the stress of buying a novel…

Here’s a very familiar situation –

You’re in the airport and you are committed to buying a book. This might be the only book you will read this year, so it is an important decision. But there is so much choice and the 2 for 1 offers are a distraction also. A wall of books screaming for attention, all heavily relying on hyperbole and boastful claims of being either ‘bone chillingly terrifying’ or ‘tear inducing funny’. But which one to buy…

Buyers in this scenario will look to reduce their risk and this always involves familiarity.

And in this situation, I boldly say…


Not just famous authors – what I really mean are the authors who produce a new book every year – as demanded by their publisher.

Some readers are happy enough with just beautiful prose and the story is secondary – but most readers want compelling narratives – well thought and resolved – and I don’t think it is possible to come up with a story each year that is worth writing or reading.  

All consumers are suckers. Needing familiarity is why food chains are so successful. Pret a Manger – whether in Arbroath or Gatwick Village – we know it, we trust it and it makes us feel secure. Incidentally, I don’t know whether there is a Pret in Arbroath. I suspect not.

Same with authors. But choosing a book is much more perilous than choosing lunch because of the time we need to spend with it. Time that cannot be retrieved. I remember my honeymoon very fondly apart from a very thick Tom Clancy that I waded through to the bitter end. My marriage soldiers on but I have yet to trust Mr Clancy again.

Similarly, John Grisham. Having so enjoyed The Firm and The Runaway Jury,  but too many disappointments since and The Painted House was the last Grisham for me. Flying to America with Tom last year, I was seduced by Red Mist – very likely the last Cornwell novel I will read.    

Neil Simon, a brilliant playwright puts it better than I can – in fact it wasn’t him who said it, but a critic writing about one of his plays.

“Neil Simon did not have a good idea for a new play this year, but he wrote one anyway”

And this is the same with authors.

The adage that we all have a novel in us might well be true. We certainly all have a story to tell. And this is why so often, first time novelists are worth considering. The story is so often based on their own lives and experiences  – the debut novel has had years to percolate and mature and is much more likely to be a story worth telling.

I am not a clever writer looking to trouble awards panels. I failed English Language O Level the first time around and my reading of the Classics does not extend outside the set texts of my English Literature O Level (grade C) – but I think I can tell a story – and A Man’s Life has taken me almost ten years to write and has evolved from a series of real life incidents in my life and others.

I didn’t submit it to publishers, tarnished by the wretched experience with publishers in the past.

I was in a book shop yesterday when the idea of this post occurred to me. A Man’s Life is not going to be the best book published this year. But I figure it is better than many screaming for your attention in the shiny book shops – and at £3 – I hope you might take a punt and like me, give praise to the clever entrepreneurs who have made the ebook possible.

And to prove my point, I can confidently say that there will not be a new DH novel next year – I haven’t got a story worth telling… yet!



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