The View From Here in the Press

by Mike

Well all the crew here have decided that I've gone on holiday already! Are they trying to tell me something?

Anyway, here's a last article from me before I head off to Cornwall to find some sun, sea and pasties.

Spent Monday doing strange things on a bench for the local paper to get the shot above!

Click on the image to enlarge the article to read it.

And if your dropping in to find out about the book giveaway we did, here's some links to help you find out just what went on!

Click here to see the video.
Click here to see the results.

That's it. See you all in September. The rest of the crew will keep you all informed, entertained and inspired through August. Save me some party food guys.


Listen in here on Thursday morning at 7:45 BST when I'm interviewed live on Three Counties Radio about the book drops. (There is an option to "listen live" there at the bottom of the side-bar.)

Where There’s Smoke

by Kathleen

All winter Sarah and her two-year old Nicky met no one. Finding a place in New York, commuting distance to her husband’s new job but almost affordable, had taken patience and resolve. The first floor of the Victorian house with sketchy wiring and crisscrossing shadows was empty. As was the neighborhood, not counting huge men walking snarling dogs.

In March, a family that looked like theirs moved downstairs. Sarah immediately assumed that she and the woman Joanna would be constant friends; their toddlers, Nicky and the girl Heather, would play together. Without thinking twice, Sarah invited the new family to dinner.

The husbands talked about sports. Joanna didn’t want her daughter eating roasted chicken. Or dairy or sugar. Joanna was still nursing Heather, who didn’t protest.

During the next few weeks, the mothers and toddlers got together more days than not. Sarah let the kids jump on the beds. “You really don’t care about things,” Joanna said. She objected, too, to the way Sarah answered the toddlers’ questions. “You talk and talk and then admit you don’t know. It’s like you want them to feel insecure.”

But Nicky and Heather enjoyed finger-painting and running around the second-floor apartment. Sarah didn’t mind if they messed it up. Joanna had just arranged her place—better if they played upstairs.

Soon Joanna noticed Sarah was pregnant: “How warped.”

“I wasn’t asking your opinion.” Sarah opened the door, issuing her guests out. Thereafter, they avoided each other. Except—whenever Sarah and her son tromped upstairs, Joanna yelled obscenities after them.

Sarah didn’t try explaining that to Nicky. “All we can do is tip-toe.”

Silly, maybe, but Sarah kept smelling smoke.

Her husband said, “Look out the window.” The neighbors were barbequing in the backyard.

Then the yelling stopped and so did Sarah’s hallucinations about smoke rising from the stairwell. One day Joanna stopped them leaving. Nicky pushed past Joanna’s door, calling, “Hi Heather!”

Joanna wanted to give people voice lessons. Was Sarah interested? “A hundred an hour.”

“I can’t. But it’s great you’re starting a business.”

Nicky was pulling books from Joanna’s bookcase. Big now and anxious, Sarah went to stop him, but Heather passed by, an overall strap flapping. Instinctively, Sarah bent to fix it and Joanna hissed, “Don’t touch her.”

Turning, Sarah hurried Nicky out, while Joanna screamed about “the invasiveness…buttoning Heather’s clothes.”

After that, they pretended each other didn’t exist. But now Sarah imagined Joanna setting fire to the building. She closed her eyes and the stairs flared and splintered.

Returning from the hospital, newborn Molly strapped in the front beside Peter driving, Sarah and Nicky in the back, they saw fire trucks. Sirens were sounding, ash falling through crisscrossing lights, firefighters shouting. Peter drove onto the sidewalk and got out. Then he ran back. “They’re pretty sure no one was inside.”

What authority figure?

by Stella

So Mike's on vacation. Time to throw a wild party!

Or not. Because this is only an online magazine. Also, it would be wrong.

Which reminds me - I was thinking how one of the first things you need to do in a good story is either get rid of the authority figure or to have the conflict be with the authority figure. Why else would so many heroes and heroines be orphans? Although now that I'm typing, I'm also remembering that many good characters have only one functioning parent, or have two parents who are neglectful for some reason, thus leaving the character to have his/her adventures.

Jane Eyre? No parents. Elizabeth Bennet? Bad parents. Scout Finch? One parent (albeit Atticus Finch is practically Father of the Year). Characters in westerns and sci-fi are frequently parentless. Otherwise you wouldn't have lone gunmen, prostitutes with hearts of gold, and Luke Skywalker would still be on Tatooine tending his Uncle's farm.

Not that I'm arguing that we need to get rid of Mike to have fun around here. Without Mike we wouldn't be having fun around here in the first place! Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was all about destroying "The Authority." So what is it with us humans - possibly us writers in particular? Any thoughts? I've been puzzling over this for a while and there's always some good thinking going on over here. Besides, Mike expects us to be constructive and we shouldn't disappoint him.

Watch out for The Rippers!

by Mike

Age guidance on children's books is in the news a lot at the moment after a suggestion in April by the Publishers Association to put a reading age on all children's books.

Philip Pullman and JK Rowling have both campaigned against the age stamps appearing on their novels. More than 700 writers have now put their names to a statement made by Philip Pullman on the site No to Age Banding.

"We are all agreed that the proposal to put an age-guidance figure on books for children is ill-conceived, damaging to the interests of young readers."

Flash back thirty years ago:

A boy chooses Gerald Durrell's A Family & Other Animals in his local WH Smith and heads off to the till with his pocket money. A young girl serves him.

"I'm sorry you can't buy this book."


"It's not an appropriate book for you."


His Mum steps in and explains the book is for children about Durrell as a child in Corfu.

So a case for age guidance? Or would the cover give you a clue? Did the shop assistant have a clue?

Flash forward thirty years from today to 2038:

An article in Wikipedia:

24th July 2038.
(From Classification to Book Rippers. A History.)

2009: Age Guidance labels applied to Children's Books.

