something about that, about the power of language... and the politics of the power of language and privilege.'

Nicola Morgan, author of Sleepwalking, in Publishing News

'Only 25 years ago'

19 July 2004

'It's only 25 years ago, but go back to the British book trade of 1979 and you find London dotted with dozens of small, independent imprints run by strong-minded mavericks. Book shops are gloomy, inhospitable places, smelling of stewed meat. In Hampstead, the manager of W H Smith turns off the lights when there are no customers to save electricity. In 1979 there is no Borders or Waterstone's, no Random House, no Orange Prize - and no Hay Festival.

Most telling of all, there is virtually no money, especially for writers. Novels are commonly signed up for £500, short-story collections for £200 or £300, or even less. When the hot-shot young agent Ed Victor sold a now-forgotten yarn, The Four Hundred by Stephen Sheppard, for a quake-worthy 'six-figure advance', the shockwaves reverberated from Bloomsbury to Harmondsworth.'

Robert McCrum, literary editor, in the Observer

Capacious essays

12 July 2004

'Literary criticism as a discourse available for, and even attractive to, the common reader has all but disappeared. Literature as criticism - DeLillo's knowing essayism, Rushdie's parables about hybridity, Franzen's postmodern riffs - has burgeoned, while criticism as literature, what R.P. Blackmuir called 'the formal discourse of an amateur', has faded.

This ought not to be possible. If all those clever writers studied other writers at university, they should, in addition to producing fiction and poetry, be writing capacious essays for the mythical common reader. We should be awash in V.S. Pritchetts and Edmund Wilsons.'

James Wood, London Review of Books

'No higher pleasure'

5 July 2004

'A novel or biography can do two things a stage or screen director cannot. It can offer us descriptive prose of a higher and more reflective sort than can be inserted into realistic dialogue: a kind of poetry-in-prose. And its author can tap the reader on the shoulder, take us aside and share with us his or her own thoughts about the meaning of what is taking place. For the serious reader of English literature, I believe there is no higher pleasure: a pleasure...which only a book can give.'

Matthew Parris