Monday, June 12, 2006

The me-book

The Grumpy Old Bookman reminded me to check out Susan Hill's blog. Apart from being a novelist herself, Ms Hill runs a First Novel competition (closing date August 1st). One of her recent blogs addresses the question of what aspiring novelists are writing. Some of them are writing me-books. Books as therapy. All well and good, except often these novels don't make interesting reading. In particular this struck a chord:

Now there is a place for the novel as therapy. Writing problems and distress down is a good way of distancing them enough to begin to deal with them, writing worries down makes them seem more manageable - so why not write down your angst in fictional form ? No reason at all, so long as you keep hold of the fact that very few people will actually want to read it, in the form of the paying public. Me-books are the sort that drain the life and energy out of the soles of one`s feet ... Alas, very few of our me-book submissions have any sense of humour - I get the feeling, indeed, that they would regard that as rather a low thing to own to and heavy irony is about as near as their authors get.

This is exactly how I feel about one of the (Print-on-Demand) Arthurian novels I read recently. I don't want to name it as to the author her novel is very personal indeed, so to criticise in this manner would be very hurtful. And yes, there is no humour in it whatsoever. There is, however, a lot of throwing of things around, grand gestures and what Carla astutely terms 'heroine abuse.' Reading her book was useful to me, as it was instructive regarding what to avoid in my own writing. And others have read it, and identified with it, so it has its place.

And on a specifically historical theme, Ms Hill says:

I am not likely to read on further than the opening chapter of a novel set in some past era which features words like ''Avaunt'' and ''Methinks'' or ''Forsooth'' - oh yes, you`d be surprised how many -

I'm dead surprised that anyone is writing like that any more, and strongly suspect that they are unlikely to be members of the Historical Novel Society.

13 Comments:

At 3:02 pm BST, Blogger Susan Higginbotham said...

I think every novel I've read and enjoyed has had some humor in it, even if the story was ultimately tragic. By the same token, most of the novels I've disliked have had little or no humor. Three hundred pages of dead earnestness is a very long 300 pages indeed.

 
At 4:12 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

Same here, Susan. Some of my most favourite books are the ones that have had me laughing out loud one moment, then nearly crying the next because the story takes a sad turn.

 
At 5:49 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Ouch, and I so can't write humour. It's something I struggle with because I agree that there should be some lighter moments in a big epic.

I also have a character say forsooth. Oh dear.

 
At 7:07 pm BST, Blogger Susan Higginbotham said...

I don't think the humor has to be laugh-out-loud funny to work. Just a moment of dry humor or gentle irony, or a slightly off-the-wall observation that a character or the narrator makes, can be enough to keep me reading.

 
At 8:05 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

If I laugh at something humorous it isn't necessarily at slapstick, but it does indicate I am very involved in the story. Life is light and shade, even in the most serious of situations, so if the writing reflects that, it feels more 'true' to me.

In my writing, I tend to have characters bantering; blokes are always sending each other up, so it goes with the territory. Of course, bantering can easily turn into something rather more serious, one way or another. So it can be used to carry the story forward, and doesn't need to be a big comedy set-up.

 
At 8:46 am BST, Blogger Susan Hill said...

I was surprised that anyone would still write that as well..absolutely astonished. But there have been a couple of them in the past week.. not, you understand, that all of them use all of those words on the same page.. but Forsooth comes in remarkably often. I wonder sometimes if it is someone trying to write a Blackadder novel and just not telling me.

 
At 1:38 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

Forsooth! Thanks for dropping by :-)

I've read a few romances which use 'twas and 'tis, which drives me bonkers. They don't just use it once or twice, it's every other sentence ...

 
At 2:30 pm BST, Blogger Martyn said...

Alex

I've just set up a new webring for Yorkshire based bloggers. There used to be one but unfortunately it's now gone into retirement.

More info can be found at

www.yorkshirebloggers.blogspot.com

Hope you'll consider joining :-)

 
At 3:13 pm BST, Blogger Martyn said...

Thanks for joining. You've been approved ;-)

 
At 7:24 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Yep, I know what you mean about 'twas. If I find that one on the first page, back on the shelf the book goes.

But I'd also like Penman to use less certes.

 
At 8:42 pm BST, Blogger Susan Higginbotham said...

That's for certes.

Though reading "certes" again and again has a strange effect on me--I start to feel guilty that I'm not using it myself.

 
At 10:18 am BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

I don't read Penman, so hadn't come across certes. It's funny how authors like to throw in archaic sounding words, trying to give speech a period flavour. I just find it jarring.

 
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