2020: The age guidance for children's books spreads into the adult market. Books which have long escaped the rating systems given to films or the warning labels on music have to be rated U, PG, 12,15 or 18. Ratings have to be applied by law to the back cover of every book. Many authors complained at the time that they were increasingly put under pressure from their publishers to remove scenes of a sexual or violent nature that would increase the ratings and damage sales.

2025: Bookemas
To cut back their Carbon Footprint only a few issues of selected new books are produced. To help with the growing demand for paper instead of electronic books Cinema buildings, closed during the collapse of the film industry, are reopened where a copy of these new books are left on each seat. Books were available to read at set times. Ratings were amended to add a "R" to allow children at any age to read a book rated 15R and under in these new Bookemas, as long as an adult accompanied them.

2027: Warning labels have to be applied to the front of books with a government warning.

2030: An act backed by the Publishing Industry but fought by authors, was passed that stated that all books had to be rated 15 or below. Bookemas audiences grew as a result.

2038: The Rippers
Yesterday came the announcement of The Rippers by the Government Publishing Agency.

The Rippers will be a unit operating under government guidelines and funded by The Bookemas Association that will filter through every book held in public libraries.

Any book prior to the 2030 Act that has scenes that contravene the max ceiling of a 15 rating will be "modified." That is, pages that contain the offending prose will be ripped from the book. Government officials say, "This way we ensure the survival of classics that otherwise would have to be reprinted or lost to the public." A spokesman for the public libraries stated that this was a clear move to close them down to remove any competition to The Bookemas chains.

Come back now before your brain explodes!

Right, you okay? Well it's a strange, bizarre and slightly silly future I paint. But who knows where things lead to when left to develop over years? There's always a pressure between commerce and art. Let's hope we tread a healthy balance as we move into the future. And what's wrong with using book covers to signal to buyers what lies beneath? I mean My Family & Other Animals: Cute animal pictures? A clue there?

Picture of My Family & Other Animals age banded by a WH Smith shop assistant.

The Amateur Book Blogger Unmasked & On Team!

by Mike

Breaking News at The View From Here:

Before he rode of The Lone Ranger unmasked The Amateur Book Blogger - I knew all along but heh, who was I to spoil his fun?

So intro Jen Persson the unmasked Book Blogger.

And it gets better ...

Jen is joining us here on team at TVFH to run the News section of the magazine from August. I'm really excited to have someone as talented as Jen on board - she was part of the team behind Scriblist which brought the world Five Green Bananas , a book of collaborative short stories which includes contributions from Jen herself.

So welcome Jen ... your virtual news-desk awaits!

See Jen's profile here.

O frabjous day!

by Stella

Thank you, Lewis Carroll, for that lovely title. If you haven’t read The Jabberwocky, then please take a moment – it’s worth it. I’ll wait, I promise.

*drums fingers on the desk*

You’re back? Great. So, you may have noticed that the poem is written in about 50% English, 50% nonsense. “Frabjous” is my favorite made-up word in the lot, with “frumious” a close second, and “brillig” not too far behind. Alas, they’ve never made it into the dictionary, which means I couldn’t use them in anything serious like an academic paper. It would thrill me to write, just once, for instance, “While the play’s structure is brillig and the characterization frumious, one cannot deny that Shakespeare resolves everything in a frabjous manner.” That would be priceless.

Interestingly enough, the word “chortle” did makes its way into the dictionary, defined as a fusion of the words “chuckle” and “snort.” Hence theoretically I could write, “The complex puns may not cause modern audiences to chortle as much as the original audience.” But even without making up words, you could construct a singular and meaningless sentence such as, “Hold the newsreader’s nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.” (Thank you, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.)

English is an excellent language to twist and bend – you can go from a minimal syllable to a polysyllabic mouthful – and create wonders. I’ve been used to taking my comprehension for granted. Not that I don’t ever have to open the dictionary, but there are basic grammar and vocabulary rules that I, that I think all native speakers, are accustomed to using without giving them a thought. This dawned on me rather recently since I’ve been studying Spanish and have been trying, among other things, to master the proper use of prepositions. “A”, “the”, “for”, “to” – no problem, right? Yeah. Sort of.

This has made me sincerely appreciate the effort non-native English speakers put in to mastering the language, especially for the sake of writing fiction, with all the nuances of wordplay and figurative language, not to mention getting the tenses right. Past perfect, present progressive, past simple – my head is already spinning – but it just shows you how complex language is in the first place, how it evolves, and how much there is to think about when you compose sentences.

When I first started writing several years ago, I noticed that one of my central technical flaws was that all my characters spoke and thought alike. This was an especially painful observation when I reread a fragment of dialogue I had written very late the night before, and I couldn’t tell which character was saying what, since I hadn’t bothered outright stating who said what. It’s true that different people can have similar speech patterns, but this was a kind of clone epidemic. If I couldn’t tell them apart, then who could?

After some frustrated sighing at the computer screen and agitated pacing around the room, I started paying closer attention, not just to the choice of words, but to their order and number. Like knowing to say “at home” rather than “in home,” these were things I had taken for granted. I started to look up words I was accustomed to using in order to make sure they meant exactly what I intended or were at least as close as possible. I’m not always as diligent as all that, though I’d like to be. “Procrastinate far less” is my #1 New Year’s resolution, by the way, and I’m doing pretty well. Next year I think I’ll be able to change it to “Don’t procrastinate at all.”

While we’re talking about lists and languages and words (and cabbages and kings), I’ve mentally added “get word of your own invention into the dictionary” to my list of long-term writing goals. I’d like it to be a word or phrase that people use every day, because, as I mentioned before, “chortle” may be officially recognized but it’s not exactly in use. It’s also great when your work is so well-known that your name becomes an adjective, like Shakespearean. Although I willingly admit that “Carterean” sounds weird and I hope no one is ever tempted to use it. Unless they were kidding. Then that would be frabjous.

