Sunday, February 22, 2009

Not ski-ing, but reading

I'm home after a week in France, in the Alps. I don't ski but those with whom I travelled did - and with a vengeance. While I made an unfeasibly expensive coffee last for as long as I could, they were hauled to the top of mountains, only to fling themselves off again. We'd meet for meals of vast quantities of carbohydrates and they'd discuss near misses and new bruising, before they'd head off again, ready to do it all again.

At 4.12am on the day we left, I received a text from my nephew asking me to bring books. I was delighted to do so of course, but didn't imagine that he'd find any time, with all that ski-ing, to read them. But I was wrong. By the time we got back, he'd read the lot.

It was Damian Kelleher's new novel, Life Interrupted, that had him laughing out loud on occasion. The football-mad younger sibling rang several bells, obviously. There's a lot of sadness in that book too, and he admitted to feeling it - though he didn't cry as I had. Fourteen year-old boys don't, he told me.

His 16 year-old sister, taking a break from a fairly stressful school year, took the week to read Chris Higgins' Love Ya Babe. She's not such a fast and furious reader, but when I heard her say, 'Yes, I'll eat/I'll come/I'll help - once I've finished this chapter,' I was reassured that she too was enjoying herself.

It is magical to be surrounded by all that snow and the astonishing Alpine peaks set against bright blue cloudless skies. My lungs felt like whistles. It was certainly good to have a break from work. But it was also good to be reminded what the work is all about - finding books for readers and readers for books.

It isn't always the case, but on this occasion, I felt I'd done a good job.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's been a while, but today I decided I'd revisit this long-neglected shelf of my computer.

Today's thoughts whilst walking the dog in driving rain and freezing winds followed a slightly unsettling evening with a group of published and unpublished writers. It was an interesting event, but unsettling because once again, I was reminded of the mismatch between the art of writing and the industry of publishing. Here was a group of apparently well-informed, enthusiastic and committed writers - but when faced with the realities of the industry which offers them the ultimate accolade - a publishing contract - some of them were almost resentful.

Questions from the floor shed little pools of light, brighter to some in the audience than to others. The panel of agents agreed on most things - largely from the baseline assumption that each writer's career, each book, each stage of the manuscript differs from person to person.

But still, these writers wanted a formula for success in finding an agent - some believing that in securing representation, publishing contracts would follow thick and fast. There was a great deal of misinformation and inappropriate expectation in the air. But there were also stout hearts amongst the optimists, and I don't doubt that there will be success stories to come.

Interestingly, many of those present were already published, but often by a small publisher, and for no financial gain. But for some reason that seemed not to count. They were dismayed to discover that contracts with large publishers don't often come with much financial gain either.

I felt that we were shattering some dreams, if gently, and I left feeling heavy-hearted about that. I'd love to be able to persuade writers that success isn't only measured in terms of a publishing contract, in seeing your books in a bookshop promotion, in reading reviews in the more respectable press. Surely writing for its own sake is important, and in so many ways.

But of course that kinds of writing doesn't pay the bills - for either me or the writer.

So I suppose today's walking thoughts were all to do with responsibilities.

They're weighing rather heavily at the moment.