Silence, Picture books, Editing and Times Journalists

The colour spreads for my next little book with Franklin Watts arrived by post this morning. I usually get to see these online, so receiving them like this was unexpected, but pleasing, as I can scan them in to share them with friends. It's been an exquisitely beautiful Autumnal day here in London, so this added to my pleasure. The illustrator, Inna Chernyak, lives in the Ukraine, and we've already collaborated on a picture book: "Quicker than a Princess", published by TopThat Publishing.

What are your optimum conditions for creative writing? I am, and have always been, a silence freak - I cannot imagine working against a background of music. It would be an active competition between the world inside my head and sound of the music, and I can't do both. Many, many years ago, when I was writing and publishing short stories for women's magazines, we had an elderly next door neighbour (we lived in rented accomodation back then). She was a thin, bitter-faced woman with brightly henna'ed hair, and she seemed to spend her whole day watching TV VERY LOUDLY - I imagine she was probably deaf. The sound penetrated both the walls of our flat and the walls of my mind. It drove me crazy. We tried talking to her, but got nowhere. Eventually I gave up trying to write, for a number of reasons, this being one of them. The other two? Well, one was that I was pushing boundaries writing-wise and the mags didn't approve. The other one was that I became pregnant, and our landlady decided we had to go, no children being part of the agreement. Happily, David's job suddenly involved us moving elsewhere, so things worked out well for us.

Silence at present is a different kind of problem because David died suddenly two years ago, so I now live alone and have all the silence I could possibly need (or not). It sometimes drives me crazy, so that I have to call someone, anyone, and I'm finding it harder and harder to get into that magical writing space. Before, I found the space through making a quiet pool via quite a lot of interaction; now the silence is unlimited. It's like unexpectedly inheriting a fortune with no idea what to do with it. The result is, that apart from writing to briefs, which are always a joy when I get them, I'm editing/re-writing work that's already there.

Decades ago, I wrote two rather strange adult novels. The earliest, COUNTERPOINT, was on an actual typewriter (remember those?) and was picked up, at the time, by a radically Feminist press (which shall be nameless). Among many of their ideological requirements was the insistence that men would be barred from any launch party. I opted out. Recently, a friend of a writer friend (hope that makes sense) has offered to scan it for me (I'd be paying her), and I'm suddenly confronted  by the prospect of dealing with work written with such intensity - I can still remember being almost 'out of it' at the time. Publishing-wise, I don't think it's a goer. E-book-wise, well, who knows?

As I've published books for Young Adults, via Walker Books, in the past, like  "WOLFSONG" - these days I often nosy around in what's currently out there Y/A wise. Recently, I came up, at random, with two extremely disturbing books, neither of which I shall name. They were both the stuff of nightmares, and both very readable.

The first offered me two dislikeable characters who each had very good reasons for being the way they were, but not good enough for me. These two were set in a cast of other totally dislikeable characters - in fact, there was really no one in this book I would have wanted to know apart from the two protagonists whose story pulled me in, forcing me to side uncomfortably, as a reader, with the two Nasties. I pulled out of the text, and jumped to the end - how was this going to resolve itself? The actual writing didn't seem to matter any more, although the author was a fluent storyteller. The answer seemed to be more of the same, but cleverer. Way back in, I think, the Fifties, there was a very disturbing and controversial novel called: "THE BAD SEED", featuring a child who was, for no discernable reason, simply "bad". Both books raise the eternal question: what is evil?

The second book was pure horror, and a bit akin to Stephen King's work. The writing really grabbed me; the images were terrifying, but unlike the first book, there were people in it I cared about, so I stayed with it until the end, as the author had intended. The first book was certainly a page-turner - it had me turning several pages at a time, sometimes whole chapters. It was pantomime evil, but even in pantos you have to be rooting for someone you care about - Cinderella, Jack or who have you.

Talking writing in general, I always, to the horror of left-wing friends and family, buy The Times on Saturdays - the reason being that there are journalists whose work I love. To mention a few, Matthew Parris, with whose opinions I don't always agree, but he does know his stuff and how to express it. Giles Coren, the son of journalist Alan Coren - witty, erudite and rude. Janice Turner, a common-sense feminist, always deals with challenging issues, and then there's the truly extraordinary Melanie Reid, a paraplegic ex-sports columnist and horse rider, whose weekly column always puts any of my own physical frailties into perspective. All this splendid stuff, however, is invariably let down by the consumerist magazine - last week faffing on about a dress selling for over £11,000 (dear Blog readers - I, of course, bought two). 


Lee said…
Liking characters and caring about them: the same thing? And I'm perfectly happy to read and enjoy a book with characters I dislike--maybe even because I dislike them so much.
It's an interesting distinction/discussion. I'm not sure I would 'like' Becky Sharp much in real life and I'm certain that if Thackeray had been writing today, some editor would have told him in no uncertain terms to 'make her more likeable' - but my goodness she's a wonderful creation. As is monstrous Scarlett. Also, I fear beauty is in the eye of the beholder - I was once a bit taken aback by a forthright member of a book group who asked me how I could have written a whole novel in the voice of 'such an unlikeable character'. In that case the group, and me, disagreed with her quite violently, but it struck me that her response as an editor - and that's what she had once been - would have been exactly the same. But I have also had the experience of disliking everyone in a novel - a celebrated novel as well - so much that I gave up on it. But I think I disliked them principally because I found them unreal rather than unpleasant.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Silence, or the lack of it, and the effect on writers is a interesting concept. I can write in silence or in a cage with chatter going on. However, any music whatsoever I find too distracting. It's true that we do not necessarily need to like a character to care about them. This is the sign of a good author.
Enid Richemont said…
Perhaps I should have said that I neither liked nor cared about them, but I did care about the curious plot - so much so that I turned pages far too rapidly, probably losing a lot in the process.

Most of the late Ruth Rendell's plots feature intricately studied nasty people, and once I'm into almost any Ruth Rendell, it has me by the throat.

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