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Comment from the book world in January 2022


'I go through phases of hating writing'

19 December 2022

‘The most important skill a writer can have is curiosity. I'm curious about a lot of things. It's always been a source of surprise to me that more people are not more curious about more things...

I don't think writer's block exists. I go through phases of hating writing. And I go through longer phases of feeling I've got nothing to say. But the idea of writer's block has never rung true for me. This idea that you're straining to get it out. I've thought, "Oh that's it, I'm finished," then something comes along that makes me interested in stuff again.'

Geoff Dyer, author of four novels and ten non-fiction titles, including The Last Days of Roger Federer, But Beautiful, See/Saw and White Sands in The Observer


It's no good starting out by thinking one is a heaven-born genius

5 December 2022

‘If you like to write for yourself only, that is a different matter - you can make it any length, and write it in any way you wish; but then you will probably have to be content with the pleasure alone of having written it. It's no good starting out by thinking one is a heaven-born genius - some people are, but very few. No, one is a tradesman - a tradesman in a good honest trade. You must learn technical skills, and then, within that trade, you can apply your own creative ideas; but you must submit to the discipline of form...

You start into it, inflamed by an idea, full of hope, full indeed of confidence (about the only times in my life when I have been full of confidence.) If you are properly modest, you will never write at all, so here had to be one delicious moment when you have thought of something and know just how you are going to write it, rush for a pencil, and start in an exercise book buoyed up with exaltation. You then get into difficulties, don't see your way out, and finally manage to accomplish more or less what you first meant to accomplish, though losing confidence all the time. Having finished it, you know that it is absolutely rotten. A couple of months later you wonder whether it may not be all right after all...

The most blessed thing about being an author is that you do it in the private and in your own time. It can worry you, bother you, give you a headache; you can go nearly mad trying to arrange your plot in the way it should go and you know it could go; but you do not have to stand up and make a fool of yourself in public.'

Agatha Christie, Queen of Crime, in her Autobiography


'Firmly in a spotlight so bright that their popularity cannot be ignored'

21 November 2022

‘The TikTok success stories of Colleen Hoover and Emily Henry have done the genre a wonderful favour by putting romance firmly in a spotlight so bright that their popularity cannot be ignored. And even better that they're women (that's one in the eye for the misogynists). I am seeing the start of a ripple effect where readers who have read everything these two writers have to offer are hungry for more and are seeking out other writers of romance. But then romance is more celebrated in the States and not treated like the poor cousin at a wedding. We need that US effect to jump on a boat, cross the pond and work its magic here, to help us batter down the walls of prejudice...

‘Romance books are often as deftly plotted as books in other genres, they can be as challenging, the prose as beautiful and yet they're judged harshly by comparison and there is no logic to it when readers buy them in their millions and those sales figures do a lot of talking. A Happy Ever After does not a lesser book make.'

Milly Johnson, author of 28 romances, including Together Again and The Woman in the Middle in Bookbrunch.



Working with authors

7 November 2022

‘It depends on the state that the manuscript comes in. There are some that need minor tweaks, and others that need to be structurally overhauled. I enjoy editing with authors - a book feels like puzzle pieces to me, and we need to get it in the correct order to understand what that book is before sending it out. It's also fascinating to see what an editor does to make a book even better...

A lot of our authors aren't full time authors - they still have their day jobs, or they're still students. We make sure that we set expectations, but if an author needs to take a few months to make sure that their living situation or their job is okay, that's fine. An author needs to be in a place where they can write a book so that we can represent them. There's a lot of communication involved, and that changes per author, depending on what they need. You have to be a chameleon and change to make sure each author gets the best care.'

Liza DeBlock at London literary agency Mushens Entertainment in BookBrunch


'Just don't cheat'

24 October 2022

‘Does a dramatist have a duty of care to a public figure and to the audience for whom this imagined version might be their first or only contact with the historical material? (Hilary) Mantel thought it did: "You can select, elide, highlight, omit. Just don't cheat," she advised. I tend to agree - up to a point.

When I started writing historical crime novels featuring the 16th century Italian philosopher and heretic Giordano Bruno, I was conscious that, for many English readers, these stories might be their first introduction to Bruno's life and work, and I wanted to do justice to a man who was - as I saw it - charismatic, flawed but ultimately courageous in his defence of free thought. Genre fiction arguably gives greater room for artistic embellishment, but it has always mattered to me to stay true to the spirit of who Bruno was, even if that's only my interpretation. The idea that he was involved in foiling conspiracies against Elizabeth 1 while working as a spy in London was not my invention...'

Stephanie Merritt, journalist, literary critic and author of four novels under her own name and ten Giordano Bruno novels under the pseudonym S J Parris, including Heresy, Treachery and Prophecy, in the Observer.

