Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Maybe it's because I was a Londoner (briefly)

After spending a few years in London now that I'm leaving I keep thinking about all the good bits about it - rose-tinted glasses, I have a habit of donning them when it's time to move on. I've also been thinking about novels in which a city features almost as much as the characters, probably because I'm currently re-reading Graham Greene's A Quiet American and Saigon is just as much a part of the narrative as Fowler and Pyle. But in honour of the city that I have called home for almost three years (which is the longest I have lived anywhere in over a decade), today's blog is dedicated to two very different novels featuring good old London town.

The Book of Dave, Will Self
Cover of "The Book of Dave: A Novel"It's been a good while since I read this and although the language (Self's invented Mokni dialect, which is a mixture of cockney, text speak and various other bits and bobs pulled in from all sort of places) made it difficult to get into, it was worth the perseverance and this novel has stayed with me for a long time. Told in two parts - the present day of Dave and an unspecified time in the future - it is a parody of religious faith and the human race's willingness to blindly follow edicts written in ancient tomes. Dave is a taxi driver and he drives around the city bemoaning his fate that has seen his wife leave him for another man and take his son with her. He is mad and depressed and he hates everyone who doesn't know the streets of London and whose only idea of the city's layout comes from the tube map. He writes his rants in the Book of Dave and in the future society is living by the laws they have created from them, and singing hymns that are actually extracts from 'The Knowledge' (for you overseas readers, that's a test that London cabbies have to pass). It's funny, sad and oh so clever. Read it, you won't regret it.

The Hand that First Held Mine, Maggie O'Farrell
This latest novel from Maggie O'Farrell perfectly captured the bohemian vibe of Soho in that brief time when it was the place to be for writers, artists, musicians and actors as London recovered from the war years and headed for the swinging sixties. Flicking between Lexie's story in the late 1950s as she arrives in the city from rural Cornwall, and Elina and Ted's as they become parents for the first time in present day London, the sense of place in this book is one of its core strengths. As always with stories from Maggie O'Farrell its a real tear jerker and it deals with issues of identity and self, and how easy it is to forget who you really are.

Next up on my list of London-based books to read is Hanif Kureshi's The Buddha of Suburbia. Have you got any recommendations for me?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Guest blogs and book launches

As I prepare for the move to the wilds of Exmoor, I've got myself a monthly guest column on the Exmoor magazine blog. The first installment of 'The Urban Gypsy goes Rural' has been published on the blog today - the next one will be post move, when the realisation that we're not on holiday will probably just about be sinking in.

In preparation for a new life in the country I am making the most of the city's offerings over the next couple of weeks. I'm going to two book launches at Bloomsbury publishers (hoping to get talent spotted while I'm there of course) and have many nights out with friends planned. I'm also hoping to squeeze in a visit to the National Portrait Gallery as I've been meaning to go there for the past few years that we've been living in London.

The first book launch is next week and its for Brand Anarchy by Stephen Waddington, of interest for my day job, and the second is on the 26th July for the launch of Rook by Jane Rusbridge, her second novel. This is the one I'm looking forward to the most. Firstly because I really enjoyed Jane's debut novel, The Devil's Music, which I was chuffed to win a signed copy of in the competition that she ran earlier this year. Secondly, because I'm also going to get to meet some of the writers I speak to on Twitter in person. Oh, and did I mention I'm also hoping to get myself an agent and a publishing deal while I'm there? I'm not giving up you know. 

Monday, 9 July 2012

How to Get Published

I went to a one-day conference last Saturday run by the Writer's and Artist's Yearbook team, and the focus of the day was to show aspiring authors how they can get published. Despite some truly depressing statistics about the state of the publishing industry (and there was me thinking my book buying habit was keeping it going almost single-handedly) and the amount of submissions agents receive compared to how many new clients they take on each year, I came away feeling strangely optimistic. To give you an idea of how deluded this optimism probably is, the stats were this bad:
  • paperback book sales down 11% each year for the past few years
  • agent Lucy Luck, who is on my list of agents to submit to, gets around 50 submissions a week and takes on three new authors a year
  • if you do get lucky and get taken on by an agent advances have been slashed
But on a brighter note, ebook sales are rising 10% a year and all of the presenters from the industry said that the cream tends to rise to the top of the slush pile so if you've really got it, you'll make it. I live in hope that my writing is double creamy with cherries on top. 

Then of course there is the self-publishing route. Call me old fashioned if you like but my dream has always been to go through a traditional publishing house, ending up with proper copies of my book that I can look at on my shelves, but it is good to know that there are now more options than ever before for getting published. To show any doubting Thomases about how well the self-publishing route can work, author Kerry Wilkinson was there talking about the success he has enjoyed. His crime novels have sold over 300,000 ebooks on Amazon and he's just signed a six book deal with Pan MacMillan. 

For me though, the inspirational story of the day was Suzanne Joinson's. Her debut novel, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar, was published last week - in hardback, which really is impressive. I'm reading it at the moment and although I am only a little way in I am really enjoying it so far. It was her tale of discovery through winning a writing competition and the relationship she has developed with her agent, Rachel Calder of The Sayle Agency, who seems to be a slave-driver of the nicest possible kind when it comes to revisions, that really made me believe it could be me sometime in the future.

I've also taken to heart the advice from Cressida Downing's session, which highlighted the importance of not rushing to submit. I am so impatient for it all to happen for me that I am chomping at the bit to get the book out there. But I do know in my heart that it isn't ready yet.

In the meantime, I am moving to Exmoor on August 1st and know that I will have much more time and headspace to concentrate on my writing once I am there. Oh, and I'm going to be blogging about being an urbanite transferring to the wilds for Exmoor magazine so you can keep up to date with how that goes here.