Reading matters

by Paul Burman

One of the best pieces of advice offered to aspiring and emerging writers, I’ve found, is to read. To read as much as possible. To read widely and wildly! To gorge on books! Particularly, to read anything that’s close to the type of writing one aspires to write.

And I’m always gob-smacked when I hear someone announce that, although they want to write, they don’t bother to read because they don’t enjoy it. To me, it sounds like an apprentice Cordon Bleu chef declaring they only eat McDonalds. Why write if you have no taste for literature?

It can of course be a bitter-sweet experience to read something so superbly written that it leaves you wondering whether you’ll ever be able to produce anything half as good. Or frustrating, when you discover a recent release has a very similar plot to something you’ve been concocting for three years (although screenplays have a habit of doing this to me).

Those novels which are outstandingly delicious are always worth revisiting a second or third time, however, to see how they work and why they work. Sometimes they have to be savoured more slowly so as to identify what ingredients have gone into them, and there’s a wonderful learning curve involved in discovering what these are and in trying to use them oneself.

And, at the other end of the scale, there’s so much to be learnt from picking up those books that, after 40 or 80 pages, you’re more than ready to push to one side because they just don’t satisfy you. Especially if a title has been recommended by a friend, or Oprah, or if it won the Man Booker prize or the Orange prize. These are the books that really should oblige us to ask ourselves a number of questions, all of which should improve our own writing:

  • At what point did this book fail to hook my interest and why?

  • How else might the story have been handled?

  • Why did the characters fail to communicate with me?

  • What qualities in the book might have interested its publisher or my friend, or Oprah, or the judges on the Man Book prize panel, and what’s preventing me from seeing the same qualities?

There are rich pickings for the aspiring and emerging writer whichever way you look at it. Go have yourself a feast!

The View From Here Goes Into Print

Break out the champagne!

It's launch day of our very first print version of The View From Here.

Issue 1 has just gone on sale with a new Print on Demand Service called MagCloud that is run by HP.

Printed on 80lb paper in full colour with saddle-stitched covers, the magazine looks awesome.

MagCloud is in Beta at the moment, so you can only get the magazine shipped to a US address, but that will change once beta testing is finished.

The View From Here will go out monthly and will contain most of what you see here at the zine in the printed version. So watch out for your comments and reader articles turning up in print.

At the moment The View From Here is the featured magazine at MagCloud - click here - to see a full preview of the magazine and to order the very first copy! And it really is a full size magazine, not a book.

The View From Here Magazine
ISSN 1758-2903
Available to buy here.

Week 10 Results of Hi Ho Books Away!

by The Lone Ranger

The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks

In at number 6
Time: 20 mins 51 secs

Return with me now to the thrilling day of last Friday ...

The last week. It is the end. I leave Iain Banks on the bench and wait.

20 mins 51 secs later:

A young couple approach the bench. They look like student types. She points the book out to him. He swoops, picks it up and they walk off towards the local tavern, book held high in his hands. The oldest partners in crime routine. "She made me eat the apple your honour."

So that's it. The finish. It's been a great 10 weeks. Here are some stats:

The winner: Tom McCarthy
The slowest book: Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

10 books given away to the value of £ 150.

10 lives impacted by a book that lay across their path? Who knows what effect those books had.

I ride now into the sunset. Thanks for following me on my journey.

There are no more words.

How to Edit in 5 Seconds!

by Mike

If only!

It can take years to edit a novel after the first draft. The temptation is to rush it, or skip the process all together, especially if you are a new writer eager to get your manuscript of to an agent or publisher.

It is also a skill in itself. But once your into it, it can be amazing. Like chipping away at an ice-block to reveal a masterpiece within. (Well hopefully!) It takes time, courage and an eye for pace and a ruthless desire to work to the demands of the story and to the rhythm of the prose.

In fact once you do hit your stride you have to be careful that you don't become to edit happy and cut off so much stuff that at the end of it you are left with something with no soul or the size of a postcard. Mind you if you got it that small you could always stick a stamp on it and mail it to an agent, that way you could claim that your whole manuscript was being considered by dozens of agents.

Perhaps not.

Perhaps in the end this article and all like it on editing are nonsense. Instead do what "David Blaine" does in the clip above. Use magic.

Go on believe.

Photo Credit: Jhritz

Reading Lists and Side-effects

I probably shouldn't be doing this. I’m not too good with spontaneous posting. But it’s Monday and it’s pretty quiet around here, so why not? Lest you’re thinking I have no specific topic in mind, be assured: I’m thinking about books.

It’s an odd side-effect of blogging and reading other people’s blogs, but my reading list gets longer every time I read another post. And it’s now reaching a point where I think it may take me years to catch up on everything. Okay, not may – absolutely will. I finish one book, cross it off the list, and then three new ones take its place. I wish I could read several books at once – like having a rotating playlist, but it doesn’t work. The books seem to combine into an incoherent mega-book which I end up not being able to remember very well.

Another side-effect of this book recommendation business is that I’ve stopped reading the blurb on the backs of books. Actually, I’ve already been avoiding it for sometime, since they either reveal something that was better left unsaid (this is especially prevalent with classic books, like it doesn’t matter if you spoil them) or they say something that doesn’t really describe the book at all – just flowery superlatives. But I finally stopped once and for all after getting used to reading recommendations online.

Although what can you expect? The publisher’s not going to write, “Yeah, so this book, right? It’s quite good. The writer describes things very well, but it’s a little weak on plot. And it’s depressing too, so we wouldn’t recommend reading this if you’ve had a bad day.” Of course they’re going to write, “A brilliant new story depicting the turmoil and triumph of daily life, written in stark prose that transcends to a level of poetry at its most poignant moments.”

