fcmalby

writing


2 Comments

The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2014 Announced – Were There Any Surprises?

Website Hero Image

As I write, the longlist for the Man Booker prize 2014 has just been announced. It is the first year the prize has been opened up to novelists from around the world, as long as the books are written in English. Previous rules limited Publishers to Commonwealth authors only. Previous winner, Eleanor Catton, says,  “I think it’s a really great thing that finally we’ve got a prize that is an English-language prize that doesn’t make a distinction for writers who are writing from a particular country.”

The longlist this year has proven controversial for several reasons. You only have to look at the #ManBooker14 Twitter hashtag to see the questions people are asking. Literature professor, journalist, author, and one of the 2014 Man Booker judges, Sarah Churchwell said, “As inevitable debate and criticism develop, do bear in mind that what we longlist is defined by what publishers submit to us.” It’s a helpful reminder that, although people are quick to criticise the judging panel, they are very much bound by what is submitted.

Publishers this year are navigating unchartered waters, and are finding their feet with the new rules. The longlist comprises 13 books by four Americans, six Britons, two Irish writers and one Australian:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris (Viking)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)

The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)

J,  Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)

The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (Sceptre)

The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)

Us, David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)

The Dog, Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)

Orfeo, Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)

How to be Both, Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

History of the Rain, Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

 

Howard Jacobson, a previous winner with The Finkler Question in 2010, is not a surprise; neither are the two previously shortlisted authors, Ali Smith and David Mitchell.  But some are asking why Donna Tart’s Goldfinch is missing and why Ian McEwan’s The Children has also missed the list. The Guardian predicted that it might meet the mark because the “novel is about a female judge dealing with a religious young man who wants to opt out of life-saving medical treatment,’ citing that it may appeal to the chair of judges. David Nicholls’ book, Us, has surprised some by making the list. His previous novel, One Day, was turned into a film, but he would not usually be seen as a writer of Literary Fiction. I feel refreshed by the thought that genre is now less of an issue than, possibly, it used to be. Don’t you?

 

A crowd-funded book has appeared on the list for the first time: Paul Kingsnorth’s debut novel, set in 1066, was published by Unbound, which asks readers to give money towards publication in exchange for having their name included in the credits. This is a really interesting new development.

 

We will never know how or why the judges chose the books as they did, but I suspect that they were looking for a good range of stories as well as wonderful writing, and were avoiding anything too overtly political, especially given the current political climate.

 

Previous winners have included Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes, Howard Jacobson, Ian McEwan and Yann Martel and John Banville. The shortlist will be announced on 9th September with six titles and the winner on 14th October. The judges for this year’s prize are Sarah Churchwell, Daniel Glaser, Jonathan Bate, Alastair Niven and Erica Wagner, with Anthony Grayling as the chair.

 

I very much look forward to the shortlist and to reading some of the longlisted books. Has anyone read any? What did you think?

Here are some interested extracts and related works by the authors:

David Mitchell’s Twitter Story “The Right Sort” Collected.

The Wake has been crowd-funded by Unbound. You can read all about it here.

Bloomsbury have an extract of The History of the Rain by Niall Williams for you to read.


Leave a comment

Hilary Mantel’s rules for writers

Hilary Mantel rounded off an astounding year by winning the Costa prize last night for her novel Bring Up the Bodies. Having also won the Man Booker Prize, she is the first person to win both. To celebrate, here are the golden rules for writing that she first shared with the Guardian on 25 February 2010.

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

1. Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.

2. Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande. Then do what it says, including the tasks you think are impossible. You will particularly hate the advice to write first thing in the morning, but if you can manage it, it might well be the best thing you ever do for yourself. This book is about becoming a writer from the inside out. Many later advice manuals derive from it. You don’t ­really need any others, though if you want to boost your confidence, “how to” books seldom do any harm. You can kick-start a whole book with some little writing exercise.

3. Write a book you’d like to read. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else? Don’t write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book’s ready.

4. If you have a good story idea, don’t assume it must form a prose narrative. It may work better as a play, a screenplay or a poem. Be flexible.

5. Be aware that anything that appears before “Chapter One” may be skipped. Don’t put your vital clue there.

6. First paragraphs can often be struck out. Are you performing a haka, or just shuffling your feet?

7. Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that’s the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don’t notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they’re trying too hard to instruct the reader.

8. Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.

9. If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.

10. Be ready for anything. Each new story has different demands and may throw up reasons to break these and all other rules. Except number one: you can’t give your soul to literature if you’re thinking about income tax.

 

 


12 Comments

Short Stories and Flash Fiction

Having spent months editing Take Me to the Castle I have missed the writing process, which is what writers love. Editors scour written work for grammar, punctuation, style, consistency. Publishers focus on pulling a book together professionally and marketing it to readers. Writers love to craft novels and stories. I think we come unstuck when it is time to take a scalpel to the writing and cut out or change words, re-read, re-write, and change any inconsistencies. So I decided to take action and write some short stories and flash fiction. This has served two purposes – It has given me the opportunity to write in a shorter timescale than I would a whole novel, and it has sharpened my skills as a writer. I will keep you posted on the release of these. My aim is to publish an anthology in the future, with a collection of short stories and poems.

I have had some communication with the lovely Alison Moore, author of The Lighthouse, which was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize for Fiction. She says that she began her journey into writing by writing short stories, and that it tightened her style and honed her craft. I had already read ‘When the Door Closed, It was Dark’ in The Best British Short Stories 2011 by Salt Publishing, and loved it. So I set to work on short story writing and have also written flash fiction, generally under 350 words. For the writer it teaches you to keep the essence of your story within limited boundaries, and for the reader it is a pleasure to read something which is short and intense – like a good espresso!

Before I get back to my coffee, I just want to leave you with an exclusive short story by Hilary Mantel, The Long QT. It is striking in so many ways. Let me know what you think.

What are your experiences with reading or writing short stories and flash fiction? Do you prefer these styles of writing to novel-length work or vice versa? Have your say and feel free to share any of your own reading or writing experiences with short stories or flash fiction.

Recommendations: