Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sprinkled with Gerunds.

Back now. If you're going to meet a literary agent to talk about the book you're working on, I highly recommend having a meeting in the The British Library and then standing at an equidistant point between the Guternberg Bible and the Lindisfarne Gospels. This way you'll be able to put what you're trying to achieve into some sense of what I believe is called 'perspective'.

We discussed, I ate the stalest almond croissant I ever have ated (I believe it may yet turn out to the Guternberg Croissant, leading to me owing said library a hundred squillion pounds), and Agent Sarah has agreed to join my posse* (Agent Ginny won't do books, won't even have them in the house, it's very sad). Which means I actually need to finish the Cabinet book. When I do that, and if it's good, Agent Sarah will attempt to sell it to a good home.

I've decided to set myself the end of September as a deadline. Twelve chapters, at the rate of one a week. I've got a diagram and everything, and as all writers know, once you've done a diagram, it's really just crossing the things, and dotting the other things from there. Note so self: buy coffee.

While at BritLib (as nobody calls it) I went to the A Fine Line event, a discussion about writing for children hosted by Penelope Lively, Julia Eccleshare (Children's Book Editor of The Guardian) and Francis Spufford author of the excellent The Child that Books Built., which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in the process of reading, and of how reading the right books at the right time can utterly alter one's life. Very good discussion, the finer points of which I am still mulling over, but it did make me think about nostalgia (which I dislike, perhaps surprisingly), 'crossover' books (which some people think don't even exist) and JK Rowlling (consensus: lovely lady, but it's very worrying seeing adults reading the Harry Potter books as some form of regressive pleasure - as Francis Spufford pointed out, a child reading a child's novel is having his or her horizons expanded, whereas an adult reading the same novel is having them very slightly narrowed**: discuss).

There may be a transcript of the discussion somewhere: if so, I'll put up a link.


* Thus giving a fighting chance in the annual Green Wing Writers' 'How Many Agents Have You Got, Then?' competition. I believe I now tie with Faymond and Oriette.

** I don't entirely agree with this, but it's an interesting point. It's only the Harry Potter books I was dissing (as if that'll get me out of trouble).

17 comments:

cello said...

Not sure I agree that adults reading children's books is narrowing their horizons, assuming they don't do it to the exclusion of adult books of course. I see it more as keeping alive the emotions books provoked in you as a child - wonder, fear- which are rarer in adult fiction. So, more like extending your horizons. Keeping your skipping muscles limbered up doesn't stop you doing brain surgery.

patroclus said...

Go for it, James. This is very exciting indeed. And all your talk of diagrams and deadlines and coffee and whatnot is almost making me feel inspired to set about my own woeful work with a bit more enthusiasm than I have of late. Mainly the bit about the coffee. But the trouble there is when you* get a coffee, you have to have a cigarette, then another coffee, then another cigarette, and the next thing you know it's 6pm.

Does anyone know of any jobs that pay a decent salary for drinking coffee, smoking, being unfunny on chat forums and writing the occasional blog post? Please? Anyone?

* 'You' meaning 'I', obviously.

james henry said...

Cello: Agreed - fine for adults to read kid's books as part of a healthy diet. Indeed, what drew me back to re-read a lot of the books I read as a child (apart from running the kid's section at Waterstone's for a brief while) is that all the stuff like story and character that seemed to be missing from adult fiction suddenly reappeared in books I had read fifteen or so years ago.

There's a kind of ersatz nostalgia to adults reading the Harry Potter books that makes me uneasy, but maybe only because I don't really 'get' them. Whereas I would stoutly defend re-reading The Dark Is Rising, so possibly I'm just a big hypocrite...

And thanks Patroclus. You've made me chortle on forums, by the way, if that helps.

Steve Dix said...

Gutenberg. That's my haltestelle on the 5 coming home.

james henry said...

Which are they proudest of, the bibles, or Steve?

Steve Dix said...

The Bibles. But they've been going longer.

entropy said...

But is it still narrowing horizons to be reading new children's books rather than re-reading ones you remember? Or even just ones that are "new" to you? I never read The Dark Is Rising as a child, waited till I was 21 and then scared myself witless reading the bit in the church at around 1am with a gale outside. And out of newer ones, I'd stoutly defend "Mortal Engines" (P.Reed) or "The Wee Free Men" (T.Pratchett) on the grounds of plot and character. Possibly with arms folded.

james henry said...

Yes, this occured to me as well - certainly Terry Pratchett's kid's books are just as complex and moral as his 'adult books'. And a lot of books like 'Mortal Engines' are practically adult SF, just happen to star a youthful protagonist and don't have any explicit sex or violence, which is fine by me. Ian Fleming's James Bond books are the most childish books I can think of - they just happen to have plenty of rough sex and murderin', which hardly makes them a mature read.

Spufford wasn't having a go at adults reading kid's books - just that it's worrying seeing adults focusing on them to the exclusion of other reading, which I think is fair enough. I'm going to set up a thing on the forum about this, as it's an interesting debate.

Part of the reason I enjoyed re-reading stuff like The Dark Is Rising, is that I read them all too fast as a kid, and missed loads of details. I'm going to scrabble round and try and find a transcript of that talk now...

britchick said...

Don't know if it's of interest, but have you seen the info on the children's novel writing competition in today's Times?

james henry said...

I have not - I shall go and have a look...

james henry said...

Interesting, thanks for that. I'll refrain from entering the actual competition, as I think it's probably aimed at people who don't already have two agents (I just like saying that) - but a useful article, cheers.

Bearded Lady said...

we only have the one agent. of course when i was a temp i had five.

Steve Dix said...

On the subject of adult books that read as though written for kids, I once read a Wilbur Smith book, and was extremely disappointed at the writing style, which was very immature.

Then of course, you have to consider books which are written on two levels : both for adults and children. The original Winnie the Pooh's like that. It works as a nice story for a child, but also as a satire of adult life.

My neice insists on me reading it to her, and I can barely keep from laughing.

Elfgirl said...

I'm impressed by anyone who knows how to get one ages, let alone two. *demonstrates being doubly impressed*

Elfgirl said...

Er, or agent even. O_o

Orb said...

Hang on - if Ori and Fay have one agent between them, that means they only have 0.5 agents each, so Mr H has four times as many agents.

That's maths, that is. I can spot it a mile off.

james henry said...

Mathematical proof that I rock. Marvellous.