Or how about a nice paranoid blurb like this one: “We’re not so sure you should read this book. Yeah, you know what? Please don’t. We think one of your friends would like it, but not you. Probably. We don’t know you that well and all, but given what we usually see you buy… No, of course we don’t see you. How could we see you? We’re not watching you through the store cameras or something like that.”

Or a self-deprecating blurb: “It’s no big deal, really. You could read this, but we wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. You probably have better things to read. No hard feelings. I’ll still be here if you change your mind. Unless someone buys me. Not that someone definitely will, but possibly. You know, it could happen.” Alright, that was a bit passive-aggressive as well.

Fortunately, I never have to worry about this since I’m probably never going to write a book. If I did, I’d want the blurb to read, “The writer is pretty surprised to have written a book in the first place, so she won’t take it amiss if you don’t read it. Really. Have you read any good classics lately? Well don’t read the blurb on the back. They’ll probably spoil it.”

And I’m off. My reading list beckons…

Week 9 Results of Hi Ho Books Away!

by The Lone Ranger

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

In at number 5 !
Time: 14 mins 55 secs

Return with me now to the thrilling day of Tuesday ...

Last but one mission. I set the book down and withdraw. Above me dark clouds sweep across the scene. Come on someone go for it before it starts raining. Save the book ( and women and children of course.)

9 mins later:

An Asian man in a grey and black striped top sits down on the bench. He sits a black bag between him and Sebastian Faulks. This looks good, people with bags often go for the book.

He doesn't.

14 mins 55 secs:

He does. (For a minute.)
He doesn't. (He sets it down again for 12 mins.)
He does.
He doesn't.
He does.

And so on until the book has snatched him away from his world and he is pulled into it.

The Lone Ranger Getting the Nation Reading!

For last weeks account click here.

Next week the last ever drop:
The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks.

Wanted: A Canvas for Words.

Good to be God

by Tibor Fischer
Publisher: Alma Books
Release Date: 28th August 08
Review: Mike

"When you think they're all laughing at you, you're in serious trouble. Because either they are all laughing at you, or you're going mad."

Tyndale Corbett is a professional failure. Things have got to change and when he finds himself in Miami under an assumed identity he hatches his plan.

He will pretend to be a new man.

He will be God.

"Religion never has to deliver, it only has to promise to deliver."

Good to be God is a strange fish. I wanted to love it. I really did. It's a good book, but ... damn it, I'm going to take some advice from the book:

"Politeness is what happens when you're figuring out people's value."

Okay there is value to giving a glowing account of this book, it would stand the magazine in good stead with Alma Books. I like Alma Books they publish Tom McCarthy. They have given away prizes here. But in the end the value of a magazine that gives honest reviews is higher. So I will switch of my polite filter and be honest. In a constructive way you understand.

"I think I was right; but I've noticed that being right doesn't do you much good. Being right doesn't improve the quality of your life."

There you go. There is an example of what is good with the book and what is bad. The book is stuffed full of witty clever asides. Here's another one:

"One of the great shortcomings of life is the lack of captions, that there is no punctuation, no musical sting to warn you when something important is happening."

But the problem is the story. It felt that the story was a bit embarrassed by itself - O let's get that bit over quickly shall we - and there is no literary prose to hide that. Just the clever - and they are very clever - comments on life. But that's not enough. There was no emotional involvement. I enjoyed reading it, but I didn't care. I'd rather have them condensed into a small book which I can leave in the loo for people to read.

So there we go - an author that has bucket loads of insights into human behaviour struggling to find a canvas to paint on.

You know what? I'm going to read his first novel, Under the Frog. I have a sneaking suspicion that I may adjust my view of Tibor after that.


Tibor Fischer was born in Stockport, England in 1959 to Hungarian parents, both professional basketball players who had left Hungary in 1956. He grew up in south London before going to Cambridge University to study Latin and French. He has worked as a journalist and was selected as one of the 20 'Best of Young British Novelists 2' by Granta magazine in 1993.

His first novel, Under the Frog (1992), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction, tells the story of a Hungarian basketball player, Gyuri Fischer, dreaming of escape to the West while on a tour in 1950s Hungary.

It Should Be Easy

by Kathleen

Pulling out of the driveway, Claudia’s car passes their car, waiting to pull in. Max is driving. Lacey’s auburn hair casts remarkable light. From behind the windshield, Claudia forces a smile. But she sees Lacey about to open her window—obviously to say hello. Claudia presses the gas pedal. They’ll get to that later.

She promised Lacey, no hiding. After all, in the spring Lacey will marry this man, making Claudia his mother-in-law. Arranging this visit, Lacey explained, “We’re eloping, Mom. Partly because of how you are and partly because Max’s family is the other extreme. Still, you must meet him, shake his hand and say hello.”

This isn’t the same as when she used to avoid Lacey’s high-school friends, letting the kids enjoy the house on their

How that annoyed Lacey, even after Claudia portrayed it as an example of trust. “Ha!” her daughter scoffed. “That’s your excuse.”

Possibly. Claudia feared embarrassing Lacey. The idea haunted her.

Her own mother, obnoxious from drinking, had embarrassed Claudia so much that she had done whatever possible to hide her. Lacey doesn’t know that.

Of course, by now Claudia and Lacey both recognize Claudia’s problem as plain fear. Until Lacey started high school, Claudia coped well enough. But once her daughter’s friends grew big, and circumstances shifted, rarely forcing Claudia to face other people, she withdrew. When Lacey went to college and moved to the city, Claudia phoned and emailed regularly. But before long, even Lacey’s presence proved daunting.

Claudia’s overnight job requires processing catalogue orders over the phone, never in person. She shops at a 24-hour Piggly-Wiggly, after her shift, at five a.m.

At work, Claudia concentrates on her plan. No more nonsense. She vows all night to rise to the occasion.

