The highlight for me was the talk by crime writer Sophie Hannah. Her talk was entitled The Nuts and Bolts of Crime Writing and she did indeed talk about her own writing techniques. She starts with an irresistible plot hook, usually some psychological obsession. There is often a strong component of real life. Her latest book Did you see Melody came about because of an incident when she was given the wrong room in a hotel which was already occupied by someone else.
Details matter, such as choice of names for characters. As the new novel is set in the USA she chose a name which was pronounced differently in the UK. The inspiration for the book came as a result of a case which was reported widely in the USA but not in the UK.
She is a great planner and writes the whole book in note form before she does her first draft. Provided the events she describes can happen at least once she was ready to use that for her plot. She described how when she was searching for an agent and publisher, she received advice about how unlikely her plots were and she was almost ready to give up when her husband suggested she tried a man who would just say yes or no. So she did. He said yes and sold the book before she’d signed anything.
She wasn’t interested in cataloguing urban crime. She didn’t like red herring, but preferred the reader to mislead themselves. There are those Poirot books as well and she told us how she came to be asked to write those by Agatha Christie Ltd. Perhaps that’s another post.
She was an interesting speaker, her talk highlighted by personal reminisces, often very funny.
There is always a good exhibition somewhere in London, often too many. A trip to the Royal Academy on Picadilly is usually worthwhile. We wanted to see the Matisse exhibition this time. How fascinating. There was not an enormous number of painting but they were exhibited alongside some of the objects he used for his work. The idea was to encourage the viewer to look at the objects the way an artist might. I love his use of colour and textiles and this exhibition was no exception. I’ve often thought that if I was asked what books I would want on my Desert Island, a copy of Matisse’s work would be the first thing I’d chose.
There was also an exhibition of the work of Charles Tunnicliffe in the same building.
He was a Royal Academician best known for his illustrations for books. Think Tarka the Otter. (Memo to self – must read.) What became more interesting was copies of the cards he did for Brooke Bond Tea. The cards were in the packets of loose leaf tea and one could send away for a book in which to stick the cards. Seeing those cards and the book brought back all sorts of memories. I’d collected the Birds of Britain. We started talking to the room steward who told us his had collected the Birds of Africa as he had lived in Uganda as a child. He showed us the Ladybird series of books ‘What to Look for in Winter’, and it’s companion volumes. Tunnicliffe was an amazing artist and deserves to be remembered.
I am going to digress from the excitement of London and tell you about the sleepy town of Budleigh Salterton. I say sleepy as everything is closed by seven o’clock. However for a few days each year it is alive with talks on literature, biography and memoirs, politics and power. I didn’t go to all the talks but every day I went to something.
Grammar has never been my strong point and I hoped a talk by David Crystal might give me some tips on how to get it right. But, no we were treated to a thesis on the verb ‘to be’ or perhaps ‘not to be.’ Later that day Hilary Mantel ( the festival’s president ) talked about writing history as fiction and the journey she has been on as her novels were transposed to the theatre and television.
The next day I went to a workshop on writing a family memoir. I was hoping to get some help in finding sources for a possible novel about my grandfather. We did get some information about that and I hope I can pursue writing a fictionalised account of my family in due course. Then a look at contemporary fiction Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land and Paula Cocozza’s How to be Human. The talk centred around the issue of keeping a novel truly contemporary when it can take a few years to write. In the evening we had the privilege of hearing the lawyer Dr Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, talking about her experiences at the hands of her country’s government.
By Friday morning we had moved from writing about the present to writing about the past as Sarah Perry (The Essex Serpent) and Tim Pears (The Horseman) talked about their novels. They talked about how their stories developed. Sara Perry said for her the facts served the story and she kept her research to a minimum as it was second to the impetus of the story. The sense of place was important to both writers. Perry described her book as a love letter to Essex, the county where she was born. Tim Pears was brought up in Devon and he said he relied on his memory of the place.
Lucy Hughes Hallet who is well known as a biographer talked about her novel Peculiar Ground. The novel was very character driven and she liked to have them slightly on the outside of the events as that gave them perspective. Then we were back to memoir and two different authors writing about their family life and in particular their fathers. The books were Keggie Carew’s Dadland and Miranda Doyle’s A Book of Untruths.
On the political front a talk by Bridget Kendall on the Cold War. Not only did she provide her own perspective on the events of that era but also, as a result of making a programme for Radio 4, from those who experienced it first hand. Finally Alan Johnson talking about his life in politics as an MP and a Minister in the Blair/Brown governments.
Next year the Festival takes place from Wednesday 19th to Sunday 23 September.
I have always read a lot of books, even when I was working full time at the Bar, but unless you have time to spend at a library and want to wait for that particular book you want to read to be available they do cost quite a lot of money. Amazon has done a lot to make my addiction to books affordable, but it looks to me as if there is a shift in the cost of reading.
I have been puzzled for some time as to why the Paula Hawkins’s novel was for sale as a hard back at £7.99 when it was first published. I thought about it again when I received and email from Amazon about a book by John Fairfax called Summary Justice. I was interested in reading the novel as it is set in England and within the Criminal Justice System. I looked at the price of the book and to my surprise, the hardback was £11.89, the paperback £8.99 and for Kindle £8.99 as well. That seemed high to me so I decided to do a bit of research using the Amazon charts for best sellers in crime. This is what I found.
War Cry by Wilbur Smith
Hardcover £13.00 Paperback £7.99 Kindle £12.99
The Fix by David Baldacci
Hardcover £11.89 Paperback £6.40 Kindle £9.44
The Black book by James Patterson
Hardcover £13.60 Paperback £7.99 Kindle £9.99
The Girl Before by J P Delaney
Hardcover £4.99 Paperback 7.99 Kindle 6.49
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Hardcover £10.00 Kindle £9.99
So what is going on? Well, that second Paula Hawkins novel is not available in paperback yet and the price difference between the hardcover and the ebook is 1p. Which is the reader going to buy? Is the publisher trying to push the reader into buying the hardcover because the number of sales to reach the bestseller list is fewer than for a paperback? Why are these popular authors books being priced at either the same or more for the ebook than for the paperback? Are traditional publishers trying to push sales of ebooks down? I assume as there is no printing cost, no paper to buy ebooks should be cheaper. Am I wrong? Or are publishers prepared to take the reading public for a ride and screw them for as much money as possible? Any thoughts?
PS I didn’t have time to look at literary fiction in the same way but Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan shows the same difference in pricing policy.
If you have ever wondered on why a book is the size it is, other than something you can hold easily in your hand then you are not alone. When I first qualified as a lawyer, long before the days of the computer and A4 sized sheets of paper, we used a paper size we called ‘brief size’. The secretaries had typewriters, (remember those ) with elongated carriages to take the paper. When is was folded in half it was roughly the same as the current A4. Instead of typing along the short side, briefs to counsel were typed along the other longer side and then they were folded in four and tied with pink tape. When a solicitor was preparing the bill for a case in which they had instructed a barrister, one of the items on the account was the number of folio’s in the brief and that was arrived at by counting a certain number of words, I think it was 72. Of course, the word is used to define a piece of paper folded in two giving four pages in total. But why is a book clearly made up of many folio’s the physical size it is? The answer lies with the size of a medieval sheep.
Paper was first invented in China, but it was the Egyptians that brought it to the west and they used papyrus to make it, which is where the word paper comes from. There wasn’t any papyrus plants in the UK so they used something medieval Britain did have plenty of – sheepskins. Once the skin has been treated and cut into a rectangle, and then folded in half, the ‘pages’ are the size of a modern atlas and that is called a folio. Folded in half again; this is the size of a modern encyclopaedia and is called a quarto. Another fold gives the size of most hardback books and is an octavo. One more fold would give you the size of a mass market paperback. But it does depend on the size of your sheep.
I am grateful to Mark Forsyth for his explanation in his wonderful book The Etymologicon of how and why books are the size they are and where the words to describe them came from.
