'Do you write short stories while you're writing a novel?'
'Oh no, it's a different mindset. I write down ideas for them, and then go back to them when I've finished the novel.'
That was the general consensus, at a meeting of people who earn their living from writing. It's interesting for me, as a not-yet-published novelist, to see how other people do it. For myself, I find that short story ideas - not to mention whole plot threads and pieces of dialogue - will spring up like weeds when I'm supposed to be engaged in the Grand Work. Procrastination in disguise; that old wolf in sheep's clothing. And sometimes, when they're particularly beguiling or the novel is getting bogged down, I do go with them. Any writing is better than none, isn't it?
On the other hand, I'm not working to deadlines, so maybe I should revisit the question in a few years' time. But if anyone has a different take on this, I'd love to hear about it.
E-books or tree-books?
I went with four other members of Exeter Writers to a local printing workshop, to finalise our order for our 2014 anthology, 'The Coastal Zoo', which will be launched on March 22nd. Before our meeting, the manager showed us around. In the office were two or three people busy at their computers, and in the factory itself were at least ten more, tending to the machines. Very quiet and clean these days. And everywhere there were books of all shapes and sizes, from tiny 'pocket' books to huge glossy hardbacks.
'How's business?' we asked, after we'd sealed the deal. As a writer, all you hear is that the publishing industry - or at least the paper side of it - is shrinking fast. Sales of e-books outstripped 'tree-books' last year, and if you extrapolate from that, the actual book that you can hold in your hand is a vanishing species. But his answer was quick and confident. 'We did really well last quarter - busier than ever, in fact.'
'Is that because more people are self-publishing?'
'Not only that. We're getting plenty of orders from publishers too, big and small. I don't see printed books disappearing any time soon.'
Which was a good thing to hear, though at least one of us thought it was just sales hype. Maybe it's to do with the prices, which have come down quite a bit with the advent of digital technology. I'm an optimist, and I'm very fond of real books, so I'd like to think it's true.
I did an online IQ test the other day. It’s about forty years since I last did one, and you’re supposed to be at the peak of your mental powers in your early teens, so I was expecting it to have dropped by a few points, at least. But imagine my surprise, dear readers – instead of declining gently, it seems I have almost become a genius!
Except, of course, I haven’t. The tests I took in my teens had three parts, with questions involving maths, logic, verbal and visuo-spatial ability, and each took an hour. The one I’ve just done had thirty true/false questions, and took less than twenty minutes. It’s not even an apples and pears comparison, is it?
It’s just the old dream factory at work again, telling people what they want to hear. Now, I work in the dream factory myself, and there’s nothing wrong with dreams. But fiction is an excellent way of conveying truth without deception. You know it’s fiction, and you can pick out what you want and leave the rest. ‘Facts’ are a different ballgame, and you do need to be clever to sort out the false from the true. But you don’t have to be a genius. Which is just as well...
I woke up this morning (yes, I know that's not how you're supposed to start) to find myself on the shortlist for the Exeter Novel Prize. Someone I haven't met yet likes my novel! As a debut novelist, that feels like a huge affirmation.
My lovely writing friends give me good, honest (I hope) critique, but somehow once people are inside your circle, as it were, you can do this weird trick of discounting the nice things they say. And I know that's not just me. It's not even just about writing. So it's really, really good to get this feedback. And great incentive to get this website up and running. It's about time...