Home at daybreak, she sets the table and makes coffee. Soon theyre scuffling overhead. Lacey’s giggling. Claudia senses their young bodies stretching, their backs arching. She listens to water running, their voices sounding like chimes.

It should be so easy. She imagines calling out, “One egg or two, kids,” in her telephone voice. They’re coming downstairs. Lacey says, “Smells great, Mom.” But Claudia panics. She ducks into the front closet the moment their shadows appear.

Smothered between coats, Claudia strains to escape the trap she’s built for years. Why doesn’t it explode? It’s charged like that.

Lacey mock-screams in exasperation.

Max says, “When your mother feels right about it, she’ll appear.”

Yes, Claudia thinks. Max understands. I can appear when I’m ready.

Eyes squeezed shut, she rises, weightless a split-second. A sweet aroma, separate from the coffee, surrounds her face and moistens her cheeks. And then, not giving in, she darts out of the closet!

They watch her but don’t say anything. She blinks and her right hand swings stiffly up. “Hello.”

Different Interpretations of the Text

by Stella

Adaptation is a subject I find fascinating. Whether it’s a book turned into a movie, a play turned into a movie, the nth production of Shakespeare, and so on, I’m always curious to learn about the process – how the words on the page were transformed into a live spectacle. Why do some faithful adaptations turn out boring? Why are some radical adaptations refreshing while others are travesties? Is it because we agree with the interpretation? Or perhaps we don’t agree with the general idea, but the execution wins us over? Or maybe we liked the initial idea, but found the execution disappointing?

From what I’ve seen, Shakespeare can be placed absolutely anywhere and I’m not at all sure why that is. Maybe because the language is so dated, it’s easier to accept an anachronistic setting. It even livens things up by creating interesting situational parallels. I’m waiting for a science-fiction version of Hamlet. The “to be or not to be” stuff would be great with a backdrop of the infinite universe – as overwhelming and unimaginable as life after death seems to the Prince of Denmark, Grand Procrastinator Extraordinaire. (Actually, Paul Atreides in Dune has always struck me as Hamlet-esque in character, but I’ve never read beyond the first book in the series, so that might be a false impression.)

Since I’ve already revealed myself in all my geeky glory, there’s no harm in mentioning that I’m quite a lunatic pedantic when it comes to Jane Austen. I regard with suspicion any changes to the source material, usually frowning upon them – although I’ve been told my frowning is a lot closer to foaming at the mouth and mad ranting. In my defense, I’m not totally intolerant: I thought Clueless was a successful update of Emma. It’s surprisingly faithful to the original, despite the transfer from Regency England to mid-90s Beverly Hills.

What’s more, I can accept changes that are for the sake of streamlining. You can’t expect a book that’s 300 pages long, numbering approximately 120,000 words to be adapted into a 100 page screenplay and then produced as a movie running about 2 hours, without assuming that a few things will be lost along the way. Otherwise you’d have to break a few laws of physics regarding time and space. But even a play, which is expressly written for the sake of performance rather than independent reading, can undergo significant changes from production to production.

Is it because we’re not satisfied with what we’ve seen? Partly, yes – you don’t need to reinterpret something you agree with. But this is more relevant to remakes and revivals, where we try to “correct” previous interpretations. Why are we so compelled to transform text into live action in the first place? Every now and then, an article pops up about “Books that Can’t Ever Be Made into Films” or “Why These Adaptations Never Should Have Been Made.” (Incidentally, Mike started a thread on Blog Catalog asking people to name their favorite adaptations and why.) If failure was supposedly a foregone conclusion, why did the productions proceed nonetheless?

Again, I can at least venture a partial guess: that the source material wasn’t properly understood to begin with. Although I shouldn’t say “properly” – it is rather elitist of me – so let’s just say the interpretation was “ill-conceived.” But I think the main reason is that a good idea is hard to resist, especially if it’s already proved itself as a bestseller. Why adapt a bestseller in the first place? Chances are most of the people have already read it and know all about it. Why do we even bother to see the movie if we’ve read the book? In a case like Lord of the Rings, obviously the draw is to see Middle-Earth and all its wonders recreated. “Oh my god, Dad!” breathed a young boy sitting behind me when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring, “Here comes the balrog!”

Shortly after this, my mother, sweetheart that she is, got all choked up about Gandalf falling into the abyss. “It’s okay, Mom.” I said, “He didn’t die.” “Are you sure? I thought you hadn’t read the book.” I hadn’t, but trilogy logic dictated that Gandalf would be back in the other two books. I did read Fellowship a couple months later to see how hard the adaptation must have been for Peter Jackson & co. If I had read it beforehand, I would have considered the adaptation impossible. Too big, too long, and too complicated – A Book that Can’t Ever Be Made into a Film – but I would have been very wrong.

It’s nice to know there’s no precise explanation or formula to account for the state of things. I still don’t know why I can accept Jane Austen in Beverly Hills or Shakespeare in space, but I can’t accept Vanity Fair with a sympathetic Becky Sharp or an Ivanhoe with Rebecca and Sir Wilfred falling for each other. Meanwhile, I’m laying down guidelines for my own adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, and I’m wishing I could at least bend those pesky laws of physics, if not break them. Removing every fourth polysyllabic word is coming in handy and I almost, almost decided to get rid of Mary Bennet entirely. But I can’t do it. I have to squeeze her in somehow.

Trips, traps, landmarks - part three

It’s often said that writing is a lonely occupation but, with the advent of blogs and forums, I suspect this is no longer quite as true as it was in the past. In fact, there’s a gregariousness about writers on the net that makes me sometimes think I should drop the PC in the pond and lock myself away in a garret, because the distractions are too numerous, too inviting and too enjoyable. It becomes too easy to spend too much time talking about writing and not enough time doing the deed.

Things weren’t always this way, although I do remember wishing they were.

