Looking for New Writers!

Newwriters Hello my dear readers (if there are any of you still left!),

This is an odd blog post. Mostly because I haven’t written here in forever (very shameful, I know), and also because this isn’t a review. I’m looking for writers. Real writers who have written an actual novel. If this is you, I’d love it if you would send your work my way.

I work at a literary agency and haven’t read anything good in so very long that (in addition to wanting to kill myself) I’m desperate to find something new to get excited about. In terms of what kind of stuff I’m looking for: something commercial yet upmarket, literary. My blog should give you an idea of the kind of books I like to read (even if your book is nothing like the ones I tend to read, if you feel it’s well written, get in touch anyway). I should probably point out that what I don’t like to read is historical fiction.

Please get in touch using the CONTACT ME page on my blog with the title of your novel in the subject line. Provide a brief synopsis and if I think it’s up my street, I’ll email you back and ask to see the opening three chapters. Feel free to ask any questions by commenting below and if you have any friends that have something good hidden away somewhere, tell them to get in touch too. Can’t wait to hear from you guys (she says with barely veiled desperation)!

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Book Review: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

Everyone’s talking about this book, and it has to be said that I’m not the sort of person who reads the books that everyone is talking about (case in point, ’50 Shades of Nonsense’). However, I saw the author in person a few months ago and, you know, he was kinda hot, so I gave in to the hype and decided to see what all the fuss was about. I was not disappointed.

SAM_3947

This is the US edition that I picked up on holiday.

I cannot remember the last time that I was so absorbed in a book that I actually switched off my Netflix. I was so desperate to see how the book ended that I stayed up until 3:30 a.m. on a Sunday night/Monday morning (knowing full well I would suffer at work the next day) just inhaling the book. That I am a slow reader is a fact. That I finished this 640 page novel in one busy weekend is another fact. This is such an effortless read, the pages simply turn themselves.

If you’re not one of those people talking about this book, then let me give you a bit of background information. The book was first published in France in 2012 and has since sold over 2 million copies, been translated into over 30 languages and has also won some literary prizes in France. Plus, the writer is only now 28 years old and looks like this:

I have come across uglier writers.

I have come across uglier writers. (c) Jeremy Spierer

Anyhow, back to the book. Marcus Goldman is our lazy but likeable protagonist who has achieved continuous success throughout his life, due to the very simple fact that he only competes in situations where he’s guaranteed to win, against people who he knows to be weaker than he is (and the one time he saw that he was not going to win a race, he chose to deliberately break his leg rather than allow the illusion of “Marcus the Magnificent” to be tarnished):

In order to be magnificent, all that was needed was to distort the way others perceived me; in the end, everything was a question of appearances.’

The book opens in New York in the spring of 2008 where Marcus is experiencing severe writer’s block. His publishers are on his case and are threatening to sue if he doesn’t deliver the follow up to his wildly successful debut. In search of inspiration, Marcus goes to New Hampshire to visit his old college professor and mentor, Harry Quebert, a novelist still famous for a single book he wrote in the 70s. This trip doesn’t work for Marcus’s creativity so he goes back to New York, resigned to the fact that his career is now over.

Except, a few weeks later,  he receives an urgent call from his agent urging him to switch on the TV. Harry’s in trouble and is all over the news: The body of a 15 year old girl who went missing 33 years ago has been found buried in his back yard. Buried with her is the original manuscript of Harry’s famous novel, The Origin of Evil. Maybe, now, Marcus has something to write about. Harry is quickly arrested and admits to having had an affair with the young girl. The national media hang him out to dry – not only is he a murderer, but a paedophile to boot. There is one thing though: Harry swears to Marcus that he did not kill Nola Kellergan, in fact, she was the love of his life. Marcus, eager to clear his friend’s name, heads back to New Hampshire to start his own investigation into what really happened on August 30, 1975, the day Nola went missing, the day the little town of Somerset, New Hampshire lost its innocence.

SAM_3959On the surface, Somerset is a quaint little New England town, but as the investigation progresses, one has to wonder if, perhaps, Somerset hadn’t lost its innocence long before Nola went missing. Marcus stays in Harry’s house receiving threatening mail as he continues to uncover the truth about the affair, writing his surefire bestseller as he goes along. This novel is as much about publishing and the writing process as it is about the Kellergan murder (very self-reflexive, metafictional stuff). There’s an interesting cast of characters here, a couple of which were slightly exaggerated and caricaturish, but that didn’t stop me laughing out loud at the (often dark) humour exhibited in their conversations. There’s the chauffeur with a distorted face, the pastor with the Harley motorbike and, of course, the seemingly unknowable Nola Kellergen herself, the object of Harry’s obsession. I was often struck by how young Nola came across. She would accuse Harry of being ‘mean’ to her and once said of God, “If you believe in Him, I will too.” On these occasions I found it difficult to understand why Harry was so consumed by her, why ‘once she had entered [his] life, the world could no longer turn properly without her.’ How could an academic have a relationship with someone so naive and childlike? But then we are told by a Somerset local:

