When did you last see someone reading a book? Not someone you know, just someone you happened to pass who was reading.
Of course, I know it’s not a spectator sport, there wasn’t some point in history where the public used to gather in concert halls or football stadiums and hold mass book reading ceremonies. It’s always been a private activity, which takes place behind closed doors in small groups or in isolation, almost as though there is something shameful about it.
But I do feel that these days I just don’t see people reading books as much as I used to.
Sigh – I came across a new low recently in the rapidly evolving book world – reviews for sale.
A random Twitter follower sent me a direct message asking if she might review one of my books on her blog. I didn’t know her, but then I have close to 27,000 Twitter followers so that’s not unusual. I checked out her book blog, it seemed superficially legit – there were reviews on there, it seemed to be regularly updated.
She didn’t use her name, just a pseudonym concerning her hair colour, but that didn’t seem too fishy – not everyone wants to be a public face. She described herself as a military wife, living somewhere in the USA, with a young family.
Recently I was interviewed by the amazing and successful author Jane Howard for her website, you can find that interview if you click here. And among other things she asked me which authors inspire me.
And what I said was this:
All authors inspire me – all of them, good ones, bad ones, self-published, small press, big publisher. I think writing books and stories is a tremendous thing for people to be doing, we hold a mirror up to society, we are its conscience and its soul. That’s no small thing to be involved in.
If you are an author of any great fame sooner or later someone is going to ask you for writing tips. It’s the law.
Does this happen in other professions? Do top plumbers get asked for plumbing tips which then appear in plumbing blogs? I’ve led too sheltered an existence to know for sure but I certainly hope those blogs exist, and in my heart I believe they do. Plumbing tips would probably be a lot more use than writing tips anyway. Advice for writers tends to be subjective whereas, if your toilet is overflowing and you need to stop it – that’s very much objective.
When people ask me why I write fiction, as sometimes they do, I’m kind of at a loss. So full of words usually I find I have none.
So I have a stock response which is to say that I don’t know why I write except that I feel compelled to. I don’t necessarily enjoy writing so much as I find I need to do it, because it’s part of me.
So that deflects the question but doesn’t really answer it.
I was watching an old repeat on TV recently of a sitcom called The Royle Family. It was being shown because its creator, Caroline Aherne, died recently from cancer, tragically young at 52.
Neither Caroline nor her work will mean a great deal to people outside the UK I don’t suppose but here for a while, in the nineties and noughties, she was something of a force of nature and brought a type of writing to television that we don’t really see any more and that, right at the moment, we really need.
I was delighted this week to give a talk at the Evesham Festival of Words in the UK about writing to win short story competitions. I won a big one in the UK some years ago called the Bridport Prize and more recently I have also become a judge for story competitions.
So I was asked for my suggestions about what a writer can do to improve their chances of winning these big writing contests.
I offered five simple tips I think can put people on the right track towards doing well in these competitions. During the conversation we all had after my talk a fellow writer added an important bonus tip – which is to seek out the competition anthologies which publish the winning stories in these competitions and read them, so getting an important insight into what it takes to win.
Here are my original five tips: