Sunday, 15 March 2009

A meeting with a literary legend

I've just met Audrey Niffenegger.

When I heard she was speaking at a conference in Falmouth (about illustration, rather than writing), I jumped at the chance to meet the author of one of my all-time favourite books.

The Time Traveller's Wife had me spellbound. When I mentioned it to someone recently, he said, "That's the book that makes men cry." I haven't actually met any lachrymose men, but I'm sure they're out there. And I have to confess I did have a few misty-eyed moments of my own while reading it. A tear might even have been shed at one point.

Niffenegger was vivacious, opinionated and engaging. Despite having participated in a day long conference, she made time to speak to the fans who gathered for a chance to speak to her. I spoke to her about her experiences of becoming a publishing sensation - news has just broken about her multi-million dollar deal for her second novel. You can read the full interview here.

When you're starting out as a writer, the more people you can speak to about the industry, the better. Some of the visiting speakers we've had have portrayed a bleak picture of the publishing industry, so it's nice to meet someone who's actually made it.

That said, there's also a huge element of chance involved. No-one could have anticipated the huge success of The Time Traveller's Wife. Audrey Niffenegger originally thought the novel would sell around 5,000 copies. "I wanted to write a novel and be published. My expectations really ended there." The Today show in the US and Richard and Judy were what catapulted it into the stratosphere.

It's not easy to get published. But that's no reason to give up - you'll never know until you try. As Niffenegger says: "If you think you want to write novels, just get on with it." Wise words.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

An unexpected twist in the plot

Sometimes it's strange how things turn out. You think you know where you're going, but then the landscape changes and you're left wondering where to go.

Or that's how I've been feeling lately. But it does make me wonder about all the choices I've made. So I sit here, at my laptop, staring into the void and wondering. The truth of the matter is that you can't ever really know - all you can do is make a choice and see where it leads you.

Because you have to make a choice. The worst thing is sitting on the fence, not choosing.

I've chosen to go back to my fantasy novel.

It's a like meeting an old friend, or perhaps an former flame whom you're still on good terms with. There's a kind of comforting familiarity mixed with the excitement that you feel when you haven't seen someone you're fond for some time.

I've found myself gripped by the story once more. I know there are things that need to be worked on - it's far from perfect - but it inspires me. I feel I now have the distance and the confidence to be ruthless with it, cutting scenes and tightening the prose. Like the early stages of a relationship, it's almost at the point where I can't bear to leave it.

And I guess that's the point of it all. There are countless other things we could be doing that would be easier - or more lucrative than writing for a living. Would any of us want to write at all if not for the passion it stirs within us?

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Experience of Reading

Reading your own work out in front of an audience is an totally different experience to simply giving it to someone else to read.

Publicity is a key part of being an writer, according to all the authors who have visited Falmouth as part of our guest lecture programme. Reading your work - at book signings, lectures and various literary festivals - is part of this. Recently, Patrick Gale told us that he sees his career as having two sides - as a writer, and as an author. As a writer, you spend most of your time locked away with your laptop or notebook. An author's role is much more public.

While we've had to get used to reading and commenting on each others' work over the last few months, and yes, even reading out loud in front of the group, it's totally different to think about reading to members of the public who don't know me, or my work.

In a way, it's liberating.

I've started reading my work at Telltales, a monthly storytelling evening. In the comfortable intimate surroundings of Babahogs arts cafe, stories unfold by candlelight.

The first time I read, there were very few people there I knew, and strangely this made me less nervous. Reading a story that I hadn't shown to anyone before, it was interesting to see people's reactions, and hear their comments afterwards. There was no agenda: I knew that any feedback was a reflection of the story and the telling alone.

Reading aloud helps you find the rhythm of the story: where it flows and where it falters. It helps you understand how to pace a story so that you keep the listener (or reader) with you. A good story should have you almost on the edge of your seat, eager to find out what happens next.

I'll be reading all my stories out loud from now on - even if it's just to myself.