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Comment from the book world in April 2013

April 2013

George Orwell's rules for writing

22 April 2013

'In his essay Politics and the English language George Orwell set out a series of rules for writing that are worth repeating in full: 1 Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print. 2 Never use a long word where a short one will do. 3 If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. 4 Never use the passive when you can use the active. 5 Never use a foreign phrase or jargon word if you can think of an everyday equivalent. 6 Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I would add four more tips. 1 Read the papers. 2 Be a sponge. Journalists need to soak up every detail from any situation they are reporting on. A seemingly superfluous detail later may suddenly strike you as a key that unlocks the whole yarn. Or it might just make the reader think, or laugh. 3 Write as much as you can. The more you do the better you'll get at it. 4 Never start a piece with a clunking reworking of Jane Austen's most famous opening sentence.'

Damian Whitworth in The Times

Stopping writing 'the parts that people skim'

15 April 2013

'If you think of the story that you tell that's your favourite personal story, or funny story, it doesn't have flashy sentences. It doesn't have too much detail. It just tells the story. That isn't, for whatever reason, the way most people write books, But it seemed to me that there was no reason that it couldn't be the way at least one person writes books. I said "I'm going to stop writing the parts that people skim..."

Stories are somewhat easy to tell. Once you start worrying about the sentences, it gets a lot trickier, or harder, and the result isn't necessarily positive.'

People that really know me consider me to be an incredible underachiever because I was supposed to really write nice, serious books. I got derailed and here I am.'

James Patterson, author of a great many books, in the Sunday Telegraph's Seven

The Other Story

7 April 2013

'I don't have a choice. If there's a story there will always be another story. There's always the Other Story. If you write fiction, your job is to apprehend the truth, something real, and be sensitive enough to give back, a reflection that is both a mirror and beyond the real: so we can use the real and the reflection and be able to survive both. There is nothing singular. We exist at multiple points... 

Writers need anonymity. We really need to be invisible. The self is something you've got to get rid of as a writer. It's just something else that's in the way. Of course, you can't get rid of yourself, it all passes through the same mulch, mush, much of a muchness, but it's of no help, and it's not relevant. The only relevance is to hear whatever the story, or the voice, or the sentence or the syntax is doing. That's our responsibility.'

Ali Smith, author of There but for the in The Times 

'The holy grail for a historian'

1 April 2013

'The holy grail for a historian is having three things come together. First is new material, second is a good story with a tight narrative and great characters, and third is something that has global and contemporary appeal. I was lucky enough to have all three...

What I try to do is write what I enjoy most in history books as a reader: that it conforms to the shape of a novel, has a small, tight narrative with a limited group of characters - all of whom are interesting - and the action takes place in a limited area or concentrated period of time.' 

William Dalrymple, author of White Mughals and Return of a King, in the Bookseller