Saturday, 27 August 2011

One of the nicer things this week...

Good reviews are nice. They really are. It's lovely to have someone be nice about your books, especially when it's someone brilliant (coughMalPeetcough) in a national newspaper... You can quote them on the cover and everything. It's great. I've been lucky with reviews, on the whole, and I'll always be grateful.

But a few days ago I came across something on the Internet that gave me more pure, lasting, disinterested pleasure than a review ever has.


The Traitor Game has not one but at least two people writing fanfic. Possibly even more. I can't express how delighted I was - am - to have found that out. It feels like such a privilege. Is that crazy? I had to restrain myself, with difficulty, from commenting. (I was only going to thank them and say I thought it was really cool, but all the same I decided not to, because I don't want them to feel I'm looking over their shoulders, or that I imagine I have some kind of right over what they write. The same goes for positive Internet reviews, as it happens. Every so often I can't resist, but in general I feel that the author should keep in the background, so that people can say what they want without it getting personal.) But I was just... so pleased.

Fanfic is a weird thing. I've never written it; I only really heard of it after I wrote The Traitor Game, because someone wondered whether I'd been influenced by slash...* Fanfic is subversive, in a way; there are stories about authors and producers getting antsy about other people writing about "their" characters. But as long as no one's making money out of it, I don't understand the problem. And yes, I used those quotation marks advisedly. Michael and Francis aren't really "my" characters: any more than - oh, I dunno, let's say Takeo and Shigeru, or Fitz and the Fool, or (and I've read a really good piece of slash about these two) Sparrowhawk and Jasper aren't "mine". I'm a reader: those characters live in my head, independently of their authors. And they go on living. That's what reading is. I've never written fanfic, but I recognise that experience - you read a book, you love the characters, and you rewrite them again and again, you get to know them, you live their lives... That's normal, isn't it? And it's a huge compliment to the author. I'm amazed and thrilled that people care enough about Michael and Francis, that they want them to go on living, that they want them to have a happy ending.

So thank you, whoever you are. I'd give you my blessing if it didn't sound patronising. Hope people go to read your stuff here. And here.

And yes, I always thought Michael and Francis would get together eventually too.

*This is an interesting question, and one which I fully intend to muse on at more length. But not now.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Garden Macaroons, Rain

I feel like Garden Macaroons, Rain should be a haiku. Or a still life.

I was going to write a long post explaining everything, but you know what? I'm just going to stop here, and let you speculate.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A Strange Juxtaposition

I don't have much time to read at the moment as I'm working really hard, but I never stop reading completely, and in the last few days I found myself reading two completely different books at once.

The books were A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust, and The Rules, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider.

A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (OK, who'm I trying to kid? Let's call it Remembrance of Things Past. I'm reading it in English, obviously) is a masterpiece. It's probably best-known for being extremely long: it's somewhere around a million words, I think - I'm on page 829, which is near the end of the first volume of three... But it's also well-known for being brilliant. Proust is an amazing observer, dry and quietly witty and beautifully incisive, saying things about human behaviour and emotions that are true, and surprising, and surprising because they are surprising. There's more wisdom about memory and friendship and pleasure and unrequited love than you can shake a stick at. Not to mention writing and success and failure and... well, you get the idea. All the subjects that are close to my heart. I would recommend it to everyone. (Or at least the first 829 pages. I don't know about the rest yet.)

The Rules, on the other hand, is an abomination. I requested it from the library because I'd come across it on Wikipedia and thought it sounded interesting in a distasteful sort of way. I now feel - literally - dirty.

The Rules is a "self-help" (I'm sorry, but those quotation marks are necessary) book which, by its own admission, is designed to help women capture the heart - sorry, the engagement ring - of "Mr. Right". It is a guide to "playing hard to get" and consists entirely of gems like "always hang up first", "never accept a date for Saturday after Wednesday" and "don't sleep with him on the first date". I started off by feeling amused and superior. As I persevered I started to feel queasy. "We are feminists," the introduction announces, "but men and women are biologically and emotionally different. Men are the aggressors." There is so much wrong with this statement that I don't know where to start. (Here might be good, actually.)

The authors of The Rules are deeply smug about their "success stories". Cherry and Marilyn and Paige have all, apparently, done really well in their quest to get married (notice the lack of indirect object in that phrase). Thanks to The Rules. And you know what? I can see why, if you're already the sort of person who would do The Rules, doing The Rules might help you. If you need The Rules, you are probably the kind of person who will do better in the "quest for Mr. Right" if you hide the real you. (Actually, I think I feel sorrier for the "Mr. Right"s.)

I also couldn't help posing the question of what happens when, having got that all-important engagement ring, you finally let your fiance see the real you. This had obviously occurred to the previous readers of The Rules, since in this new updated edition the authors had explained that you don't stop doing The Rules just because you're married! Oh no! You go on with The Rules, because if you don't want to be single or divorced you have to make sure your man feels good about himself and goes on feeling that he's the aggressor he naturally, biologically is.

I wonder what Proust would have made of all this. Unlike Fein and Schneider, he probably wouldn't have claimed to be a feminist. And he might well have acknowledged the power that delay and frustration have on desire. But I like to think that he would have been quietly contemptuous of their sexual politics, their smugness, their evangelical desperation. And, indeed, their prose style.

Then again, I haven't finished Remembrance of Things Past yet. For all I know, the next 2,200 pages could be filled entirely with dating advice.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

These Foolish Things

I very rarely feel famous. But now and then I see my book in a bookshop, or read a review, or someone says something that gives me a great rush of excitement. And this, I say to myself, is why I like being a writer...

I mention this because I had a lovely moment last week, in the pub. (The pub bit is incidental, but it adds local colour.) I was having a drink with an old friend, and she was telling me what she thought of Gamerunner. That was nice in itself, actually, because she'd really enjoyed it. But then she added something which I thought was amazing.

She'd bought it in WHSmith in Victoria Station.

Yes. That's right. In WHSmith, in Victoria Station. It's been a long time since I've been to Victoria, but I like to imagine that the WHSmith there is pretty small, with an extremely select array of books. I closed my eyes and imagined my book, on their shelves. I felt great.

Then I opened my eyes again to order a drink. And just as I was about to speak, the barmaid said to me, 'Wait - aren't you the writer-girl?'

I blinked, and said, 'Er... yes...? Should I know you...?'

'We met a few weeks ago,' she said, and mentioned the friend who'd introduced me to her. 'And my sister read one of your books and she absolutely loved it. She thought it was brilliant.'

It was possibly the best five minutes of my week.