Having learnt about Schools of painters and Schools of writers and Schools of thought when I was doing my ‘A’ levels, I somehow imagined that life as a Literature undergraduate would introduce me to a network of peers who would have similar interests in writing as I did. I imagined that, together, we would discuss and share ideas and develop a new, radical approach to writing poetry and fiction that one day would be known as an Arts movement in itself. (Yes, I was a romantic, and yes, it was necessary this should happen as part of studying Literature because Creative Writing courses hadn’t yet been invented!)

The dream didn’t last long and I remember being surprised how many people were studying Literature simply because they enjoyed it and not because they wanted to write. However, in my first year, there was a Writer in Residence---the playwright Olwen Wymark---and a chance to join other students in regular workshops as we developed, scripted and rehearsed The Encounter in preparation for a performance. This was tremendous, but short-lived, and there was little opportunity or know-how to maintain the network we’d created. Once Olwen finished, so did the group.

Consequently, I discovered that there were such things as Writers’ Groups and that one existed in nearby Twickenham, and so, swallowing my reserve and pretending I was gregarious, I phoned the secretary of the group, who kindly invited me to the next meeting.

I thought it would be held in a pub and that there’d be a group of other ragged-jean-wearing students like myself, but it was held in the front room of someone’s bungalow, and each of the dozen people who were perched on dining chairs or the edge of a settee or standing awkwardly against the sideboard were seriously retired and a good thirty or forty years older than me. It was a room of Harris tweed jackets and woollen twin sets, and the phrase ‘fish out of water’ sprung to mind when I was ushered in, introduced to the group and pressured to accept the honour of sitting in the armchair in the centre of the room. It left me short of breath and gasping for air---gasping to get out of there. The group were lovely and generous and genteel in the way they interacted with one another and in response to each other’s work, but they and I had too little in common, and it took me all of thirty-five seconds to recognise this and to start formulating an escape plan.

Never again, I vowed later that night, and have steered away from Writers’ Groups ever since. They work for some, but not for others.

Instead, I found the advice I sought and camaraderie of sorts through subscribing to Writers’ Associations and Centres. In detailing the successes and failures of other aspiring writers, the monthly or quarterly magazines were sometimes heartening and sometimes depressing, but always provided a connection and the sense that there were lots of other writers outside my garret tapping away in the solitude of their own garrets.

However ... Viva La Internet!

Viva Le Blog

Viva La Network!

I’ve been blogging and networking away for just over a year now, and it’s finally and definitely brought me out of that garret. After so many years, it’s wonderful to meet other writers and readers, agents and publishers, and to discover what everyone’s up to, what advice can be offered, what’s new, what’s being sought after ... It’s refreshing and enervating to shake off the loneliness-of-the-long-distance-writer syndrome and to have regular opportunities to be sociable awhile, to chew the fat and have a laugh. (And, what's more, it doesn’t matter whether I wear daggy jeans or a woollen twin set!)

Viva, viva, viva!

The Best of the Booker Prize @ The London Literature Festival

by Mike

To mark the 4oth anniversary of the Booker Prize, a panel of judges was asked to select a shortlist of the best books to have won the prize in the previous four decades. For the first time the overall winner will be selected by a public vote. As part of the London Literature Festival, a panel champion the novel they think should win from the shortlist, followed by a vote from the audience prior to the announcement of the public vote on Thursday.

I head down to soak up the atmosphere of the festival and to watch the panel put their case. Here's my report from Saturday evening ...

The festival is vibrant, busy and fun. People play in the water sculpture, eat ice-cream and drink as staff dressed in black flit amongst them dropping books from the Best of the Booker.
Festival deckchairs litter the site bringing a feeling of summer to the riverside.

At the event the panel read extracts. Claire Armitstead, the literary editor of the Guardian, reads chapter thirty-three from Peter Carey's Oscar & Lucinda . It's been twenty years since she last read it and she has clearly enjoyed coming back to an old friend.

Peter Kemp, the fiction editor of The Sunday Times and a Booker judge in 1995, reads from Pat Barker's The Ghost Road and describes it as "a triumph of imagination and intelligence."

Writer, Lesley Lokko, reads the very last pages from the 1994 winner The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer and defends a difficult book that "inhabits the tricky place between art and life."

Edna O'Brien, an author who was on the 1973 panel of The Booker, reads a page and a half from JG Farrell's The Seige of Krishnapur. She recounts how she was asked in 1973, "She has changed her mind. Do you wish to change your mind?" when her fellow judge, Mary McCarthy, changed her mind after agreeing to Farrell and wanted Iris Murdock's The Black Prince to win.

The author, Kamila Shamsie, speaks passionately on Salmon Rushdie's Midnight's Children which won the Best of the Booker when it was 25 years-old and describes a feeling of joyfulness that comes from reading the book.

Mark Thwaite, from Ready Steady Book, champions JM Coetzee's Disgrace once, that is, he has humorously lambasted the other shortlisted books. Mark himself is interesting, funny yet strangely dry in his delivery.

After, we all vote and questions are taken from the audience. Some of the panel admit they can't understand why other past winners didn't make the final shortlist and some, like Peter Kemp and Mark Thwaite, say they would have chosen different past winners to champion.

The winner is announced. Salmon Rushdie with 47 votes for Midnight's Children. In the end this is somewhat of an anticlimax and the panel and audience quickly disperses. But perhaps in the end, like in a good book, the joy was in treading the path rather than in the end itself.

The London Festival runs until July 19th. For details click here.

Top picture : Appearing Rooms Fountain at the festival.
Middle : One of the hundreds of books dropped around the site.
Bottom: Relaxing on Festival deckchairs
All pictures by Mike

Literary Agency Interview : AP Watt Part 2 of 2

The View From Here Interview:
Juliet Pickering from AP Watt

Interview by Mike

For part 1 of this interview click here.

