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The Editor's View March 07


John Jenkins

John Jenkins' monthly column from Writers' Forum magazine

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Write about what you don’t know. . .

who could spot a Faulkner? . . .

Success for Eric at 12. . .

Bonjour Mandarin

SO MUCH for write about what you know. Stef Penney, who has never visited Canada, has won the Costa Book Award with her first novel, The Tenderness of Wolves.

She wrote the book while suffering from agoraphobia which meant that not only did she find it impossible to fly but had difficulty in getting on a bus from London’s East End to visit the British Library where she did all her research on life in 19th century Canada.

Her book was already selling well before the award of £25,000. Although the verdict of the judges was not unanimous the chairman, Armando Iannucci, said even those who did not have it first on their list had it second.

Penney, who is 37, was born in Edinburgh and turned to film making after reading philosophy and theology at Bristol University.

She went on to study film and television in Bournemouth and has several film credits as writer and director. Nobody would be surprised if a film option came her way for the book would lend itself well to the big screen.

As with many good books, it was rejected by several publishers before being accepted by Quercus, a new publisher founded only three years ago.

While Penney may not have known much about Canada she certainly had experienced the emotional turmoil which leads to panic attacks.

She wondered what it would have been like for somebody born into the 19th century without the benefit of modern therapy and safe sedatives. Hence she invented Mrs Ross, a character addicted to laudanum.

The book is really an adventure story involving a murder and love interest.

* * *

FRUSTRATION must dry up more creative juices than any other emotion suffered by authors. Frustration that their talent is not being recognised.

Seldom has the case been argued so well as G.D. McFetridge does.

In this case a story by William Faulkner, one of the greatest names in the lexicon of American writing has been used.

Barely changed, a famous Faulkner story was sent off to a variety of magazines and editors only to be returned sometimes with faint praise and occasionally accompanied by inane remarks.

The ploy has been used elsewhere – about a year ago in France where an author used Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as the test piece.

* * *

A HAPPIER note from 12- year-old Eric Richardson who followed up his first novel with a radio broadcast and a book signing at Waterstones. Eric, a former winner of a Writers’ Forum Young Writer award, is at work on a sequel. His story is an inspiration.

* * *

ANDREW CROFTS, modestly described as one of the world’s most successful freelancers, has produced his third book on that subject. "It is the most wonderful way of earning a living... with only inherited wealth running it close for personal freedom."

He has a point, if you are successful. But a better quote in his book comes from the Egyptian sage Ptahotep.

Be a scribe. Your body will be sleek, your hands will be soft...You are one who sits grandly in your house; your servants answer speedily; beer is poured copiously; all who see you rejoice in good cheer. Happy is the heart of him who writes; he is young each day. Ptahotep wrote this around 4500 B.C. It’s a nice thought.

* * *

IT’S London Book Fair time again and 23,000 professionals will visit it. There will be much for aspiring writers to note. A master class in getting published and talks from successful novelists. The venue is Earls Court and it will run from Monday to Wednesday, April 16th - 18th.

* * *

IF YOU are one of those writers who adds at least six new websites to your notebook each week you might care to try

Andrew is an agent specialising in biographers and founder of the Biographers’ Club. He kicked off the year in style. He made deals for five books in January to the delight of authors: Cathy Glass , Peter Forbes, Steven Hastings, Kris Hollington and Desmond Seward.

And Daniel Tammet’s American edition of Born on a Blue Day entered the New York Times bestseller list. It’s a record much larger agencies would be proud to quote.

Talking of websites, Thomas E. Kennedy’s www.thomase is an impressive record of this man’s work. Well worth a look with a host of rich material.

* * *

THOSE who despair at the daily debasement of the English language will not be slow to attack the government initiative in trying to introduce Mandarin and Arabic to the school curriculum.

When you think of the poor standard of French in Britain where millions have studied for five years for a GCSE or O level and now can barely order a beer, the mind just boggles at what will happen to Mandarin.


John Jenkins, Publisher, Writers' Forum


Read the article about setting up WritersServices which was originally published in Writers' Forum magazine.

© Writers International Ltd 2007. Reproduced from Writers' Forum magazine by kind permission of the editor.