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Comment from the book world in January 2022


The digital vision

20 June 2022

'We've only been publishing for three years, having started just before the pandemic did. Bizarrely our business model suited the pandemic because firstly, everybody was already working from home, and secondly, we were in the digital space. So we were very well prepared for what, unbeknownst to us, was coming.

The digital vision we had formulated was vindicated and validated by the pandemic - but that doesn't mean it's not still relevant. As we grow, we're doing a bit more print, but we'll continue to adapt and survive. So far we've published about 300 titles, we've got 80 authors, and we're publishing another 150 titles this year.'

Amanda Ridout of Boldwood Books, a new publisher focusing on popular fiction and publishing worldwide in ebook form, after winning the UK's Fox Williams Independent Publisher of the Year Award, in Bookbrunch


'The short story is at the very heart of our culture'

30 May 2022

For years I have put off writing short stories and have written novels instead. And now I finally have the courage, because I believe the moment for short stories has come again. Why have they been in the doldrums? Why do we hear so much about novels and so little about short stories?...

After all, the short story is at the very heart of our culture...

We are all rushed, and it is said our attention span is growing shorter. On planes it seems people are mostly reading self-help books about how to deal with their short attention spans, if they are reading at all. Enter the short story. The very best, such as those of Jorge Luis Borges's, pack an astonishing punch...

In a short story, the author can take risks and step out into the unknown...'

Sally Emerson, journalist, travel writer and author of six novels, including Fire Child, Broken Bodies and Separation, three poetry anthologies and a volume of short stories, Perfect, Stories of the Impossible, to be published this month, in Bookbrunch (behind the paywall)


‘I never planned to be a writer at all'

16 May 2022

‘I never planned to be a writer at all. For years, maybe even today, sometimes I think, "What exactly am I going to do with my life What is my career going to be? I'm only 80, for God's sake!...

I am fascinated by endurance. Human beings really do lead lives of quiet desperation. It's admirable really. Families are basically the only group that can't easily split up. It is my version of a disaster movie, you put people in a burning building and see how they behave under duress...

My plots are just time, if you think about it. Times passes and eventually someone will die and somebody will get married. I would love to have a real plot. I don't care whodunnit. It happened. What can I say? They're dead!'

Anne Tyler, author of 26 novels, including The Accidental Tourist, Ladder of Years and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, in the Sunday Times Culture.


'Hybrid' publishing and authors

2 May 2022

'In our world authors may grumble at poor advances, royalties and meagre sales, but at least - in the main - the money flows, as it should, towards the author and availability in shops is a given. In the alternative reality of hybrid, subsidised or contributory publishing, it is authors who provide the investment in return for giving up their rights. The rewards can be dubious...

Some of this speaks to how the world has changed over the past two decades. Where once it was simple to spot vanity presses, Amazon Kindle's self-publishing platform has legitimised "indie" authorship and provided a route to publication for thousands of writers eschewed by the traditional companies...

I take an old-fashioned view of such things. If authors are having to invest their own money in their publishing then they need to be clear on their goals and how their money is being used...'

Philip Jones, editor of the Bookseller, in his editorial


'You don't have to worry about the plot, really'

18 April 2022

‘I thought I was going to write a great novel about social justice, it was going to be a great work of literature. I'm really quite good at character, I can build a character that people can believe in, but you can't just have them sitting around chatting in a room, something's got to happen. And I couldn't think what to make happen...' (her comfort reading was crime fiction, so she decided to kill someone off) ‘and then I was away, because you've got that structure with traditional crime fiction. You don't have to worry about the plot, really. You've got a body, you've got a limited number of suspects. And you've got some form of resolution. Somebody said it's like a corset to hold you up.'

Ann Cleeves, author of 39 crime novels, including the Palmer Joe, Vera Stanhope, Matthew Venn, Jimmy Perez and Inspector Ramsay series in the Bookseller


'How do I make it more exciting, funnier, more heartwarming?'

4 April 2022

‘I wanted the characters to do magic, but I didn't want them to be magic. I wanted a foundational mythology through the elements. When you run into pot holes it's sometimes quite tempting to fix it with magic. I resist that and want it always coming back to the elements or the bond so it feels believable...

I'm a really visual writer. If I can't see it I struggle to write it. It has to be able to play out as if it's a scene...

The more I know about the characters, the easier it is to find the humour. How do I make it more exciting, funnier, more heartwarming? I'm aways asking myself these questions. The message of the book is finding friends who accept you for who you really are. It's about loving people even when it's hard, about doing the right thing even when it's scary.'