Founded in 1875, A P Watt is the longest-established literary agency in the world. It's clients include a Nobel Prize winner, four Booker Prize winners, three Orange Prize winners, several Whitbread Prize winners, and the first Children’s Laureate.
Juliet Pickering joined A P Watt in September 2003, and became an Associate Agent in 2007. Prior to joining the company, she studied English Literature at the University of Surrey before becoming a fiction buyer for Waterstones. In 2004, Juliet began to work with Derek Johns and his client list, and now handles all audio and journalism rights in their titles.

What tips would you give to someone wanting to submit their work to you and what kind of thing causes that surge of excitement and passion in you as you read it?

I cannot stress enough, the importance of the introductory letter and a strong synopsis. Because we don’t take ‘unsolicited’ submissions here at A P Watt, we ask that an approach be made by way of introductory letter only. Make this clear, concise and keep it to the point; address it to the agent you think your book would most appeal to. If you can write a good letter, you could write a good book; if you write a bad letter, we won’t pursue it further. And keep your synopsis succinct. I was once told by an aspiring author that her synopsis was 29 pages long... that’s a book in itself and utterly redundant! Think of the typical blurb on the back of a book jacket – what would yours say?

As for “that surge of excitement”: when I do find something to get enthusiastic about it’s usually because the material displays particularly fluid, natural writing, or an original hook to the story. It’s not necessarily a quality I can pin-point, it’s something you discover.

Can you tell me about some of the more bizarre submissions you have received?

You get all kinds of things – from someone re-writing the bible and claiming it’s all about UFOs, to a million Harry Potter and Dan Brown copycats. And, of course, there are the deluded many who are convinced they are undiscovered geniuses. It’s a bit like The X Factor auditions on paper sometimes: painful, embarrassing, and very wrong.

Do you think an author’s chances of success differ depending on which country they are in, or has the industry become global in its nature?

The industry is undoubtedly global in its nature. As a rule, an author’s location would have very little bearing on their chances of success.

What advice would you give to writers trying to get their book into print? There seem to be a lot of scams and people willing to exploit writers.

Firstly, get a reputable agent (of course!). The Writers Handbook and The Writers and Artists Yearbook provide inexhaustible lists of UK agencies and the genres they handle (it is always worth then checking out an agency’s website to see if your writing would fit their lists, and which agent to send it to). We act as a filter for publishers, and in turn they know they are being submitted something worth consideration when we approach them on the author’s behalf.

I don’t come across too many scams myself but I know there are some amoral parties out there. The standard literary agent earns their money from your book by commission only. Any ‘agent’ asking for money for any other reason, is to be treated extremely warily. (NB: Excepting the odd far-flung writer, I would always meet a new client face-to-face before taking them on.)

What is your view on self-publishing - should it be a last route through, or is it better for a writer to move on and write another book and develop their talent?

The question of self-publishing is a tricky one. I’m not very familiar with ‘self-publishers’ and wouldn’t like to venture too strong an opinion on being self-published. I think you should determine what your reasons for self-publishing are: to get into print at any cost, or to get a personal sense of completion after putting so much work into your magnus opus in the first place. What I would advise, is approaching agents to consider your book before you go down the self-publishing route. It does tend to be viewed as a last resort. And there’s no harm in moving on to another book after the lessons you’ve learnt through writing the first, and perhaps coming back to it later.

Often authors are typecast into a particular genre following their first book. How easy is it for you as an agent to pitch to a publisher that your author's second book is different to their first?

I don’t think this is an issue at all. It’s a given that if a publisher is willing to invest in an author it is largely because of the quality of their writing, not just their first book idea, and each book will be judged on its own merits.

Is there a greater pressure these days for an author’s debut novel to succeed?

That largely depends on their advance! Publishers are cautious about signing up debut authors, but at the same time always looking for ‘the next big thing’. It’s certainly harder to sell a second book if the first has struggled.

Finally can you give me one of your success stories?

Well, I am relatively new to agenting independently so I shall fall back on the success of my employers: Philip Pullman, Zadie Smith and Yann Martel, need I say more?

Thanks Juliet good luck with building your own list.

For AP Watt's site click here.

Week 8 Results of Hi Ho Books Away!

by The Lone Ranger

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Straight in at number 2 !
Time: 11 mins 46 secs

Return with me now to the thrilling day of Tuesday ...

Low tech today after last weeks filming. Cloud Atlas is a brick. I wonder if size matters? (Books that is.)
I drop the book off and retreat to a nearby wall.
Straight away a man walks up and pokes the book with the tip of his umbrella. Does he mistake it for a rattler? He flips back the cover with the umbrella then strides off like Dick Van Dyke.

11mins 46 seconds later ...

A woman walks up. She looks around and picks up the book. She is well equipped for the job: a black bag swings at her side. Swag must be written in black. I like black. She stands looking around, then flips through the book. Another look to check the coast is clear and she's off, David Mitchell tucked under her arm.

The Lone Ranger Getting the Nation Reading!

For last weeks account click here.

Next week: Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

book readers forum

by Mike

The View From Here hosts a forum over at BlogCatalog, with over 300 members. It's a great place to discuss and raise discussions yourself about books and you don't have to be a blogger - you just have to love books!

Yesterday Jane Turley took over from me as the group leader and will lead the group in her own unique style on behalf of the magazine. (watch out people!)

So head over there, make yourself at home and say hi to Jane!

Click here for book readers.

Photo credit:

Rabbit Writer - Relax?

Writer relaxes before panic.

And just when you thought you had yourself all psyched out...

I think I'm getting better at drawing rabbits. Of course, I have a great reference.

Amazing Grace

by Kathleen

Once, after his dad slammed 10-year old Matt’s head against the door to teach him to close the refrigerator so it was sealed shut, his mother pulled him outside the cabin. She draped an arm around him, leading him to the pier and saying how much his dad loved him. When Matt asked why, his mom said, “Sometimes the more you love someone the more you demand from him. Like God—the people He loves best, He makes suffer the most.”

