What is more important, the story or the prose?

It would be easy to immediately say that the story is much more important than anything else, because a novel or short story without an actual story, or plot, is nothing but a passage of words. The reality for many people is very different. There are genres of fiction such as Slipstream, which has few boundaries to define what it means or stands for. Those who enjoy traditional fiction may read some of these pieces and struggle to not only understand them, but also enjoy them. Often within these pieces are words or phrases which catch the eye, and resonate a deeper meaning, where the end result of what a story might be is less important than how it is actually written. Here the matter of communication stands out, like a whisper in the night, speaking to us in a way in which many have become immune to hearing, or feeling.

Beyond something like Slipstream are novels which are expressly and expansively written, soaking every sentence in words and descriptions which help to being the scene alive. One such story is called The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, by Angela Carter. The way in which she describes every single thing is rich and full, using every word possible to express every moment of the tale.

Some find it annoying, unable to get past the language to enjoy the story, but others (such as myself) find it accompanies the piece beautifully, as if the words weave a tapestry, stringing it altogether in a unique and fascinating blend.

Even a book such as The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger could be said to be similar, as if the author has poured out every single thought into an endless array of words, clawing at trying to convey her feelings throughout the novel, as if a free flow of words might somehow impart as much emotion to the reader as she might have felt when writing it.

It is a difficult balance, for sure, as a writer. I have heard some say J.K Rowling isn’t a very good writer, because her words and sentences are poorly written, but then this would surely miss the entire point of the Harry Potter books, in that the story and the worlds they create are everything. Does a book have to be written with perfect grammar and spelling, and with the guile and wit of Dickens for it to have any merit?

Truthfully, only the reader can decide this. Some find an awkwardness of grammar or syntax make it impossible to enjoy a novel or story, and that has to be respected, but it cannot be the end of it, because often a truly superb story will override this, and ensure proper enjoyment for the reader, no matter what the story’s limitations in how it is written.

What of those who somehow manage to marry it all perfectly, a wonderful story, superbly written, without a deluge of prose? Perhaps they would be the Mark Twains of the literary world, and rightly recognized for it. If so, perhaps it is something we might all strive for.

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Why do we read fiction?

I think it’s a good question really. Nonfiction is obvious, because for that we want to learn something new, or something which can be useful to help us solve a problem, or do something we want doing. Fiction, that is a completely different ball game.

A cursory glance at Kindle on Amazon shows us that there are over twenty two thousand categories of books on their market, the vast majority of which are dedicated to fiction. Break down the obvious genres of fiction such as Romance, Science Fiction, Murder Mystery, Horror and others, and you get many more sub categories. Each of these is broken down into yet more categories and each of those into ever smaller categories.

The point of all this is to prove just how varied our tastes are in fiction. We don’t all like one type of book, even if we like the same genres, how a particular book works can be attractive to us, and our imaginations, where for others it might not be. If enough people like this, then more will buy those types of books, and more will write for them, to cater for sales.

The most important element of all this is the reader, because there would be no point in writing if no one read it. However, the reader isn’t entirely passive in this experience, because as I have said, imagination plays a huge part in the experience of reading fiction.

If we entirely relied on what we read, those words and the expressed actions, and ignored any descriptions of characters or settings, the details that flesh out a book, then what would separate a book from a film? With a film we are much more passive with our thoughts, except our emotions come into play. Of course they do in a book, but we feel much more in control of our emotions when reading a book, because we decide how we internally visualize what we read, and we decide how much emotional attachment we accept with the book’s characters and what occurs.

So clearly when reading a book, we invest much more imagination in what we read, and shape in our minds what we see, feel and think about events. We are guided much less by a book than any other medium.

So for the deeply personal experience that reading allows us, books of fiction are surely the most unique experience we can have. Books are renowned for being deeper and more detailed than any television series could be, or any film, which are always constrained by running times and productions costs. Books never suffer this. A prime example of this is Stephen King’s The Stand, of which the unabridged version was over a thousand pages. Miniseries that attempted to recreate the vast book never truly captured the essence of the characters and events.

So why do we read fiction so much? I believe it is because we are transported there, either as a character in the book, or as a fly on the wall, and at our own pace we can explore the world the writer has given us.

It really is a unique concept, and an important one for us all. I’m just proud to be able to sit on both sides of the fence on this, creator and reader.


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What makes a good book?

