Monday, April 10, 2006

Cutting off your fingers to spite your nose

Hi all, just back from the Big Smoke, the Great Wen or old London town as it's more generally known. I love London and its people but only in small doses. I'm glad to get back to my regular view.

I didn't get time to look at my blog while I was away but checking it over today I see that my post entitled "Breeding Talent" provoked a bit of a response after the GOB referred to it in his blog.

One post in particular, from fellow blogger Gav, of Gav's Studio, caught my eye. I've had a look at Gav's blog and he obviously knows his way around the world of writing and has given the subject lots of thought. I'd like therefore to accord his post the attention it deserves and examine his proposals in detail. My responses are in italics.

Gav wrote:

You're kidding surely? I find it hard enough to read a book and I can read one of those anywhere. Who is going to sit hour after hour reading a novel on a small tv screen? Not the millions of people that buy books. That's a good point Gav. I guess it's the thousands of people who already read books online I was referring to. They also have the option of downloading the books and reading them after they've printed them off, pretty much as you would an ordinary book. Or they could take the next step - if they liked the bit they had read online - and order them as a POD novel. I'm sorry to hear you find it hard to read a book, by the way. For me it's one of the great pleasures in life.

Writers should really try and see it from a readers point of view. I agree entirely, Gav. Of course, different readers have different points of view, don't you think? I suspect that most writers follow your advice then go on and write the book they always intended to write. Which I guess, from what you're saying, is wrong.

With the thousands of books that they have choose from in the average shop how are they to know what is good or not? Good question, Gav. I'm not sure of the answer. Maybe they read a few pages and apply their critical faculties, if they have any? The other point you make is pretty cogent too, and hinges on how you define "good" I imagine.

We should all be aiming to write something that people want to read. Look at The Time Travellers Wife, The Da Vinci Code, or Harry Potter. People want to read them and people want to buy them. Gav, I couldn't agree more although I would add Ulysses, The Leopard, some of Conrad's stuff, Kafka, Orwell, etc. etc. etc. Actually, I think there is a problem here, isn't there. It's those bloody readers again - they have such diverse tastes, it's hard to know what they want.

There are too many people who think that just because they can type a few words into a computer they think they are writers. It's bollocks. You've hit the nail on the head here, Gav. It's almost as bad with those guys who get published. Honestly, many of them are not much better either. The only problem I see here is how we sort the wheat from the chaff. How do we decide who can call themselves a writer and who can't? Let me know the answer to this one, Gav, when you get the chance.

They should have there fingers cut off. Er, Gav, I don't wish to be pedantic but I think you mean "their" don't you? Anyway, I imagine you're speaking ironically here although in the world I inhabit away from this blog when we say someone should have his balls cut off that's exactly what we do mean.

By all means write something but don't take it personally if no-one gives a shit after. Bang on, once again Gav. As far as what you've written goes, rest assured I really don't give a shit. But don't take that personally, okay?


  1. Such an elegant riposte...can I be in your gang when I've finished wiping away the tears?

  2. Minx, you're already in my gang. And I'm in yours. We're the good guys remember.

  3. Aww shucks....
    On a more serious note (and the reason we're all here) pop over to Petrona at and Frank Wison at http// - both are lovely people, helpful and encouraging. Petrona keeps nicking bits off my my blog to send out into the world...I really must learn how to do that.

  4. I'm not sure - without wishing to play devil's advocate - that Gav's intentions were quite as blithely ignorant as you assert in this post.

    I would adore to imagine a reading population that so readily buys Kafka, Orwell and JK Rowling at the same time, but what I think Gav is actually saying here is that there tends to be a divide in readership taste/consumption in which MOST - and yes, I generalise - people would simply never think to buy Orwell or Kafka.

    We occupy a very privileged position when we can say that our personal libraries encompass such a variety of genres; 'MOST people' would simply buy whatever because they are easy to read, and quite simply not the more (sub?)culturally esteemed works that you(and most 'well read' people) would like to add to the 'popularist' books that Gav references.

    It's quietly unfair to pick on what is (in Gav's case muddily and brashly argued) an accurate problem with the publishing sphere today.

    You also say that reading is one of your great pleasures in life. Knowing Gav, and indeed working with him, I can say that what he does involves a great deal of reading for pleasure :)

    Anyway, and as I mentioned elsewhere on Gav's blog, and having read with interest the rest of yours (which I might add is helpful, insightful and interesting) increased concentration and a definite narrowing of taste according to the 'gatekeepers' in residence at the big publishing houses means that ventures such as yours (online publishing) can only become more common and much more readily accepted.

    Hm, I think I lost myself in there somewhere.

    Good luck anyway; if my eyes were more capable of synthesising words from a computer I'd get round to delving into your own novel when I've got a bit of time to do so.

  5. Hi Matthew, thanks for your post.

    Gav has a perfect right to express his opinions any way he wishes. In the just same way I maintain the right to respond to his views in any way I want. It wasn't so much what he said as the way he said it to which I took exception -as is my right. But I guess that's what healthy debate is all about. I've had a good look at Gav's blog - he's obviously an intelligent, sincere guy who's working hard at becoming a writer and I wish him well. I'm sure he took my riposte in the spirit it was intended.

