Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Stuck in the genre with you

While I was posting the trailer in the previous entry, it occurred to me that I had examples of other videos I’d written and made which represented other aspects of me. (God, how solipsistic this whole blogging business is – who on earth cares about ‘other aspects of me’? Ah well …) I’ll post examples in future entries but my real point in bringing this up now is that it made me aware once again of how publishers (and probably readers) prefer us to stay within the genre they associate with us.
In the summer, for example, I have a historical novel due for publication. OK, it’s still crime-based, but it’s not part of my police procedural series, and it flirts with the romance genre.

Also, at the moment, I’m editing a satirical novel I’ve written on the spy genre which is full of black humour and near-farcical situations. Once again, it’s crime-related but the main idea is to make readers laugh. I’ve been told I should think of using a pseudonym but, if that’s the case, there’d be three of me already – the police procedural guy, the historical guy, and the funny man.

On the other hand, if a reader spends $X or £X on a book of mine because he/she enjoyed a previous one, I’ll be disappointing them if it’s totally different. But on the other other hand, should writers be condemned to keep on producing the same book over and over?

My plan is to write a total of six in the procedural series. Three have already been published, two more are written, and the final one is fully formed but has yet to be blocked out. My aim is for a type of bleakness to increase through the series so that the progression is obvious and the final novel is pretty grim. I also want to write a sequel to the historical one and, if anyone likes the satire enough to publish it, I’d love to start another of those because they’re great fun to write.

And this posting sums up two opposing functions of blogging. Here, I’ve expressed my misgivings about being stuck in a genre and so I can pre-empt any misunderstandings by spelling out what each new title will deliver. But I’ve also, perhaps foolishly, articulated in public my plans for future books. Whenever that happens, the written word becomes a fixed, irretrievable truth. Which means I seem to have committed myself to writing the damn things.

On the other hand (again), I could have a Damascene moment and leap to an entirely different genre – something like ‘The Wordless Novel’. I could manage that.

Trailer for my latest novel 'The Darkness'

The whole notion of making trailers for novels is relatively new to me. I mentioned this one in a previous posting but thought it might be easier to look at if I brought it straight to the site. I made it using Windows MovieMaker, which is yet another fine example of how good displacement activities actually give you the impression that, rather than wasting time, you're actually doing something.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Slicing your characters thinly

I’ve just read an article about ‘thin-slicing’. Apparently that’s what we do nearly all the time. We base our judgements and decisions on split second observations of thin slices of behaviour. And, surprisingly perhaps, we’re usually right. The easy examples are of sportspeople behaving almost instinctively as they pass the ball, shoot for the hoop or whatever. But the most interesting for writers is that we apparently form an impression of people we meet within the first few seconds and then just notice things which confirm that impression. So the laborious presentations that people have prepared for situations such as interviews or wanting to impress the future in-laws seem to be a waste of time. The first handshake, eye contact, hairstyle choice, colour of jacket or God knows what else has already made up the mind of the person you’re meeting.

I wonder whether we also ‘thin-slice’ the characters we ‘meet’ in books. Is the initial impression so crucial? Or does the leisurely process of an unfolding narrative change the nature of our perceptions? We don’t, after all, have the direct, instinctive signals of body language to help us and anyway we know we’re collaborating in a fiction. Then again, if we’re assessing a real person in the real world, then just looking for evidence to prove we’re right, aren’t we just moulding reality to our own ongoing fiction?

And, from the writer’s point of view, does it mean that we should make sure that the way we choose to introduce a character puts his/her essence right up front and leaves little room for misinterpretation? If that’s the case, it seems to me that the best way to achieve it is through letting the character speak for him/herself. The moment we start describing their hair, eyes, clothes, bulk, etc. we’re offering archetypes. However much we then refine them to the specifics of that individual, the risk is that the reader’s already decided that he’s seeing a fat slob or a peacock. Let them speak for themselves, condemn or ingratiate themselves out of their own mouths.

Whatever the truth of it all, it just adds to the fascinating complexity of the reading (and writing) experience.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The one that should have been posted first.

I forgot to say why I started this blog, and I’m still struggling with the idea of how anyone could possibly find it and feel they wanted to read it anyway. I write crime novels but then, so do tens of thousands of others, so we all need to whore ourselves about and turn into attention-seekers.

Fame and fortune would be nice but, for me, being read is the primary aim. I won’t yet get into the debate about paper books versus ebooks because it seems that, with the latest ereaders, the reading experience is close to the traditional one. There’s a magical intimacy about entering a text and becoming part of the reality it creates – indeed, helping to create that same reality. As a writer, I put the characters onto the page/screen, but they only live when a reader energises them, and they then belong to that reader. He/she gives them shape, likes/dislikes them, approves or disapproves – and the alchemy of reading kicks in.

It’s great to think of strangers thousands of miles away, whom I’ll never meet, sharing secrets. It’s a privilege, too.

And yet, and yet … there are so many words to read nowadays, words such as those you’re reading now, in the jam-packed blogosphere – many highly entertaining and informative – and the clamour is so insistent that it’s hard to distinguish individual voices.

And yet, and yet … here I am adding to the uproar. And it’s great, because it’s all a celebration – not of any specific faith or belief, but just of being here. To me, life is absurd, without direction or purpose but it’s helluva lot of fun and we need to fill every minute of it, because it’s all we have.

So there, my not very profound insights into reading and a brief summary of existence itself.

Oh, I nearly forgot the plug. I’ve uploaded the trailer for my third novel, 'The Darkness'. People have said it’s scary. I’d appreciate your reaction to it. You'll find it at:


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The marketing gene

This post has been temporarily removed.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dipping a toe into the existential water

OK, so your first response to the title was that this would be a blog devoted to pretentious crap. I hope it's not. Life's too short. All those millions of words on top of all the books that must be read. All the twittering and the frantic desire to answer the question 'What are you doing?' So that everything (as it should be) is experienced as the constant present. No duration, no sequence to things, just the perpetually renewing now. Hence the 'existential' tag. Not only are we always poised on this shifting point between past and present, but we throw out isolated thoughts and opinions, fragments of moments which give 'les autres' plenty of ammunition for their judgements of us. So we add to the 'enfer' which they represent and deliver. Hmmm, I thought I said this wasn't going to be pretentious crap - well, it's not. I actually believe this stuff. It's great. Those who despair at Sisyphus's acceptance that as soon as he gets to the top he'll have to start all over again should buy him a drink instead, and admire his balls for persevering. Laugh at - or, rather, with - life as much as possible. Godot will never come but it's great to have the chance just to wait.

But anyway, why am I adding to all those words I was complaining about? Well, I was tagged to give a list of the 25 authors who've most influenced me and I needed a place to do it. I have a website (www.bill-kirton.co.uk) but prefer to keep that just for specifics about my books. So I'm inflicting this on an already over-worded world.

The list is: Flaubert, Stendhal, Molière, Thomas Hardy, Beckett, Victor Hugo, Byron, Zola, Ruth Rendell,Stephen King, Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett, Joseph Heller, Edgar Allan Poe, Harold Pinter, Baudelaire, Sartre, Camus, Ionesco, Peter Cook, Spike Milligan, William MacIlvenny, Racine, David Mitchell, Michel Faber