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Thursday 17 November 2016

Essay: On Finishing a Book

Someone said to me recently that you don't finish a book; you abandon it. I had already got to the point where I was tinkering and was only spinning things out just in case some voice in my head told me to Start Again!

Donald Trump solved my problem. The book is not Current Affairs, but there is a theme about America which runs through it. And I thought: If I go on tinkering, Trump will start getting in and in ways which have not been thought through. Any re-writes will surely stick out as such. True, he's there already in the background of a sentence about building walls but that's it - and I decided to keep it that way. I don't want him in a last-minute foreground.

So I signed off.   A couple of days later, Leonard Cohen died and confirmed my decision. He's in the book at least three times and I had written some nice things about him. His death gave me a further reason not to start fiddling around again with a near-final text. I didn't want to ramp up what I had already written and which had been quite carefully considered. I wrote a tribute while he was still alive and I will stay with what I wrote.

As well as working with an editor on every chapter, I found (using gumtree where lots of clever people looking for work can be found) a complete stranger to read through a late draft and it proved very helpful. I would have repeated the exercise, but a couple of emails I sent out in hope went unanswered; a third one was answered by someone Famous excusing himself as too busy.

Today I printed off a copy and read right through, just doing copy-edits and small style glitches. It's only 57 000 words. If my nerve holds, I'll send it to the typesetter on Monday. I'll keep you updated ...

Update 20 November It's gone to the typesetter a day early under the title Silence Is So Accurate and I hope it will appear in 2017. I have worked up a cover I like but this can't be finalised until the page-length of the book is confirmed - that determines the spine width.

What I don't have for the cover is something which nowadays is more or less obligatory: I don't have any Puffs from friends, family and famous declaring my book the best thing since the last best thing. Should you be Famous and reading this, a Puff would always be appreciated. Of course, you don't have to read the book ...

Well, now the spine length is settled, here is the front cover. Publication due 15 February 2017, ISBN 9780993587924. Pages 224. Price £20. Available for pre-order at Waterstones and Blackwell and Book Depository.

Click on Image to Magnify

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Review: Paul Beatty, The Sellout

I bought this book from the Waterstone's table of novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize, read it during a week working in Germany, and by the time I got home it had won the Prize.

Novels deal with things at least some of which we will not be familiar with and sometimes will be completely ignorant of. But we manage, sometimes only partially. I don't think I understood everything in Paul Beatty's book and though I often smiled or occasionally laughed I am certain I did not get all the gags. So I am not a good judge of the book. That said, I have doubts about it which relate to other aspects than the gags I didn't get.

I felt the author was trying too hard, like a stand-up comedian on a bad night. I felt the book lacked structure, trying to do too many things and not always sure what those things were even though all the reviewers who are all over my copy are completely sure.* I felt that as it progresses it actually runs out of steam - the Supreme Court is not a climax but just a continuation. At just one point (page 266) did the book really move me in a short passage I felt could have owed something to Brecht.

I concede that this is a Minority Report. Time will tell. Go through the back list of Booker Prize winners and there are plenty there you will struggle to recognise - Was that the book about ...?  - and, if you try to read those forgotten books, you will struggle.

* It amused me that The Guardian was there on the  cover. If Paul Beatty had submitted an extract from this book for publication to that Sunday School newspaper, I am 100% sure it would have either not replied or would have set one of its endless supply of dire columnists onto him.