 ‘That girl was madly in love with Harry. What she felt for him was something I had never felt myself, or I couldn’t remember ever having felt, for my own wife. And it was at that moment that I realised, thanks to a fifteen-year-old girl, that I had probably never been in love. That lots of people have never been in love. That they make do with good intentions; that they hide away in the comfort of a crummy existence and shy away from that amazing feeling that is probably the only thing that justifies being alive.’

The narrative flicks back and forth between 1975 and 2008, slowly piecing the facts together. Or at least what we believe to be facts. There are so many twists and turns in this novel so be warned that as soon as you’re convinced of one thing, several chapters later you will learn something new that weakens your conviction. This is your classic whodunnit at its best. There are 31 chapters in this book, and Dicker has very cleverly started off with chapter 31, making the reader work their way down to chapter 1 where we finally find out:

The million dollar question

The million dollar question

The last chapter is filled with pleasing revelations that allow everything to finally lock into place. It is only then that you’re able to let out the breath that you didn’t even realise you were holding.

I, personally, didn’t understand why everyone made such a big deal about ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘. I’ll admit that I haven’t read it, but I did recently watch the film on a rainy Netflix weekend and was left perplexed as the end credits rolled: the big twist in this blockbuster thriller is that the girl who everyone thought was dead had actually escaped in the boot of a car? Really?! That was Larsson’s great achievement? If critics have time to commend Larsson, then the same (actually, more) credit is due to Dicker. His story is much more layered, more intriguing and a hell of a lot more clever. Fact.

The British critics haven’t been very nice about this book (pretty brutal, actually), and I don’t think they’re being fair to Dicker. I do imagine that some of the elegance of the prose was lost in translation so, yes, there were one or two occasions when I felt the writing felt a bit basic (descriptive passages in particular), where the dialogue didn’t ring quite true, but did this detract from my overall enjoyment of the book? Not at all. I was, honestly, gripped. I sighed through my weekend engagements, my eyes lingering longingly on the book nestled in my bag, made my excuses to leave early and kept reading as I changed lines on the tube, unapologetically bumping into people as I walked. I just HAD to to know what would happen next, I had to finish it. And was then sad when I did. In the words of Harry Quebert:

The ending of a good book

The ending of a good book

The bottom line is that this is a brilliantly plotted murder mystery, cleverly constructed. Though it might not be as literary as the French claimed it was, it ultimately does not matter because it’s a bloody good read.

Creative Constipation

For me, blogging has become that older relative that you need to go and visit but keep putting off, the longer you leave it the harder it gets, and then it reaches that stage where you’re too embarrassed to even show your face. And that’s where things are getting to with me right now. I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last posted. Life appears to have rudely interrupted my blogging. A day seems to have turned into a few more, into a week, into a month (hopefully not more), without me having noticed. Perhaps I’ll just blame it on the books I’m reading – not feeling strongly enough about them to tell you guys. I’ve given myself until Friday to get back on the Blogging Train. Choo choo.

 

Murder the Others.

I’ve randomly stumbled upon this amazing book trailer. It’s interactive in that you have to click to keep the story moving, but it slowly (or quickly, depending on how fast you click/read) reveals the heard-before tale of aspiring writers arriving in New York filled with excitement, ambition and a little bit of naivety, only to soon be downtrodden by all the other ‘Been There’ writers out there. This trailer reminds writers to WRITE YOUR STORY, to keep a fierce hold of your naivety, and to ignore all those intent on bringing you down.

Failing that, just murder them.

It turns out that this trailer is for a book called Judging a Book by its Lover which has now been put on the top of my Amazon Wishlist and which I hope someone buys me real soon.

What I’ve Learnt About Authors

Over the past month I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you were to go through my blog posts. I now work for a literary agency, you see. The good news is that I’m legitimately surrounded by books all day, the not so good news is that I have to read a lot for work so my leisure reading has taken a bit of a backseat. In the past month, I’ve read all kinds of books ranging from a tale of survival in war-torn Beirut, to a novel about the eventful private life of Pablo Picasso, and I’m excited to say that I’ve also read something from a first-time struggling American writer that I have really high hopes for.

