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Comment from the book world in November 2017

November 2017

'Literary fiction was the thing'

20 November 2017

‘I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a novelist, but my father thought I should have a proper job, with a proper salary, a proper pension. The idea of being a writer struck him as the height of foolhardiness. He died very young (58), so he never saw how things worked out...

We were very lucky. For 10 years literary fiction was the thing, paperback imprints were starting up, advances huge, every publisher wanted the spin to their list so the literary novelist suddenly found himself in demand with auction bids for the next novel.

But then, slowly, it died away. My agent said there are maybe six literary novelists now, including me, who can make a living from their novels, who don't have any other jobs.'

William Boyd, author of A Good Man in Africa, Any Human Heart, The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth and eight other novels in the Sunday Times

200,000 books published a year (just in the UK)

13 November 2017

‘An optimist may think this abundance marvellous: a sign of publishing virility, of a lively literary culture. They would be wrong. It is a disaster for readers and for writers...

Do we really think that we need all 200,000 books? The sheer scale of the "publishing numbers racket" means that too many mediocre books are appearing, crowding out attention from better books. It becomes harder for the reader to find the good. Browsing in Waterstones for a decent read is like panning for gold in the middle of rapids.

Then there is the brute fact that shelf space is limited. Every new book evicts an old, probably better one. For every "exciting", over-puffed shiny debut, a tested and trusted book loses out. The shelf life of authors becomes ever shorter...

And pity that writer. Here's a figure to chill the blood: every literary fiction title written in English sold an average of 263 copies in 2015...'

Robbie Millen, Literary Editor, in The Times

Taking on Poirot

6 November 2017

‘There were some things about Agatha Christie's writing that I did want to emulate: not the prose style itself, but her blueprint for what the ideal crime novel should be and do. She often started with an outlandish, almost impossible-seeming plot premise that cranked up the suspense level to maximum right from the start; her stories have the strongest bone structure I've ever read, with the brilliantly elegant story-shape sticking out pleasingly at every possible point; she made the clues extremely obvious, to play fair with the reader, but always safe in the knowledge that her imagination was so ambitious and unpredictable that nobody would ever guess the solution.'

Sophie Hannah, author of The Monogram Murders, Closed Casket (both Poirot novels), Did You See Melody? and 18 other novels in the Observer