This is the working title of my new novel and so far I am about half way through the first draft. Some how the summer has not been conducive to writing – who wants to be stuck in front of a computer when the sun is shining outside. I think too, I am rather daunted by the task I have set myself. I didn’t think about it with Crucial Evidence. I’d started that as part of my dissertation for my MA and I just kept going until I’d finished. Then I drafted and redrafted without thinking, each time telling myself that this time it would work and when I sent it to agents someone would love. They didn’t and I began to realize that it wasn’t my writing that was the real problem but the type of book I wanted to write. Also talking to agents at places like Winchester Writers’ Conference and at The London Book Fair I knew any publisher would want a series of novels and I didn’t want to be tied to writing a book a year. In the end I decided to publish the book myself. In the process I’ve learnt at lot about writing and publishing, but that makes the mountain I have to climb much higher and harder than the first. I know how long it takes and how difficult it can be.
But you have to begin somewhere so this is the first page of my second novel. It follows the career of barrister Cassie Hardman as she gets her first leading brief in a murder case.
‘As Cassie hurried along the driveway from Snaresbrook Crown Court towards the tube station, she turned on her mobile phone. Amongst the emails from fashion houses, department stores and restaurants, there was a message showing the subject matter as Paul Sadler. He had been the defendant in a rape trial, who she had successfully defended at the Old Bailey the week before last. She didn’t recognise the name of the sender, Malcolm Delaney. Normally she was very careful about opening emails from unknown people but it was from someone who knew about her involvement in the Sadler case. She clicked the message open and read, ‘Miss Hardman, I wanted to congratulate you on your representation of Mr Sadler. Your cross examination was very effective and your closing remarks were obviously persuasive. Clearly they carried the jury along, as you know from the verdict. I would like the opportunity of congratulating you in person, and would like to invite you to have lunch or dinner with me. We can arrange a time and place later. I look forward to hearing from you. Malcolm’
The email gave no clue as to how Malcolm Delaney, knew she had represented Paul Sadler or what Delaney’s connection to the case was. Was he a police officer, a member of the court staff or just a spectator from the public gallery? She knew there were a number who came regularly to watch the proceedings at the Bailey; the staff described them as ‘groupies’ and she had been told by one of the ushers that some of them would ask which barristers were appearing in which court and make a point of watching their favourites’ cases. The wording of the message was a little old fashioned so perhaps it was one of them. The thought that one of the men from the gallery wanted to invite her to dinner amused her, but nothing more.
Back in Chambers, the senior clerk, Jack, summoned her into his room and closed the door behind her. On his desk were four lever arch files, tied with pink tape, the front sheet bore the title R v David Winston Montgomery. Jack beamed at her. ‘I’ve managed to get you a leading brief in a murder at the Bailey. I assume you’ll want to apply for silk in a couple of years. This is a good one; you’re ready for it, even though it’s a murder. None of the silks want this. Scared they’ll get tarred with a racist brush, I dare say. A woman won’t of course. Judge Crabtree is in a bit of a panic thinking the defendant might want to represent himself. I said, to Colin in the list office, my Miss Hardman can handle it. Spoke to Tim. Didn’t take long to persuade him you could do it. So there you are a leading brief in a murder.’
Any comments to make about that so important first page.
After listening to the talks in the Author HQ at LBF and hearing the questions people ask the commercial aspect of writing is very much to the fore- I suppose that’s not really surprising.
A successful writer of commercial fiction needs to write at least two books a year. I don’t think I can do that. I know if one writes a thousand words a day, in theory, one could finish a book in about three months, but then there is the redrafting and the editing and I suspect I am quite hard on myself during that process. Certainly Crucial Evidence took me over two years to write and eight drafts before I felt ready to publish it, and before the feedback I was getting from other writers, agents and publishers suggested it was well written enough. What they were unsure of was if there was a market for a courtroom drama/ legal mystery. I think what I want is to write something that other people enjoy reading. So far my novel is getting 4 and 5 star reviews and I do find that very satisfying, so perhaps that will do for me.