As I have spent more and more time writing, I began to wonder just what it was that made a good book. One of my very favourite books is A Rebel in Time by Harry Harrison. It deals with a black man going back in time in search of a criminal to the time of the Civil War. It’s well written, and a great adventure. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of this in hardback, and even better, it is a signed copy. For me I got into the works of Harry Harrison from reading 2000.A.D comics, when they began to offer a strip of The Stainless Steel Rat. Later on I looked for Harrison’s books, and found Bill The Galactic Hero, which I thought was so silly and funny I read it three times. I read all of the books in the series, and it was obviously at this time I began to realize there were certain writers I would follow, because they wrote things I enjoyed and liked.

I wondered what it was that I enjoyed most about not only his books, but those of others I read. For me to put it simply, there are two main aspects that matter. the first is it has to be a truly great story. It doesn’t have to be unique or particularly different or new, because look at Harry Potter, which is basically The Sorcerer’s Apprentice , although obviously much more to it. Which brings us to the second important element, which is being able to tell a story.

Telling a story isn’t simple, because it needs to take the reader along, and offer elements which excite, interest, educate or enlighten, or all of those things and more. The plot has to do something, the characters have to have some worth. You can create a plot, and work on it, and create graphs and charts and lists of characters and events, but then you have to string it all together, in a way which the reader falls in love with, and becomes a part of.

When a book of fiction does this, it really drives our imagination, and leads us to places we might never have imagined ourselves going.

So for me a book needs to have an interesting story, and the writer needs to tell that story well. Then I can get into it, love it, and want to read it again.

I think doing that well enough that the reader will love it, and you as a writer is the hardest part, because we’re all different, and there’s no telling what might excite on reader, but annoy another.

I guess that’s all part of the fun of being a writer though.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me, I have a book to read…

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Can you judge a book by its cover?

As I am in the process of launching a new book, it got me to thinking about covers, naturally.

With The Dog Under The Bed I actually used my own dog as the cover model, partly because he was very cheap to work with, as in some biscuits and a pat on the back and he was happy, but also because it saved costs for royalties. Some covers don’t need much more than this to stand out, but some genres are difficult to pin down, and their covers are many and varied.

It reminded me of some recent covers I had seen on Instagram, for paperbacks and hardback books. Not only were there very colourful, but they were embossed, and the nature of them stood out so much I was very much intrigued to find out more about them.

It also made me thing of other books I have read in the past, and what drew me to them. I thought of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, and how that cover suggested something interesting within. As it turned out, the cover very much matched my expectations for the read ahead, and it left me with an indelible impression that has lasted to this day. Not only of the cover, but of what I read. So it shows how an impressive cover, as long as it somehow depicts what might lie ahead, can really enhance a book, and draw us to something worth reading.

So I would think in some ways, yes you can judge a book by its cover. Perhaps the better quality of the cover and its artwork, then perhaps the better the quality of the book.

If only that were always true.

I intend to put this to the test with my new book, as I have commissioned a very high quality cover, and hopefully I can match expectations with what I have written.

We will see.

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The differences between US and UK spelling and grammar, plus new book

For my new book I decided to employ a professional editor to fully copy edit my book. Some things stood out for me:

Firstly, as much as I edit my books, and am very careful about it, I’m only human, and of course there were things I overlooked, one or two mistakes. They happen, but with my new editor’s aid I believe we have ironed out all spelling errors, continuity errors and such. This should make the reading experience much better.

Secondly, I must admit to being shocked at the amount of words spelt very differently in the US compared to the UK. I made the mistake of thinking it was only a few words, and not so important. How wrong was I?!
Other things such as standing and stood, being said differently, and plurals and singular, the differences are so many. Clearly editing for a different market are important. lesson learned.

One thing about doing things so much more professionally is it adds to the time before publication. Thankfully I am at the end of it all now, and my new book should be launched within the next week or so.

The genre is quite a departure for me, dealing with family and emotional issues, which are complex and subtle. Writing something like this can be emotional for the writer too, but I feel if I am experiencing an emotional connection with the events in the novel, and how they effect the characters, then hopefully that will feed through to the readers. Time will tell.

Of course, the work never stops, and my next project is going to be the final part of The Dog Under The Bed. It will be simply subtitled: What Happened Next, and concludes it all.

I have been very pleasantly shocked and surprised at the reaction to the first book, at the time of writing this it has 148 reviews on amazon, and a huge amount of ratings on Goodreads too. Clearly it is a much loved book, and worthy of a good conclusion.
I can say the final chapter will be very loving, full of fun and humour, and a wonderful way to send Arthur off to his new home, with his new family.

Roll on next week, when I begin writing it, I can’t wait!

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