When Matt’s dad wasn’t hitting him, he sometimes held Matt’s shoulders and whispered, “You’re way too good to be my kid. You must be someone else’s.”

That made no sense.

His parents’ friends visited: Jack and Sarah, with Alice, who was Matt’s age. The fathers took the kids fishing. In the middle of the lake, Matt’s dad cut the motor and baited their fishing rods with worms. Glare bounced off the water. For a second, things were still. Then trickles of sweat smelling like raw alcohol formed on Matt’s father. Matt noticed but no one said anything.

When Alice’s pole bowed in half, she shrieked. “Oh my God!” She had never caught a fish and threw the rod in the lake. Matt’s father reached for it but missed.

“Go get it.” His father ordered him out of the boat.

“No, Dad.”

His father told him again and Matt said, “You do it.”

Alice giggled. His father took a hook, grabbed Matt’s palm, and jammed the prong through the flesh below Matt’s thumb.

Alice screamed. Matt closed his eyes but everything kept spinning.

Jack said, “It was a total accident.”

“You’ll be okay in a minute.” His father’s voice sounded high and false.

Matt’s father told Alice to sing. “Amazing Grace.” She had never heard it but Jack told her to repeat after him, while Matt’s father snipped the hook with wire cutters and worked the stem up and out.

Onshore, while the mothers dressed the wound, Matt’s father kept saying it was his fault. He was usually careful; it just happened. Matt went to his room.

Soon his parents were calling him. The friends were leaving. Before they got in their car, Sarah told Matt’s mother, “We’ll help you. You and Matt can stay with us.”

If Matt’s father heard this, he pretended otherwise. Later he knocked on Matt’s door and sat on his bed. Matt kept his hand hidden.

“Drink some of this,” his father said. “Time honored remedy.” Matt sipped the bourbon. “More.”

He couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Before dawn, he sneaked into the woods and spun until he towered among the pines. The trees swayed not with remorse but with glee. Matt had power over his father now. No need to use it right away though, since more was coming.

Literary Agency Interview : AP Watt Part 1 of 2

The View From Here Interview:
Juliet Pickering from AP Watt

Interview by Mike

Founded in 1875, A P Watt is the longest-established literary agency in the world. It's clients include a Nobel Prize winner, four Booker Prize winners, three Orange Prize winners, several Whitbread Prize winners, and the first Children’s Laureate.
Juliet Pickering joined A P Watt in September 2003, and became an Associate Agent in 2007. Prior to joining the company, she studied English Literature at the University of Surrey before becoming a fiction buyer for Waterstones. In 2004, Juliet began to work with Derek Johns and his client list, and now handles all audio and journalism rights in their titles.

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m 28 years old, have lived in London for nine years and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, and am an Associate Agent at A P Watt Ltd.

What's your ideal night out/in?

I’m all for not making concrete plans and simply having spontaneous fun, whether that be quaffing G&Ts in my local, dressing up and going dancing, or catching some obscure French film in the tiny cinema down the road!

What is your favorite book?

This is an impossible question to answer irrevocably. There are so many books I love, and so many I have yet to love.

Here is a Top 5, in no particular order, which I’ll change my mind about in two minutes: The Darling Buds of May by H E Bates, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and Pastoralia by George Saunders.

What was it like being a fiction buyer for Waterstones?

It was a great introduction to the publishing industry, and taught me valuable lessons about publishing trends which have stood me in good stead ever since. One of my favourite things about Waterstones (which was true when I was there five years ago, at least) is that its staff are often made up of writers, artists and struggling creative types who need a job to pay the rent, so you make friends with very interesting people. It was a good time, and cemented my interest in fiction publishing.

Can you tell me what the role of an Associate Agent is?

As an Associate Agent I work both with Derek Johns, one of the top literary agents in the UK, and independently. In other words, I work with all of his authors and am also building up my own list of writers.

How do you go about building your own list? Do you have to spot them or are recommendations made to you?

Both – I work my way (slowly!) through my slush pile and see if anything looks promising, and I actively pursue my own book ideas and go to meet new writers at various events (i.e. students from creative writing courses, etc.)

What kind of books are you personally on the lookout for?

My main interest is fiction, particularly literary fiction or well-written commercial fiction; I’m on the lookout for a really sharp, funny novel at the moment. And I enjoy narrative non-fiction but it has to read very accessibly. I’m open to most ideas – if something sounds interesting and is well-written, then I’ll read it regardless of what genre it may fit into. (Having said that, I don’t deal with children’s books or science-fiction/fantasy.)

What would you like to see happening in the industry over the next few years?

Things are just starting to heat up on the issue of electronic books so I think we’ll see some very interesting developments in that area. And from a personal point of view, I’d love to see some of my own, debut authors succeed in selling their books and achieving worldwide acclaim!

What authors do you currently have on your own list and can you tell us something about them?

I currently have a few writers signed up who have reached the stage where I’m looking to submit their work to publishers, and I am also working with a few more on their writing, trying to get it to the best it can be before sending their books out. I’ve a few fiction authors – both literary and commercial - and a couple of non-fiction ideas I’m developing, and am constantly finding more.

Often it is hard to get out of the slush piles for agents and many publishers don't accept un-agented submissions. With the rise of small independent presses do you think that the route for new talent is shifting towards the independents or do you think there is still a reasonable chance for an unknown author to secure a deal with an agent?

The rise of small, independent presses is something to be really pleased about. However, I don’t personally think that there is any more or any less chance for an author to secure a deal with an agent in terms of new talent. If a book is impressive enough then a mainstream publisher will want to pick it up just as much as an independent press would.

Part 2 of this interview on Friday, where Juliet talks about tips for submitting work and some bizarre submissions.

For Part 2 of this interview click here.
For AP Watt's site click here.