Friday, 27 March 2015

Christopher Fowler - Author Contribution

Today we welcome Christopher Fowler, author of (amongst other things) the Bryant and May crime novels, to the blog. The latest book, The Burning, was published yesterday and we will be posting our (dare I say "glowing"? Yes.) glowing review on Monday 30th March. If you can't wait then checkout "The Water Room" and/or "The Invisible Code".

We see authors discussing PD James's "10 rules for writing" frequently across social media and here Christopher shares his views.

Phyllis Dorothy James was, without doubt, the grande-dame of crime writing, and issued her top ten tips for writing novels. It's heresy to contravene the rules, but what worked for PD James was clearly not what works for every aspiring or professional author.

1. You must be born to write

James says 'You can't teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully.' Not everyone has the benefit of supportive parents or a good education. Much as a brilliant chef may grow up in a home where no good cooking is ever attempted (Nigel Slater wrote about this in his elegant memoir 'Toast') a writer can be taught to understand the beauty of words. You must be born with a curiosity about the world and its people. How that curiosity is shaped depends on a good teacher, nurture, opportunity and passion, not birthright.

2. Write about what you know

Many of us believe in writing about what we don't know. We write what we hope, we dream, we love and fear. You can learn what you need to know easily enough. HRF Keating started the Inspector Ghote novels without ever setting foot in India. Many crime writers have set their stories in California without going there, and what about historical crime? We understand human emotions, but we make a lot up - it's called fiction.

3. Find your own routine

Life is changing fast. Routines are a luxury few of us now have. Write when you can, where you can - that's all. But write regularly. And don't break the three-day rule (when working on a novel, never leave it longer than three days without writing).

4. Be aware that the business is changing

Yes, but you're writing something that will always be needed - a story. And that doesn't change though all the formats and selling systems around it do. We should concentrate for the main part on what we’re good at, the words, and let others help decide how, when and where they will be sold, or we end up becoming the harassed, endlessly networking business managers of our own livelihoods.

5. Read, write and don't daydream

This is possibly the worst advice imaginable. Without space and air and light and calm, those lacunae of everyday life, there is no imagination, and the ideas can't form. I could sit and produce dull prose, or spend a day wandering around a city and come back with my head filled with plots, characters, consequences, dialogues.

6. Enjoy your own company
Safe advice, but the most productive time I ever spent was in a cramped office with four other very noisy writers. Do what's best for you. Only the thinking-out part has to happen inside your lonely head.

7. Choose a good setting

This is the point I most agree with. Without a clear plot location, stories often feel empty and unformed. Although I'd mitigate it by pointing out that two of the greatest short stories, Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery' and Alberto Manguel's 'Seven Floors' have no time or place attached to them at all.

8. Never go anywhere without a notebook

It's a good idea, but now that just means carrying a phone, iPad or electronic device, which you probably already do.

9. Never talk about a book before it is finished

No, no, no! If you stay silent and only seal it inside you, you'll never iron out the improbabilities. Talk to a friend, discussing the book in natural conversation and I swear you'll quickly come to spot all of its faults before the other person has said a single thing. You need a real-world sounding board for something that has only lived in your head.

10. Know when to stop

Talent of Ms James' stature probably allowed her to circumvent this, but unfortunately most publishers specify length of works in their contracts and ask us to pump up the word count accordingly.

The days of writing as a higher calling are over; we write on the fly, as we can, talking to everyone and anyone, as part of world society, not in a room with a desk and a view. Those days are over. For better or worse, the information age has changed the way we write for good.

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