I’ve come to understand that almost everyone feels they have a novel inside them, and I’ve unfortunately become that person that crushes the dream, the bearer of bad news. I’ve learnt that it gets easier with time and also that there are some delusional people out there who take it very personally and start to become aggressive.

In my mind, whenever I think of writers, I’ve always maintained a lofty image of a spectacled person with unkempt hair, lounging over a typewriter with a black coffee and cigarette in hand. However, I’ve discovered that authors are real people with real lives. And…

  • I’ve learnt that some live at very normal looking London addresses.
  • I’ve learnt that they are at times insistent that their true identities remain concealed (all for very valid reasons).
  • I’ve learnt that they take public transport and that they sweat after walking through the muggy, late summer, London heat.
  • I’ve learnt that as established as they are, sometimes their work isn’t that good.
  • I’ve learnt that they can lose all their work through the unfortunate drowning of their laptops (Yes. Drowning).
  • I’ve learnt that some are very particular about certain things, especially about money.
  • I’ve learnt that the cover design of a book is the centre of many arguments and can cause professional relationships to dissolve.
  • I’ve learnt that they write on random bits of napkin, stapled together with pages of faded pencil and images drawn crudely with a biro and that it’s your job to make sense of it all and to type it up into a word document (where it should have been in the first place).
  • I’ve learnt that they marry acrobats.
  • I’ve learnt that they find it difficult to write when their children are teething.
  • I’ve learnt that they’re human. As nervous as I was to meet them, so were they to meet me.

So, a million cups of tea and dozens of manuscripts later, I can honestly say that it’s all so very subjective. All I am is an avid reader, my opinion is not necessarily worth more than anyone else’s; I just happen to have a job that means my opinion can be put into effect. All I can say to writers is do your research and send your book to the right agent, an agent on whose list you genuinely fit, because it’s a really nice feeling to be able to tell a person, after years of being rejected, that you loved their submission and would like to read more. The relief and sheer elation in their response is palpable (though they try to play it cool).

And I promise, a review will be up here by the end of the weekend.

In Cold Manipulation

The award for the most self-centred, arrogant **** (I realise there are numerous four letter insults out there, so feel free to insert as you feel appropriate) must certainly go to Truman Capote. I suppose we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but, having watched Capote (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman) the other night, I was really repulsed by the picture that was built of this legendary writer.

Photo: Irving Penn

I read In Cold Blood almost ten years ago, randomly picking it off the library shelves without being fully aware of who Capote was and that this specific title is considered to be one of the American Greats. I just thought the story was quite interesting and was going through a ‘criminal minds’ phase. I should probably clarify that my mid teenage years were not spent devouring Great Novels and philosophising about the morals associated with obtaining a Subject for one’s next work of literature over a glass of red. I drank coke and watched The OC all day (Seth and Summer 4eva, haha).

With hindsight, this show really was a pile of sh*t

I’m sure you all know the story surrounding In Cold Blood so I’m not going to dwell on that, except to say that Capote chose to write a non-fiction novel based on the murder of a family in a small Kansas town. He soon developed a relationship with the two murderers  (Perry Smith and Richard Hickock) once they were caught ( I, personally, don’t believe all that nonsense about Capote having a romantic/sexual relationship with Perry), and proceeded to plow them for information so that he could write his book. The book was not completed until after the killers had been executed; their death necessary for a tidy finish to a book that took years of research to complete.

Is the sacrifice of a human life required for the next Great American Novel to be written? I mean, how far can writers be allowed to go in order to produce good work? I’m probably being a little overdramatic, but when someone’s death is required for you to satisfactorily complete your novel, then surely something is not quite right. To allow these people to trust you and then swiftly deceive them, purely as a means to your own end, does not sit right with me. But where do writers go for story ideas these days? (We know journalists in the UK hack phones, haha).

The killers were indeed killers, there’s no mistaking this, so should I be overly concerned about their well-being or the way in which they were treated when they obviously had little concern for the well-being of the Clutter family when they murdered them?

The years surrounding In Cold Blood were arguably the most important in Capote’s life. It’s difficult to determine what led to his alcoholism and eventual demise. Why was In Cold Blood the last piece of good work he produced?

Ultimately, I appreciate that Capote is indeed a film, that there’s obviously creative licence and it makes for a better film if he’s portrayed as an a**hole. I haven’t carried out extensive research to establish what is true and what isn’t, but what I did find was not conclusive. I did, however,  find this interesting interview with The New York Times where Capote talks about his writing process, how he defined a new genre, and how amazing he generally is. He will probably always be a mysterious character and will be talked about for years to come. I just needed to vent because that film just made me so angry, but the truth will hopefully be clarified one day so I can determine whether he really was either the unintrusive author or the manipulative opportunist. Or both.