Monday, 28 March 2016

ISSUE-LED BOOKS, STARING BEARS and TOO MUCH BOOZE

First of all, a funny little success story which began several years ago via a venture called UTales, now sadly (or maybe not sadly) no more.  The idea was to pair picture book authors (one of my several writing identities) with illustrators. Well, I'd once dreamed up a surreal and funny little book about a small boy who would eat nothing but chips, and in these days of healthy eating and five-a-day veggies, it did seem like a goer, but it had had no takers, so I thought - why not give it a try? I teamed myself up with an illustrator called Duncan Beedie, still at the beginning of his career, so in the course of our many online discussions, I also offered him some advice (I am old and well-seasoned in this difficult profession).

Fast forward to the present. Duncan and I had almost, but not quite, lost touch (when David died, he was hugely sympathetic). Suddenly, hey! He'd written and illustrated his own picture book: THE BEAR WHO STARED, and got it accepted by Templar, so sent me a dedicated copy saying: It all started with Chip Head. I am so, so pleased for him. It's a delightfully simple story about a very shy bear who needed friends but kept doing that off-putting thing - staring. As soon as he learns to smile instead, everyone loves him.

Every year I get invited to the Hachette party, and always managed to fiddle an invite for David, too, as he was such a great book lover and really enjoyed the publishing scene. For obvious reasons, I wasn't able to attend the last two parties - couldn't face them without him, but this year I was brave (well not that brave, as I took along a friend as a minder). Hachette's moved into a very posh building along the embankment, and the party was on the sixth floor which also had a roof garden, and I was curious. I am so glad I went. It was an icy, clear evening, and all the lights along the South Bank were glittering - I felt like a goggle-eyed tourist in my own city. Here's a pic of me propping up the bar (more on that later) and looking like the only person there because everyone else was out of camera on the right.

Propping up the bar leads me into very uncomfortable territory - the relationship, often destructive, between writers and alcohol, to mention Hemingway and Dylan Thomas to name only two. It's a funny business, writing, and for many people, some kind of artificial prod is needed to get started. I'm familiar both with 'word diarrhea' (which is a gift when it happens because you end up with a huge amount of raw material which you can then work on), and the silent horror that lies in a blank screen or a sheet of white paper - at least, if you're an artist, you can make a mark. Alcohol seems to release something I can't put a name to - it's neither inhibition nor anything to do with relaxation. It's also a ritual - ice clinking in the glass, and I can fool myself into thinking I'm in the zone. But I'm becoming increasingly aware of its unhealthy side and would like to cut down. It would be interesting to find out what kick-starts other writers - has anyone tried meditation for this? I name the greatest inhibitor of all, though - too many rejections, or, even worse, being ignored.

I picked up a children's novel in a charity shop the other day, and fascinated by its premise, bought it. It was in a totally pristine state, which might have suggested something, because, eager to get into it, I abandoned it after reading a couple of chapters - why? The fantasy I'd initially bought into - the brilliant concept - was contained inside an issue-led plot, and I felt cheated. For obvious reasons, I'm naming neither title nor premise, but I did begin to wonder if we're becoming tired of issue-led plots (the issue in this case was, unsurprisingly, after the success of Lionel Shriver's book, autism). Now autism is an intriguing subject, and autistic children are being viewed, and treated, at present in a very positive way, which is great. High-spectrum autistic people are amazing. Years ago, I spent a year working in a Rudolf Steiner residential school for children with problems, and encountered a beautiful redhaired eleven year old boy who could not speak, but who was able to reproduce complex music, even symphonies - it was a kind of magic, another way of being. Nevertheless, the issue-led aspect of what was clearly a well-written book, turned me completely off.


March 28th is the final day of my small promotion for the Kindle edition of  'THE GLASS BIRD', with its glorious cover illustration by Caroline Anstey - which means that today you can read it for free. It's aimed at 7-10 year olds, though, so please be generous. It's a gentle fantasy about a very lonely Quaker boy who comes across something wonderful half-hidden in the grass.

The Glass Bird   US


4 comments:

Sandra Horn said...

I do agree about issue-led book, Enid! Or rather, obviously-issue-led books. I prefer those that make you think without being in-your-face and/or hectoring or soul-searching.
On your question about kickstarting: this will sound feeble (but it is much cheaper than alcohol)- it's walking. Something about the rhythm of it generates words. It's great if it is a walk in a beautiful place, but anywhere will do.
Thought-provoking post - thank you!

Bill Kirton said...

I totally agree, Enid. However competent the author, if s/he has an obvious agenda, it comes between the reader and the story, separating them. It's perhaps because that's what happens to the writer her/himself too. If one's focus is on some sort of message, one loses contact with the characters.

Susan Price said...

About kick-starting writing - Sandra's right.
If you're stuck, break the dead-lock. Take a notebook (paper or electronic) and go for a walk. Sit on a bench or a hady tree stump and write - write anything.
Go to a pub or cafe. Tell yourself that you will write for an hour - I find that as I walk through the door, the words start crowding in my head.
Get a cup of tea or coffee, get all your notes to hand, reference books, anything like that you might need - sit down, set a kitchen timer or other alarm (there are on-line alarms) for anything from 10 minutes to an hour - your choice - and promise yourself that you will write until the timer rings. Usually, not only do you write for the set time but carry on writing long after. Alcohol not needed! (I love my single malt, but - sorry if this sounds smug - drink it only as a reward, not to get started.)

These methods always works for me, and do for most other people I know who've tried them. You've nothing to lose - give it a go!

Enid Richemont said...

Thanks, Susan - that's really helpful. And as a friend recently pointed out to me, it is possible to re-wire one's brain. At present, I've been trying to get back into the routine of writing early-ish in the morning (I used to do this, but then stopped). Walking is certainly good, for sorting all kinds of things - life problems too.