To Crete with some friends recently and in an airport book shop – I am feeling stressed, hopeful and a little overwhelmed… keen to make a good choice.
Authors I’ve heard of – reassuring because I’ve heard of them, right? Against newbies who are likely to be winners because debut books habe their heart and soul poured in to them before the publishing factories take over?
Eventually, I plump for a brand author (safer?) and his latest fat tome. This guy has real writing chops. Nikki has read and LOVED his previous stuff and on the jacket of his new missive – Stephen King (no less) calls it his best yet.
Vacations are sacred. They come around rarely (for normal people) and they must be cherished. Certain key elements are required: good weather, good food, company and a good book…
In Crete, I had the first three but not the last.
The book is frankly, garbage. Immediately, I questioned his rather thin prose and lazy writing. But I persevere and expect things to pick up.
But it doesn’t. A 1/3, exasperated I use precious data to consult the amazon reviews and my suspicions are confirmed.
Firstly that the book is indeed a dud but and reading the 1 star reviews, they are very revealing.
Firstly, there are a lot of them and they are polite and considered, not just angry rants. And frequently they say the same thing and question whether this is actually written by the author at all. More likely ghost written by an inferior scribe – (the publishing factory) which were my suspicions even having never read him before. Because how else did he become a multi-millionaire author?
I am now highly suspicious of very famous authors endorsing (each others) books. This is suspect anyway because Stephen King must be incredibly busy writing/editing his own books – so when does he have time to read his competitors? And if my suspicions are correct and the book I eventually discarded was written in a by a factory – it must be that the author himself did not bother to read it – and so really, how likely was Stephen King to wade through it and lend his considerable heft to such gruel?
In South Africa as I write this (a working holiday, as this post proves), I am reading Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – the Booker prize winner – a tough read for its grim subject but also his challenging style. Multiple characters with similar/same names and varying time frames with little furniture to help navigate… it is a beautiful but challenging read. It requires effort on the part of the reader and reading it, I can see how my novels are exposed as non-serious books. But no matter. I spend considerable time and effort making my books easy and fun to read. I want smiles, occasional laughs not awards.
And on this note, I thought I would provide a guide to my novels in case you have an upcoming reading summer window left and you don’t want to get it wrong like I did.
My most romantic novel?
Only in America – for which you have Nikki to thank.
My funniest novel?
The Ripple Effect. A novel can only really be funny if its narrative is inherently funny. This is the case with TRE. I wrote this book under some pressure, to stave off being fired by my publisher, so I wrote it as funny as I know how. It didn’t work. They fired me anyway. But it is funny.
All of my novels have some funny but they are qualified and constrained by the narrative. The Fruit Bowl is a good example with humour from the characters Paddy and Elliot – but because the story is not inherently comic and is obviously real, by which I mean, it could be a true story – too much humour would be inappropriate.
Another funny funny novel of mine is Open Links.
Most complete novel?
By this I mean – which novel would I give to a complete newbie reader.
The Fruit Bowl – because I consider it to be the most secure novel. The novel that I figure most people will enjoy.
My best novel?
A tough one – but I think I, Gabriel – for its unusual style – first person narrative – and the challenge of turning an unlikeable character in to a hero the reader roots for. Plus its moral spine and a confounding ending which no one has seen coming. Most of my books (OIA) – the ending is apparent from act 1 – the pleasure being how this denouement plays out.
The last 1/5 of a novel is the most important – because if a reader has stayed with you for this long – then they need to be paid back handsomely. Like a big warm cuddle from the author.
My best book?
A chronicle of a unique set of family circumstances – which I think will be very valuable for my boys in their days ahead – and a story I felt compelled to write because father and son roles were defined so clearly and in the lap of the Gods. A tough write but a fun write nonetheless.
Metallic Paint – which I didn’t publish because it was not good enough. It was a neat idea but I was not skilled enough to pull it off. This is an advantage of being self-published – because a publishing factory would have published it anyway – with a great jacket and a quote from someone famous – and to hell with ruining people’s vacations. I have never published something I don’t think is worth reading (even a blog).
Most compelling book?
OIA or Open Links…
At an event recently, a rough looking bloke approached me after my show.
“Did you write a book about the Open. A golfer’s final round.”
We establish that I did and it was OL, whereupon he became visibly emotional.
“…that book was given to me by my mum. I’d never read a book before and I figured I never would. But I started it, because I promised her I would… and I tell you what, I couldn’t stop reading because I fucking loved it mate. I loved it so much, I gave it to me daughter. She reads it and guess what? She comes up to me blubbing her eyes out and she just hugs me…”
This is a big win for me. A huge win that a book I have written has such an effect on a reader. This is the Holy Grail for a writer – because it means that the reader will go on to read my other books and shout from the roof tops that everyone needs to read OL.
“Mind you, I haven’t read another book since…”
I smile ruefully. Not such a big win after all.
A tough thing writing and selling books – but anything worth achieving is difficult…
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little digest of my canon.
This blog shows the importance of two things – endorsements and word of mouth. If you have enjoyed any of my books, do please write a review and perhaps share this post, so that other readers might enjoy their vacations whatever the weather is doing.