Writing Superstardom

Congratulations to Richard Flanagan, the winner of the Booker Prize 2014 for his novel, ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep South’. I have yet to read it, but fully intend to, not just because the judges were unanimous in their praise for the book but because I like to think the act of reading such an acclaimed and feted novel is a piece of research. Maybe there is a remote chance I will be able to uncover the secret of writing superb and successful prose by reading it.
When casting around for something new to load on to my Kindle I often turn to the long or shortlisted books that are in the race for a prize. I learned some time ago that Amazon reviews are not to be trusted [with the exception, of course of my own reviews]. I have posted before about the ghastly mistakes I’ve made-most notably in the case of the tedious ‘One Day’, a predictable rom-com set in the eighties [not a thrilling decade]. The book prize method of selecting reading matter is not always reliable and needs backing up with additional reviews, generally from a respected newspaper.
The only 2014 Booker contender I have read so far is American writer Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘We are all Completely Beside Ourselves’, a story which captivated me for a number of reasons. It is both laugh-out-loud funny and tear provokingly tragic. The subject matter-the tale of a child growing up with a chimpanzee as not only a sibling but a ‘twin’ is unusual and compelling. The book raised many issues including parental, children’s and animal rights. It is certainly a book I would have been proud to have written.
There was something of a shumuncous regarding the opening of the Booker prize to anyone who writes in English. I can see that widening the field does increase the competition, but perhaps it also leads to more diversity. As time goes on it becomes harder to find new subject matter. It is accepted that there are only seven basic story lines and that each and every tale is based on one of them.
The two world wars have spawned an explosion of literature both fiction and fact, much of which is very good-[Helen Dunmore, Sebastian Faulkes] and so any further foray into war territory must necessarily attack from a new angle. I gather Richard Flanagan’s novel is inspired by his father’s experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war. It is the author’s sixth novel and one that took him twelve years to write, a fact I find most heartening given that my novel 2 is stubbornly resistant to progress!
I wonder how winner Richard is feeling-beyond the euphoria of victory of course. There could be an element of pressure, I imagine, as once the excitement recedes the pressure must surely mount to produce another blockbuster, Hilary Mantel style!

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Don’t blame me that its free!

                You have to give people their due. In this world of scammers, con artists, fraudsters and hoodwinkers, the ‘too good to be true’ message certainly seems to have got through. It is well nigh impossible to give something away free, without charge, no strings attached.

                Tuesday 23rd April was ‘World Book Night’. One of the events that mark this annual celebration of all things ‘book’ is a mass donation of free fiction novels to the public at large. It is the third year that I have volunteered to be a ‘book giver’.

                In the first year of book donations, we, the ‘givers’ had 40 copies of our chosen book to give. This was a tall order. I’d selected Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, a novel which I’d stumbled upon on a shelf of discarded paperbacks in a hotel in The Gambia-an unlikely find, but one which I’d been thrilled by. It led me to read many more of Ms Atwood’s works. I am always evangelistic about novels I’ve loved, boring the pants off anyone I meet about them-hence my enthusiastic approach to book donation. The opportunity to give away 40 copies of a book I’d enjoyed so much was irresistible, so  I was somewhat dismayed by the luke warm  reaction of many. I attempted to give copies away to local care homes and hospitals, where the reception varied from reluctance [‘er, alright-just leave them there’] to alarm, [NO-we don’t need BOOKS!]. I managed to get some of my neighbours to accept a copy with one outright success, a convert to Atwood, like myself.

                Last year I opted for a classic-‘Rebecca’ by Daphne DuMaurier. The number of books dropped to a more reasonable 20. I distributed them to groups in the community without too much trouble, although this was taking the path of least resistance.

                This year I chose Sebastian Barry’s excellent Irish tale, ‘The Secret Scripture’, written in the most beautiful, poetic style and documenting an astonishing and harrowing series of events in the life of an elderly woman. I loved it and wanted everyone else to. Thinking I should make more of an attempt to follow the World Book Night instructions I set off to give the books out to as many complete strangers as I could find, and since it was a warm, sunny day, striding off along the promenade by the beach.

                I homed in on my first victims outside the beach café; two women at a table.

                “Can I offer you a book to read?” I asked them. “It is completely free and a very good story.”

                “No! I don’t want a book. I’ve got a Kindle-look!” The woman held it up in triumph, as though she’d beaten me in some kind of competition.

                I kept smiling. “Yes, I have a Kindle too,” I said. “But you would have to pay for your download and this is a freebee.”

She stalked off, leaving her friend to do me the courtesy of kindly accepting the free novel from me. It was a long morning, nevertheless amongst the suspicion, rejection and cold shouldering I did enjoy one or two jolly, book related conversations and a couple of people were genuinely thrilled to be given a brand new paperback to read.

                I wonder what the titles will be next year?