Skip to Content

Comment from the book world in March 2013

March 2013

'Write as if your parents are dead'

25 March 2013

'Philip Roth once said to me years ago, when he took an interest in me as a young writer: you've got to write as if your parents are dead. It was very good advice, and I stuck to it, and now I look back with some horror. My father, especially, was torn between exultant pride that I'd published a book and sheer horror at what was in it. So I must have had a steely bit of detachment then. But I've never done what Bellow did in Herzog, or Roth, or Hanif (Kureishi)... put their ex-wives in books. I couldn't do that. My chip of ice is a bit... slushy.'

Ian McEwan, whose latest book is Sweet Tooth, in the Observer

'Are people still going to go out and buy this?

21 March 2013

'Even if you are a bestseller you feel insecure because it is all so unpredictable. You think, are people still going to go out and buy this?

I'm just as insecure for my new book as I was for my first one. Even with all the research I do, I don't really know where the ideas come from, so I feel nervous about the ideas not being there one day. I'm always surprised when large numbers of people buy my books. I think: "Who are all these people?"

Patricia Cornwell in the Sunday Telegraph's Seven.

Five books a year

11 March 2013

'There are no rules about how long it takes to write one novel, or several novels. There are some writers who produce as many novels in six months as Tartt has in her whole career. Nora Roberts, American's most popular writer of romance novels, turns out five books a year, and has only one rule of writing: "Ass in the chair". Six to eight hours, every day, adds up to revenue of nearly $60 million a year. Fine, you say: one rule for the literati and another for the less highbrow - but not so fast, if you'll excuse the pun. Only a few weeks ago in these pages, we reviewed Joyce Carol Oates's spectacularly creepy novel, Daddy Love, and in the next weeks we shall review her next novel, The Accursed. Since her first book was released in 1964, she has published nearly 60 - 60! - novels, more than 30 collections of short stories and eight volumes of poetry. Let's not forget plays and essays and book reviews and books of nonfiction... an astonishing river of words.

I'm pretty sure though that Roberts's useful rule applies to every one of these authors. "Writing" can mean a wide range of activities: research, note-taking, drafting, redrafting again... did I mention redrafting? Perhaps I did. A writer makes her own rules, including how long it takes her to write a book.' 

Erica Wagner in The Times

'Big emotional experiences'

4 March 2013

'I don't like being unfashionable, but I'm doomed to be. Highly educated people didn't like the musical Les Miserables when it opened on stage.  I think they have a fear of their own emotions. I loved it, but then I love Tammy Wynette. I'm an odd mixture. I did English at Cambridge, but the novels I was writing were no good, because I unconsciously, wanted them to be treated as literature, which is absolute nonsense. The only books that work come out of your own powerful drives. If you don't care about them, why should anyone else? Hollywood has been helpful to me in that sense. It banged all the shit out of me...

I'm not a monk! I can't live on the books. But the book-reading public wants big emotional experiences. Why wouldn't they? I do.  Why is it that we keep on reading the 19th century classics? Because they feed us in this way. There are very few recent books that I would ever re-read. It's been a very disappointing era for books, the past 50 years, my lifetime. There are some, but it's been a diminished, anxious, over self-protective period of writing, with too much care for ideologies rather than content.'  

William Nicholson, author of Motherland and the screenplay of Les Miserables, in The Times.