A F Steadman, whose debut children's novel Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, the first in a five-book fantasy series, is published this month, in the Bookseller


'Strange, long lives'

21 March 2022

'After all, one of the great things about books is that they don't disappear after the first year of their publication - barring floods and thieves, they can loiter forever on your shelves, waiting to be picked up and rediscovered, manic publicity cycle be damned. They can be revisited, loaned out, traded, forgotten and found. They can have strange, long lives.'

Emily Temple, managing editor at Lit Hub and author of The Lightness.

'My aim is to entertain'

7 March 2022

‘There are moments when I'm writing a character, who might be from a different ethnicity to mine, or a different sex or gender or background. I start worrying about what the reaction might be because it's so unfathomable. And that is scary because writers shouldn't be following the agenda, they should be setting it. But that's not happening any more. You get writers making extraordinary statements, like Sebastian Faulks who said he would never describe what a woman looked like any more because that's objectifying.

Sebastian is a very clever person. And when he starts saying things like that all writers have to begin to tremble. Lionel Shriver goes to the press and makes statements which are deliberately, it seems, inflammatory. I don't want to go down that route. My aim is to entertain, to not get involved in spurious and unsolvable rows.'

Anthony Horowitz, author of 36 novels for children and adults, including The Magpie Murders and the Alex Rider series, in the Sunday Times Culture


On sensitivity readers

21 February 2022

'Normally agents and editors read a book thinking. "Do I love this, would other people love this?" Now a new concern has sprung up: "Will other people object to it?" You're worrying about whether what characters say can be taken out of context, screengrabbed and put on Twitter, and that the author will be punished. Books are judged by people who haven't read them more than ever before.

The Bad Sex Prize) takes a book which may or may not be a great piece of writing, reads the sex scenes out of context in a silly voice and everyone laughs. It's good fun but it's not a fair way to assess books. This is worse, because it's not even good-hearted; it's chasing offence.'

An unnamed publishing editor in the Sunday Times Culture


Agents expand into international field to deal with manuscripts written in English

7 February 2022

‘We are getting more and more manuscripts in English from all over the world. A decade ago we'd get two but mostly from scientists or journalists but now we get a lot in fiction and YA.

Particularly in northern Europe children learn English from a very young age now. In general globalisation of schooling is an important reason [for an increase in English manuscripts]. Also the media they use - gaming or YouTube - will often be in English, there'll be lots of reading in English. I went to a Neil Gaiman event in Amsterdam and there were 400 kids and he only had to sign about four books in Dutch, the rest in English.

But also with a lot of fan fiction in Holland and Scandinavia, these people will write in English straight away because they also want to get published in the UK or US. Back in the day the largest goal for authors was to be published in their own language but nowadays... if they write in English, the world is their audience.'

Paul Sebes, founder of Amsterdam-headquartered Sebes & Bisseling Literary Agency, which has just opened a London office, in the Bookseller



'Don't make it up any more'

24 January 2022

‘There's a whole debate about... whether we're just constrained to write about ourselves. But it's always seemed to me to be an absolute base fundamental that imagining my way into somebody's else's consciousness and what makes them yearn, what makes them happy, what makes them anxious - this kind of projection into another soul's being and, in many cases, into people's consciousness who are very unlike me, a different gender, a different age - has always been what writing has been about. Supposing Dickens had only written about himself?...

It's not just me, it's thousands of us around the world. My (husband) Richard is rather more optimistic than me. He's a biographer and I think it's affected the fiction writers much more. People are saying "Don't make it up any more. We need the real thing." His view is that it may or may not pass, but I'm getting so old now that I think, "Will it pass in my time?"'

Rose Tremain, author of 15 books, including Restoration, Sacred Country, Music and Silence and The Gustav Sonata

'Writing is work'

13 January 2022

‘If there is anything I believe to be foundational to the business of writing then it is this: writing is work. To frame it in this way is to acknowledge that good writing doesn't come out, fully formed, at two in the morning; and nor does it require anything extraordinary in the way of genius or education, although of course it's possible to have an aptitude for it, and reading helps.

Instead, good writing happens, in increments, between everything else that needs to be done. To believe otherwise feels, to me, like a form of exclusion, keeping out anyone who might have parts of their lives which must take precedence: bills to be paid or people to be cared for, appointments which can't be missed, worries, aches; whereas to define writing as work is to believe both that it can be learned, and that it can be put aside. It is to delineate it as part of the ordinary. It is to state that, far from being esoteric, like gold leaf on a halo, writing requires in the main what all things require if one wants to make a decent fist of them: learning, practice, repetition.'

Jessie Greengrass, author of Sight and The High House: A Novel in an article entitled Learning, Practice, and Repetition: Why the Act of Writing Is Work in Lit Hub