Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bad sex in Fiction

The winner of this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction is about to be announced.

Last year, for passages in his book, For the Shape of Her, Rowan Somerville won the 18th Bad Sex in Fiction award. When he courageously attended the awards dinner in St James Square in November, he said, “There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the nation, I thank you.”

Two questions immediately spring to my mind (I know, I know, you want to read the pieces of bad sex writing that clinched the award for Somerville—just hang on!): one, did he sit down with the express purpose of writing the most unsettling descriptions of sex that he could? And two, what did it do for his book sales? Read on and then tell me what you think.

His description of sex: “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.”

And his take on a woman’s pubic hair: “Desert vegetation following an underground stream.”

While his protagonist: “Unbuttoned the front of her shirt and pulled it to the side so that her breast was uncovered, her nipple poking out, upturned like the nose of the loveliest nocturnal animal, sniffing the night. He took it between his lips and sucked the salt from her.”

Outstanding!

What should writers read?

You can’t be much of a writer if you’re not a reader. And you should have read sufficient of your genre if you intend to become good at it. It’s a bit pointless writing historical romances when you only read sci-fi, don’t you think?

You want me to read what?

You want me to read what?

But what else should you be reading? I’d go nuts if I had to stick to one particular genre. My tastes range from literary fiction to chick lit, and all points in between, although I draw a line at speculative fiction—I just can’t see it.

There have been numerous theories flung around about what writers should read. For example, one insisted that reading a trashy novel would be seriously detrimental to a literary fiction writer’s work. We now know that to be nonsense. Literary fiction writers read the news just like the rest of us.

So, what do you read? Is it connected in any way to what you write?

Finding time to read

In Michael Hyatt’s blog about five ways to find time to read, he comes up with some useful ideas. You can read the blog post here.

Finding reading time seems to be a real problem for many avid readers. Time slips by, and how many books have you read in 2011? One of Michael Hyatt’s solutions was to make a sacrifice and turn the TV off at 9pm. I’d go further than that and suggest that if you seriously want to catch up on your reading, don’t turn the bloody thing on at all.

Turn it off!

Turn it off!

At home we made an effort to avoid TV over ten years ago. As a result, I munch through a book and a half week on average. Let’s see, that’s almost 800 books. And what have I missed on the box? Hmm.

After dinner, I feel as weary as the next person. In fact it’s hard to get up the enthusiasm to do anything, never mind read. But once I start and the magic swirls from the pages, it’s way past bed time before I realise. What say you?

So Much For That

Things are about to warm up around here. Shorter, sharper blogs, delivered with far more frequency. Not that we’ll lose all the thinky posts—they’ll still be there, and we’ll have a few more from time to time.

For starters, I’d like to mention Lionel Shriver’s gut-pulling novel, So Much For That. If you’ve felt reluctant about putting your weight behind your words when you write—pulling your punches—take new heart and dive into this superb example of how people really are and what makes them that way. Shriver writes with furious energy about people, as sad, disillusioned and utterly unlovable, and yet …

Get into it!

Biography or bat poo?

As boring as bat poo

As boring as bat poo

There are bios and there are kick-arse accounts of someone’s life. So, what makes a bum-kicking bio good to read? Is it the story—what happened to the subject—born in a concentration camp, survived three global conflicts, and married a prince? Or is it because we need to know about the private life of some celebrity—their struggle with alcohol, depression, self-esteem—and their rise to fame? What drives us to read on?

Maybe it’s the way the account is written. The mundane becomes dramatic, the sad becomes funny. Perhaps we empathise with the subject. But a book has got to grab us from the very start, so we’re hanging on to every word and turning those pages. No matter what happens later in your book, if the first pages haven’t got it, well, you know! So what’s the secret to writing a page turning start?

Sad and funny

Sad and funny

Here are two examples of bios—the opening chapters. Tell me which one grabs you.

Example 1

I was really, really tired. It had been a long day, and I’d been up since before dawn. The last thing I needed was to be standing in a semi-deserted outdoor ice rink watching my son struggle to stay on his feet as the pervading cold crept through my bones. I wanted to be home, in front of a roaring log fire, a glass of mulled wine at the ready, anticipating a delicious meal cooked by my eldest daughter.

Oops, now that's interesting

Oops, now that's interesting

Example 2

Breath buffeted viciously from my lungs, I tumbled through the air. One moment I’d been bemoaning my tiredness and half-frozen extremities, and in the next I was airborne, all thoughts of my eldest daughter’s delicious home cooked meal and that glass of mulled wine bashed from my mind when my head hit the unyielding surface of a semi-deserted outdoor ice rink. I’d been up since dawn and the last thing I needed was blood on my tux.

Yes, it’s the same book, but you know that. Agreed, the first example sets the scene rather well and the author will eventually get round to the accident. But when did you start yawning? In the second example questions are posed. What happened? Where? Why is he wearing a tux? We need to turn those pages and read on to find out what’s going down.

A normal well-balanced character

A normal well-balanced character

Sounds like fiction? Well, yes, when writing non-fiction there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t employ the same writing tactics as a good fiction author to make your story more compelling—still true, but more compelling. Mixing the timeline, bridging the chapters, developing interesting characters—just to name a few of the professional tactics available.

I recently talked with an author about sitting in a doctor’s surgery waiting for an appointment. Most of us know the interminable grind of the situation. Is there anything fascinating about the experience? You would think not. However, with a little gentle probing it transpired that my author’s waiting-for-the-doctor-thoughts always fixated on the myriad of germs swarming around the waiting room, scuttling over the chairs, and writhing across the floor towards her shoes. Yuk! I just hope I forget all that before I have to see the doc. And so do you. But what a scene!

Suddenly I feel better

Suddenly I feel better

Writing your bio doesn’t have to be one linear time scale step after the other and as boring as bat poo. It can be written as an adventure (the way life is) and still be absolutely true—whatever happened.