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Thursday, 14 May 2009


I could beat myself up about how long it is since my last post, or I could gloat about having spent some days in Paris and the north of Scotland, (all in the course of authory duty, naturally).

Or I could do neither and just tell you something useful.

In my usual kindly way, I will tell you something useful and then I will make a comment or three prompted by an inappropriate and unwelcome sight on my train journey home from Aberdeen this afternoon. (You will need to brace yourselves.)

The useful thing
A wonderful website (which is apparently about to be updated, but I'm struggling to see how it could be better - maybe some vouchers for free chocolate or shoes? You know where I am) by UK literary agent Andrew Lownie. It is not enough for Andrew to have a stable of talented authors (including one of my all-time favourites, Daniel Tammet): he has also taken a lot of time to provide a huge bank of info which will help you muchly, whether you are published or not, and agented or not.

Inside the useful thing ...
... are many pages which, if they are not of interest to you, damn well should be. Like Andrew's submission guidelines - although these will inevitably differ from those of some other agents, they provide a paradigm of the sort of rules you will be asked to follow. And hey - he IS looking for new and unpublished wonderful authors. (Trade secret: agents always are.)

And the FAQ page will also tell you a great deal of stuff which I've said before myself, and which other similar blogs and sites will tell you, but nicely set out in one place, instead of hurled at you in dollops in a shouty way, as I tend to do in my crabbit moods. Andrew is absolutely not crabbit. (Well, he may be, but he doesn't seem so on his site.)

When an agent takes the time to explain everything so clearly, the least we can do is read it.

Trouble is, he doesn't tell you the most important thing - how to write the right book brilliantly in the first place. But that's not his job. It's mine ... and one day I will get back to it. (Meanwhile, if you're new to my blog, go and check out the posts with "right book" labels.)

Meanwhile, the inappropriate thing:
Please bear in mind that this was a gorgeous evening in Scotland and I should have expected to see something like this:

Or, this (please excuse the flies on the window):

Or, for those of you who appreciate the wonderful engineering of the Forth Rail Bridge, this:

Clearly, I did see those things, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to photograph them. However, it was difficult to see or focus on those views because of this:

These are the feet of a tourist who I think had been doing a lot of walking. (The clue was the blisters, which you can't see.) The feet are not pleasant, nor are they appropriate things to put on a seat which I might one day have to sit on. They did not enhance my journey at all. They served only the pure self-indulgence of their owner. If you could have seen them as closely as I did, you would have noticed many unpleasant details about them.

Now, I have a reputation for making my many negative travelling experiences tell a story or make a point of vague relevance to this blog. This is no exception. In fact, I have four points to make, to fill in the gap in Andrew Lownie's education of you (the gap being, if you remember, the all-important advice about writing the right book).
  1. Whereas that woman entirely failed to consider what those around her wanted to see, you should, when writing, think of the reader at all times. If the reader would not appreciate something, leave it out. (Or in the case of feet, don't get them out at all.)
  2. Do not be self-indulgent as a writer: that woman was thinking only of her feet and her own comfort. You do not have that luxury. You have a job to do, and that includes attracting and then keeping your reader.
  3. Be appropriate. This does not mean that your book may not contain horrible / gruesome / outrageous things, only that they should only be there when they should be there. That woman was perfectly entitled to remove her shoes, just not there and not then. The art of the writer is to know exactly what word or what detail to reveal and to know how and when.
  4. When you include something inappropriate or ill-considered in your writing, you detract from the surrounding beauty of your language. You wreck the view. Don't do it.
I had actually almost prepared a very topical and important (naturally) post about writing in a recession, but the recession can now wait till tomorrow, or more likely Saturday.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you the really really annoying thing that happened to me today. Suffice it to say that someone is going to find themselves appearing in one of my books very very soon and coming to one of the most appropriately nasty ends that I can imagine. And I can imagine a few.