    I wouldn't argue with the general gist of what you say in your post. My view is simply that the more people that read the better. What they read is up to them - I'm not in any sense elitist on this issue. That should come across pretty clearly in my blog I hope - if it doesn't I've seriously failed in my intention.

  6. Thanks for your thoughts. I'll try and respond in full later. Maybe.

  7. And I sincerely hope that I myself didn't come across as some diligently rude character, swooping in to a friend's defence. He's big enough and daft enough to do that for himself - and I mentioned his brashness with what he'd said. I was purely drawn to the topic of discussion itself; I find all of this very interesting.

    Anyway, I too wish more people would read. We'd probably have a more tolerant, benign society if the cabinet read 1984, or whatever. But ultimately the most popularly read things in this country give responsibility to a xenophobia and consensual ignorance born of the Murdoch press; the Daily Mail and Express too, so perhaps MORE people reading that sort of thing isn't such a good thing.

    But that, I suspect, is something else entirely :)

  8. My comment wasn't the most eloquent thing I've ever written but hey ho.

    The intial point, which I rocketed away from at the speed of notts, is an interesting one. Offering your (I'm saying your as a general term, it's easier than say 'a writer' each time) writing for free to read on the internet. This is untested waters. It's a bit like putting a programme on chanel 9,999,0001 and hoping that someone is going find it, love it and then tell all their friends all about it. So gaining an audience.

    The hope is that it does catch the eye of that ideal reader who infects everyone else through viral marketing.

    The downside of the internet is that everyone can do the same thing plus you don't have to be the same person each time. The same writer could have a failed experiment one day as Fred Blogs, so his next book is under Joe Gogs. This ofcourse happens in bricks and mortar publishing.

    But instead of being on some obscure channel the publisher can pay for book to be on channel 1 or 3. They can pay for the front table at Waterstones. This ofcourse just gives them a headstart. It's no guarantee of sales.

    So getting noticed is one problem. Quality is another. The third is getting more people to read from a screen. I don't fancy taking my laptop into a bath.

    The rest of it, the idea of writing for readers, isn't as it appears a championing the dumbing down of literature.

    But it refers to a point GOBmade: No, I'm afraid there isn't much mystery. There never was a profitable market for this book. The best that publisher and author could hope for (And they do hope, don't they? Oh yes.) was that the book might be one of those lightning strikes. Another Life of Pi, a book that no one really wanted (except one eccentric publisher, who was willing to take a punt), but which somehow, by the grace of whatever gods may be, took off.

    And this one didn't.

    Which is a shame. But maybe GOB is wrong as are the 'gatekeepers'(who do keep making very odd choices).

  9. Matthew, you came across just fine. The point you make about the kind of society we get being fashioned by what they read is a good one - there's a lot of food for thought there.

    I wonder if part of the problem I had with Gav is a generational thing. I'm an old fogey after all and the young use language in a different, and more robust way. I may well have over-reacted and responded in an unfair way.

    I'm going to try and contact Gav privately and see if we can resolve this thing more amicably.

  10. I don't necessarily think it needs resolving amicably at all; merely discussed. And what better forum than the internet, where we can all sit and quite happily chat without ever having to worry about what we're wearing at the time :)

    I'm 22, by the way, so I don't think a generation gap is in question at all. I think Gav just stormed in on something he feels passionately about - as you obviously do too.

  11. Hi Gav

    Good points - eloquently made. The bit about the readers makes sense. I guess if you want big sales (and who, at heart, doesn't), you really have to get into the mind of your target audience. That's a key concept in marketing, isn't it.

    Strictly between you and me, Gav, I'm feeling a little guilty about this post. I sort of feel I may have abused my position as blog host to poke fun at your previously-expressed point of view which is pretty unfair. If you wish I'll delete the post and these attendant comments (even though that feels a bit like re-writing history) as long as you agree to let me delete your original comment which started all this. Or, we could just leave things as they are and have a good laugh at each other.

    Let me know what you think.

  12. It caused an interesting debate and got me thinking. It should stay. Thanks for taking the time it.

  13. That's pretty magnanimous of you, Gav.

    I'll keep an eye on your blog and see if I can stir things up when the opportunity arises.

    Good luck with your studies.

  14. Well done gentlemen, nicely resolved. I'm glad nothing was deleted as we all have the right to free speech (and a free read). If you stick your neck out for something that you believe in then you should prepare yourself for the odd axe coming at you. The one thing that you have both got to remember, and that goes for all of us who use the W word, is that you're on the same side. Age, politics, viewpoint all make for some very interesting reading. And check your sitemetres, I think you have just caused a minor storm!!
    By the way whilst you two were squabbling I've just bought some really nice shoes, shame you can't see them!

  15. Ps, I made you both a cake, it's on my blog!!

  16. The cake looks good, Minx, it's very kind of you.

  17. There are CD players for shower and hot tub--why not floating e-books for the bath? They're coming. I'll buy one.