Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Books etc

Nearly two weeks in and the new getting up early regime is going well. Which is good, as I have so much work on at the moment that I don't see how else I could have got any writing done.

I'm really getting into my characters and I'm loving how the story is flowing from them - I put them in a situation and they react, and they react the way they do because of who they are not because I think that's what they should do. And so new unexpected elements of the story are developing, but it all seems to be making sense, and sometimes there are connections between things that I hadn't intended but which have just happened and again, it seems to be making sense. I dunno maybe one morning I will wake up, read through what I have written and realise that it is all nothing more than the incoherent ramblings of a half-awake tea-sodden wretch - but for now I am happy.

Have you ever read a book, decided you hate it then been shocked and dismayed when all your friends think it's great? I am in a book club, in fact I am in two. Which is odd as I'm not really a book club person - I hate being told what to read and when, and will always leave the book club(s) book(s) at the bottom of my TBR pile and wait til I am good and ready to read it (ie a couple of days before the meet up.) Also I get very protective of books I like and don't like people criticising them. So, not ideal book club material. Anyway last week I finally got round to reading this month's book. It was a novel written by a well known comedian. The person who chose it said it was 'hilarious', 'witty', 'profound'. I was quite looking forward to it.

I hated it. It was one of the most badly written books I have ever read. In fact at one point I thought that he had written it so badly on purpose to annoy wannabe writers like me. Reading it in bed, I kept My Man awake by harrumphing - "but he's changed POV mid-paragraph", "he's just used the same word four times", "nobody speaks like that!" To each of which he sleepily replied "Well I liked it', "That bit made laugh out loud" and "You just don't get it."

The actual story was really strong but I couldn't concentrate on it because I kept getting thrown out of it by a sudden lengthy piece of exposition in the middle of the action or the introduction of a character with their complete backstory, who then disappears and isn't mentioned again.

Everyone at Book Club loved it and was full of the reasons why. The room rang with praise and enthusiasm. It was all very jolly. My Man kept looking over at me as I sheltered behind my wine glass. At last there was a silence and I said "I really didn't like it at all".
Ever popped some one's balloon? Ever took the last piece of cake that everyone was leaving for the hostess? Ever said a rude word in front of a vicar? That was me. I could almost hear the room deflate. As I tried to explain why I didn't like it I realised I was sounding more and more pedantic as if writing was just about rules, rules, rules and if you break them you shouldn't get a book deal - which wasn't my point at all (I like breaking rules, look I'm doing it now!!!!!).

I was outnumbered 7 to 1 (actually at least 17 to 1 as all the reviews I have read of it said it was great too). I gave up. "Maybe," I said at last, "maybe I just didn't get it." The room sighed with relief. There were nods all round, a refilling of glasses, and some agreement that bits of the dialogue were weak and that the ending was disappointing. "It was shit," I bubbled into my wine glass. Like I said book clubs are probably not my thing.

And finally, I read a review of a book the other day which sounded like a good read and one I might get out of the library - Shadowing the Sun by Lily Dunn. It was a generally very positive review but I was really struck by the final paragraph which seemed like a warning about my own writing - so I tore it out of the paper (the Metro of course!) and have copied it here in case it rings any alarm bells with equally guilty fellow writers

"The observations are acute, the characters well-drawn and the story engrossing, but there are times when the language, which at times feels self-consciously writerly, slows down an atmospherically sinister story."

"self-conciously writerly", who me? Yup I've spotted at least a couple of bits in my novel where everything is getting very tense and exciting and then a bit of the old purple comes wafting in all lyrical like and before you know it you've forgotten what everyone was getting so excited about. Well those bits have been struck out now and I promise not to do it again.

Writing this novel is turning out to be an amazing learning process, which I think will have been worth it for itself, no matter what else comes of it.


Leigh said...

This post struck a chord with me (yes, sorry, another one). I read a book last year which I thought total crap, and yet it has five-star reviews on Amazon. The author did exactly the same things as your comedian: changed POV mid-paragraph, used the same words/phrases only sentences apart, used awful clich├ęs and tired dialogue. Dull, dull dull.

And published...

Incidentally, I found a (more balanced) review of it elsewhere online, which helped me put my finger on what I didn't like about it (apart from the rule-breaking), and which gave me some really good pointers about my own novel.

I am thus convinced that studying bad books is a more useful form of research than studying good books.

Cal said...

Have I ever disagreed with the masses about a book?


Lovely Bones by Alice Seobold.

Don't get me wrong I thought it was okay but I wasn't fond of the ending and I didn't think it was brilliant by any means and when I said as much to my friends (who were all gushing about how amazing it was) they stared at me like I'd just insulted their parents.

Out of interest how many of the members of your book club are writers? As writers I think we're tougher on books than anyone else (apart from professional reviewers maybe). We spot things like POV slips that a non-writer might miss. Readers are a lot more forgiving than writers I think.

You stick to your guns!

KAREN said...

I'm with you on book clubs - I turned down an offer to join one only last week at work. I find it infuriating when people don't agree with me!!
I think I know the book you're referring to and I hated it as well - it reminded me of a novel by a comedienne I used to like. I assumed her novel would be funny and clever, but instead it was poorly-written pants.

It's great that your new regime is working so well, and that you're loving your characters. I'm trying not to read mine back until I've finished the damn thing, in case I put myself off! It's definitely a learning curve :o)

Sarah Dunnakey said...

Leigh - glad it's not just me. I agree that reading bad books make you a better writer - once I can get over the crossness of them getting published

Cal - well spotted, only one other writer there. I definitely read differently now I'm writing

Karen - I think I know the book you're talking about - it was so disappointing.
I'm trying not to do too much reading back at the mo as I'm trying to make my way through the chapters ahead. As my characters develop tho I'm aware of how much rewriting of the earlier chapters I'm going to have to do eventually.

HelenMH said...

This made me laugh so much! I wish I could have been there to see the other book clubber's faces!

I agree that as a writer you do read things in a totally different way. I go through phases of worrying that eventually that will take the pleasure out of reading - but so far it hasn't. Thank goodness!

SpiralSkies said...

I agree with Cal about Lovely Bones - the ending was so duff!

Am dying to know which comedian's book you didn't like?

Maddie Moon said...

Karen knows the book you're talking about and you know the book Karen's talking about. This is all very frustrating, I wish I did!

Sarah Dunnakey said...

Helen - Yes I worry aboutthat too, butI'm still enjoying lots of different books so far

Spiral and Maddie - sorry to be so cryptic but what if 'the comedian' was asked to review my novel one day - he might hold it against me! - I will email you the answers if I can

Sarah Dunnakey said...

Helen - Yes I worry aboutthat too, butI'm still enjoying lots of different books so far

Spiral and Maddie - sorry to be so cryptic but what if 'the comedian' was asked to review my novel one day - he might hold it against me! - I will email you the answers if I can

Rosqro Stanbok said...

I also have disagreed about a book with most everybody. (Harry Potter is just too whiney! whenever I read it I just want to scream, "Oh, how horrible! You don't rule everybody's world! What, he didn't tell you ONE THING? Oh, my, must we call the police? Why, how dare he not just drop all for you in a split second!!)

And I also hate being told, "Read this!!! Read that!!!" I am not to happy about letting books become a chore.

Jumbly Girl said...

Rosqro - I hate being told what tot read too - don't know how I ened up in two book groups :o)