'My hands do the thinking'

10 October 2022

‘When you write something down you pretty well kill it. Leave it loose and knocking around up there and you never know - it might turn into something...

My hands do the thinking. It is not a conscious process...

I can't explain how one creates a novel. It's like jazz. They create as they play, and maybe only those who can do it can understand it.'

Cormac McCarthy, author of The Passenger, The Road, No Country for Old Men, The Border Trilogy and five other novels, in interviews with local papers early in his career, reprinted in the New York Times


'Poetry is for them'

3 October 2022

‘Poetry Prompts is my invitation to the nation, young and old, to become poets. We turn to poetry at weddings, funerals and births because it goes beyond mere words and translates the soul. But there is baggage associated with poetry that I want everyone to put down - to allow everyone to reclaim the birth right of poet. So often I've met children and adults scared to put pen to paper, terrified of 'getting it wrong' - this has repercussions in all aspects of life. I want to show everyone that poetry is for them, that we can enjoy the rules and break the rules.'

Joseph Coelho, UK Children's Laureate, on the launch of Poetry Prompts. His books are Werewolf Club Rules, the Luna Loves series, If All the World Were, Overheard in a Tower Block and The Girl Who Became a Tree.

Joseph Coelho biography



'Epic fantasy in live action'

21 September 2022

‘I do think the scope of what studios can do has really proved itself in modern live-action adaptations of fantasy novels. Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings were so huge in scope and delivery that people were able to imagine epic fantasy in live action as something that felt tangible.

These huge global franchises have had such a massive impact that it's really opened the door for people to give fantasy fiction a chance when they might have written it off previously.'

Claire Ormsby-Potter, editorial assistant at London SF and Fantasy publisher Gollancz


'Earlier generations had things much worse'

5 September 2022

‘One of the virtues of writing historical fiction is to remind yourself that earlier generations had things much worse. The Blitz. The First world War. The English Civil War. The Great Fire of London. The Plague. I was born in the 1950s, which is to have won God's lottery, really. It meant you could live a life of 60 or 70 years without having to put on a uniform and fight. But that is a rarity in human history unfortunately and what we're seeing now is far more like normality.'

Robert Harris, author of 14 bestselling novels, including just-published Act of Oblivion, Fatherland, Enigma, Pompeii and The Cicero Trilogy, in the Sunday Times Culture.


It's all gravy now.'

22 August 2022

‘It's great that I can support my family by doing something that I love. It's great that I'm able to utilise the talent that was given to me and write stories that make people happy.

When I'm writing, I'm all about myself and about the reader, so that's a great thing to have. I won't say that I never in my wildest dreams dreamt of huge amounts of success, but what I really wanted was to be able to do it for a living. The rest has just been what us Americans call gravy. It's all gravy now.'

Stephen King, author of over 50 novels, novellas and short stories, including The Shining, Carrie, The Stand, It and The Shawshank Redemption with sales of over 350 million books, in the Sunday Times Culture


'Performers, salespeople and marketers'

10 August 2022

‘Gone are the days when authors could afford to be reclusive, knowing that their publishers would be active on their behalf. Nowadays, authors are routinely expected to be performers, salespeople and marketers all at the same time. And to do that, we need to let go of certain toxic narratives, not least the myth that artists shouldn't care about money or sales, or sully their art by trying to make a living...

I've had to face the fact that a certain amount of online self-promotion is not only necessary but that sometimes it's the only promotion an author is likely to get...

And yes, it takes time; but it's time well-deployed. And yes, it takes valuable time away from the actual process of writing, but it's short-sighted to look at it that way. No job ever really consists of doing just one thing. The publishing world is changing fast; authors, too, need to change to survive. And if that change entails leaving our ivory towers, engaging with our audiences and admitting that we too have bills to pay, then I say all the better.'

Joanne Harris, author of 27 books, including the bestselling Chocolat, current Chair of the Society of Authors in the UK in the Bookseller


A book 'puts no pressure on its reader to perform or conform'

25 July 2022

‘How many times was I asked while still writing it: "What makes Harry Potter so popular?" I never had a good answer. It has occurred to me since that much of what young people found in the Potter books are the very same things they seek online: escape, excitement and agency. The Potter books also describe a community that sees and embraces what others might see as oddities. Who doesn't want that? How much more "seen" can a person feel, than to be told "you're a wizard"? But the great thing about a book as opposed to a social media platform is that it puts no pressure on its reader to perform or conform. Like a friendly common room, it's there to retreat to, but it doesn't judge. It makes no crushing demands.'

J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and the Cormorant Strike series,  in the Sunday Times Culture.